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Pridgen will use pay to fund 'micro grants'

Buffalo's newest Common Council member is donating his city salary to community groups.

Ellicott Council Member Darius G. Pridgen said he will be using his public paycheck to finance "micro grants" for nonprofit organizations in his district.

Pridgen, who took office Jan. 1, told community leaders Monday night that he will continue to give money to groups until he "walks every street in the district" and pinpoints needs.

"In the winter months, walking every street will be a physical challenge, but it's a challenge I'm willing to take personally to visually assess the Ellicott District," he said.

Pridgen is pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church and leads one of the area's largest congregations. As a city lawmaker, he makes $52,000 a year. He said he's not sure how much of his salary in 2011 will be given to groups.

"I'll keep donating it all until I finish my walk throughout the district," he told The Buffalo News.

Pridgen is setting up advisory panels to guide him in making decisions about priorities in one of the city's most diverse districts. It includes some of Buffalo's wealthiest areas and some of its poorest. The boundaries encompass much of downtown, parts of Allentown and many East Side neighborhoods.

Groups in the Ellicott District that would like to be considered for micro grants must complete applications.

There are no City Hall impediments that would prevent a lawmaker from using a salary to fund grants, Buffalo's chief auditor said Tuesday.

"Once we cut him a paycheck, he can use it as he sees fit," said Darryl McPherson.

But if Pridgen wanted to forfeit his salary and have the city convert the funds into grants, McPherson said, there would be a number of issues that would have to be addressed.

Pridgen said he does not intend to set up any mechanism within City Hall to facilitate the grants. Instead, he said he will place his paychecks in a nonprofit fund that will be used to make donations.

Pridgen is filling the unexpired term of Brian C. Davis, who resigned in November 2009 shortly before he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor violations of election law.

All nine Council members, including Pridgen, face re-election this year. When he was sworn in a month ago, he vowed to seek a full four-year term.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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