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Mayor vetoes Council plan on grants for funding arts

A new wrinkle surfaced in City Hall's plan to provide grants to dozens of arts and cultural groups after Mayor Byron W. Brown vetoed a Common Council bill.

Brown's office emphasized that the mayor remains committed to providing onetime grants to arts organizations but objects to how the Council has structured the aid.

As one of their final actions before leaving for summer break, lawmakers late last month unanimously approved a plan to channel $200,000 to city-based arts groups.

Under an informal deal between the Council and the Brown administration, lawmakers would provide $100,000 from their budget lines, while the executive branch would provide another $100,000.

Mayoral spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge said Wednesday that the administration remains committed to providing the money. But he said Brown objects to the Council specifying how the entire $200,000 sum will be spent. All arts groups currently on the Council's list would be welcome to apply, as would other Buffalo-based cultural groups, DeGeorge said.

Lawmakers insist that the money should be channeled to 27 city-based arts groups that saw their Erie County funding eliminated. The Council wants to funnel the city aid through Funds for the Arts, a consortium of local foundations that has distributed aid to cultural groups.

While the mayor has "no problem" with any of the groups on the Council's list, DeGeorge said, Brown believes that he should have the right to establish his own process for distributing the $100,000 that his office is providing.

The lawmaker who sponsored the initiative insists the veto is further evidence of politics that often overshadows city issues. Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto said any effort by the mayor to alter the list of groups that would get aid would be an "insult" to organizations.

"I would hope that the mayor will stick to the Fund for the Arts figures and not use 'his own process' to reward friends and political allies," LoCurto said Wednesday.

While the Council passed the measure in a 9-0 vote, it is possible some early supporters might vote to sustain Brown's veto when lawmakers return from summer recess. For example, Masten Council Member Demone A. Smith said the mayor's position is "not unreasonable."

"There was never a clear process spelled out for how the money would be distributed," Smith said. "But before anyone goes ballistic, I think some simple conversations can occur. We'll be able to work this out."

Meanwhile, the Buffalo Arts Commission has expressed interest in playing a role in deciding how cultural funding will be distributed. In a letter to city officials, commission Chairwoman Catherine Gillespie said her volunteer panel is empowered by the city code to provide grant recommendations to arts groups.

With a few exceptions, the city discontinued providing grants to cultural organizations following a 2001 fiscal crisis. Gillespie said her group could "ensure that an equitable and transparent process is in place" to administer the funding.