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Judge dismisses Buffalo Urban League suit against comptroller over critical audit

A State Supreme Court judge has thrown out the Buffalo Urban League’s suit against Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw.

Urban League officials had accused the comptroller of issuing an unfair and damaging report in December about the agency and condemned his follow-up comments calling the Urban League guilty of either “gross mismanagement” or “outright fraud.”

In the ruling this week, Justice Tracey Bannister stated that the Buffalo Urban League could point to no concrete damages that the agency would suffer as a result of the comptroller’s report so there is no legal basis on which the suit could move forward.

“This decision vindicates the role of the Comptroller’s Office as the watchdog of taxpayer dollars,” Mychajliw said in a statement.

The report from the Comptroller’s Office concluded the organization overbilled the county by tens of thousands of dollars, failed to properly train its staff, failed to protect children’s privacy in digital records or honor Department of Social Services reporting requirements. As a result of the comptroller’s review, the agency conducted its own internal analysis and refunded the county $30,576.

But Urban League officials also responded that the report contained numerous factual and procedural errors and did not follow widely accepted professional standards for a financial review. They also criticized Mychajliw’s comments as inflammatory and far removed from the actual findings of the report.

Following the judge’s decision Thursday, Mychajliw said: “I have a responsibility to protect taxpayers that I will never, ever shy away from. No matter who challenges the authority of my office, I will continue to honor the commitment I made to taxpayers when I took the oath of office to protect them.”

He also criticized the agency for using its operating money to pay for the lawsuit against him.

While the Urban League has the right to appeal, such an action did not seem likely.

In a statement, Buffalo Urban League President Brenda McDuffie noted that Bannister’s ruling does not address any of the merits of the case, but finds no legal ground for pursuit of damages.

“We respect the Judge’s decision but disagree that the League suffered no ‘concrete injury,’” she said. “The League’s fund raising abilities have been harmed substantially by the Comptroller’s report and this harm was enough, according to legal precedent, to warrant a review on the merits. Nonetheless, we recognize that the effect of the Judge’s determination is to postpone a decision on the merits for such a time as a ‘final action is taken by anybody’ that further harms the Urban League.”

email: stan@buffnews.com

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