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Missing audio raises suspicions about redistricting panel meeting

It could be dubbed the mystery of the missing audio.

When some city lawmakers pushed to obtain recordings of meetings that were held by Buffalo's reapportionment panel, they learned that audio was missing from a session described by some as controversial.

The Council's chief of staff says he isn't sure how it happened, but blames a technical glitch.

North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., one of those who had requested the recordings, said he can't help but be suspicious.

"I just keep thinking of the Nixon years during Watergate," Golombek said Monday during a Council caucus.

He intensified his criticism at a Tuesday Council session, calling the incident "Nixonian."

The issue arose a week after Golombek and others called for more transparency in redrawing Council district boundaries to reflect Buffalo's shrinking population.

Golombek said he was eager to hear audio from a March 30 meeting of the Citizens Committee on Reapportionment. He said sources told him the meeting was "acrimonious" and that certain panel members made unflattering remarks about the Council's involvement in redistricting a decade ago.

"There may have been some very snide allegations made against the Council," Golombek said. "It just seems odd to me that this is the that's missing."

Golombek said he blames Council staff for the "strange" occurrence.

James Pajak, the Council's chief of staff and informal liaison between the commission and lawmakers, dismissed any conspiracy theory. Some type of technical problem occurred with the digital recorder, Pajak insisted.

"Nobody knows if the batteries were dead, or if someone pushed the wrong button," Pajak said.

The commission was recording meetings only to make it easier to prepare minutes, Pajak said. Tim Ball, the Council's legal adviser, said the panel is not legally required to record sessions, but must submit meeting minutes.

Tuesday, some Council members chastised Golombek for using the phrase "Nixonian" to describe the controversy. South Council Member Michael P. Kearns called it a "smear," adding that it implies that laws were broken.

While Golombek apologized, he continued to voice suspicion of political "shenanigans" by some Council staffers who are helping the commission.

Council members emphasized that someone from the city clerk's office should attend future commission meetings and use better recording equipment.

Lawmakers passed a resolution Tuesday asking the commission to stream its meetings live on the Internet by holding sessions in Council Chambers and to videotape meetings so that they can be replayed on the city's website.

The Council's ruling majority appointed five members of the commission, while Mayor Byron W. Brown appointed the remaining four. The panel must recommend new boundaries for nine districts roughly equivalent in population. The city lost 10.7 percent of its residents between 2000 and 2010.

The Council and mayor do not have to accept the commission's recommendation. Lawmakers are eager complete the process next month. If it drags on too long, Council members would have to run for re-election in current districts. That could expose them to legal challenges and force them run again before the end of their four-year terms.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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