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City auditor resists calls for review of Marine Drive housing complex

Buffalo's chief auditor is resisting calls to scrutinize operations at the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority's Marine Drive complex, insisting it makes more sense for the state to investigate.

The controversy swirling around the 616-unit downtown complex is "tinged with political overtones," said auditor Darryl McPherson. His office is not going to become a "staging area for anyone's political agenda," McPherson told city officials in an e-mail this week.

Auditing the Marine Drive operation might only waste scarce resources, he said.

"There have been a number of inquiries into the housing complex in the last few years. The Division of Audit would not likely find anything new that hasn't already been examined by other entities," he said.

For almost a year, some city lawmakers and tenants have pushed for an audit to review what they see as a pattern of mismanagement. A city review of a complex operated by the Housing Authority is rare if not unprecedented.

Last summer, then-City Comptroller Andrew A. SanFilippo told The Buffalo News his office would likely evaluate internal controls and efficiencies at Marine Drive. But no city audit was conducted, and SanFilippo resigned last month to become a deputy New York State comptroller.

McPherson said that while he is open to having additional discussion about such an audit, he is convinced that the best recourse would be to ask the state comptroller or the inspector general for the state's housing agency to conduct a probe. A number of the concerns involve possible violations of state policies, he said.

Common Council President David A. Franczyk, who sponsored a bill calling for a city audit, stood by his assertion that McPherson's team should review operations at Marine Drive. Franczyk said he disagrees that a push by Marine Drive's tenant council for a probe is political.

"Even if he thinks it's political, he should do [the audit] anyway," Franczyk said, referring to McPherson. "What does that have to do with anything?"

Franczyk noted that interim Comptroller Darby R. Fishkin must make a final decision on an audit. Fishkin is on vacation this week.

Some have faulted the Housing Authority for failing to aggressively monitor two former management companies that operated Marine Drive. The authority hired an outside auditor to provide a forensic review. The audit pinpointed numerous problems that occurred between 2004 and 2007.

The authority has since taken over management of the complex, a move that some residents are challenging in a lawsuit.

McPherson's firm stand on the audit might have political ramifications. He is among five individuals who are seeking the Council's backing to be appointed acting comptroller following SanFilippo's resignation.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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