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Brown names four in overhaul of Housing Authority

Mayor Byron W. Brown moved to put his imprint on the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority on Wednesday, accepting the resignation of the chairman, appointing four commissioners and outlining reforms that would see City Hall exercise greater oversight.

Brown's plan is based largely on the recommendations of attorney John V. Elmore, whom the mayor appointed to evaluate authority operations and suggest improvements. The authority was harshly criticized in a report issued two months ago by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for, among other things, excessive spending by commissioners.

Elmore recommended that Brown appoint commissioners with professional backgrounds; all four of his appointees have that. All also were contributors to his mayoral campaign.

Appointees, who are subject to confirmation by the Common Council, include:

Michael A. Seaman, the city's director of treasury and collections. Before joining the city in 1998, he spent 15 years in banking and several years operating a Lancaster recreation facility. He gave $925 to the Brown campaign.

Betty Calvo-Torres, an attorney and a former assistant district attorney. She also is president of the Hispanic Women's League and the Minority Bar Association of Western New York. She gave Brown's campaign $50.

Ronald Brown, chief fiscal officer of Friends to the Elderly, Friends and Family Services, an East Side social services agency. He previously worked as a senior portfolio manager at Fleet Bank and at the Internal Revenue Service. He gave $1,000 to Brown's campaign.

Hal D. Payne, vice president for student affairs at Buffalo State College. He has served on the boards of several cultural agencies, including the Zoological Society of Buffalo and Just Buffalo Literary Center. He contributed $100 to the Brown campaign.

"I am sure this reconstituted board can begin immediately to address concerns in the reports from HUD, the city comptroller and Elmore," Brown said.

Brown said he did not ask for the resignations of Chairman Sherrill Colston or the three remaining board members, mayoral appointee Charles J. Flynn and tenant-elected representatives Aqiel Qadir and Mary Rogers. The spending practices of Colston, Qadir and Rogers on cell phones, travel and other perquisites were strongly criticized in the HUD report.

"After all the media blitz over the last two months, I felt I couldn't be an effective leader, and I wanted to give the new mayor a chance to assemble his own board," Colston said.

The mayor does not exercise direct control over the authority because it is technically an independent agency. He is therefore dependent on the authority's governing board to implement changes, many of which will be subject to HUD approval.

The mayor wants City Hall to exercise more direct oversight over the authority on legal and financial matters.

He has proposed that Seaman function as a liaison with the authority in his role as board member, dealing with financial and regulatory issues.

Deputy Corporation Counsel David J. State would provide oversight of the authority's legal department. In the interim, the mayor wants Gillian D. Brown to step down as the authority's legal counsel and focus on his job as interim executive director. Brown served as the authority's counsel for the last 10 years.

The mayor also proposed a number of measures to end spending abuses by commissioners. Some have already been put into place, such as a moratorium on commissioner travel. He also proposed taking cell phones and credit cards away from commissioners.

e-mail: dswilliams@buffnews.com

and jheaney@buffnews.com

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