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Buffalo's near-bottom ranking in a national management survey of 35 cities was the hardest choice researchers had to make, they said Monday.

Only New Orleans finished below Buffalo in the survey, which rated cities nationwide for their skills in handling money, employees, information technology and capital projects.

Researchers for the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University and Governing magazine handed Buffalo an overall grade of C- for the way it's being run. But according to Patricia W. Ingraham, who directed the survey, there may be a silver lining.

"Of all the cities, Buffalo was the hardest to rate because so much was in a state of transition," Ingraham said in a conference call with reporters. "A lot is going to change there. A lot will be corrected."

Researchers said the city's grade would have been worse if not for the fact that a new City Charter has just been adopted and includes numerous management reforms.

Among other planned changes, Buffalo received credit in its report card because the Charter, which takes effect July 1, provides for the city's first Human Resources Department to manage personnel.

Monday's release of the city's report card and ranking at the bottom of cities studied hit hard for some top Buffalo officials, several of whom privately expressed strong disappointment.

Some complained that the survey report praised Buffalo's efforts while giving low marks overall to the city. Questions also were raised about how well the researchers understood Buffalo's management system, including its relationship with the Buffalo schools, which are independent of city government.

For example, Buffalo's fiscal managers -- who, according to researchers, had to pull the city "out of the financial gutter" not long ago -- eked out a grade of only C when rated against model practices used to judge the survey group.

Mayor Anthony M. Masiello said that while Buffalo got the second-lowest overall grade, the report "clearly states that progress has been made in the various management areas" and that the new City Charter will improve city government.

It also points a finger at state mandates imposed in Albany as one of the problems for the city.

In that respect, the survey report may be especially timely: Finance Commissioner Eva Hassett said she plans to take along a copy of the report when she begins a round of budget meetings with state officials in Albany starting next week.

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