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Deputies sent to ECIDA meeting to discourage Occupy protesters

The presence of more than a half dozen Erie County Sheriff's Office deputies at the Erie County Industrial Development Agency's monthly meeting Monday for the most part kept members of the Occupy Buffalo movement from disrupting the session as they have during the two previous meetings.

Still, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz called the highly visible presence of the deputies "overkill" and said one or two law enforcement officers would have been sufficient.

"I was a little shocked when I walked in," Poloncarz said after the meeting. "I fully expected there to be no more than one or two."

The Sheriff's Office said it originally had planned to send just two uniformed deputies to provide security, which was requested by the ECIDA board earlier this month. But the Sheriff's Office received an anonymous call Friday saying members of the Occupy Buffalo movement planned to "create a disturbance" at Monday's meeting.

"We decided to increase staffing in response to that call," said Scott Joslyn, chief of police services.

Another four deputies were assigned to the meeting, plus one additional supervisor who happened to be available, Joslyn said.

Members of the Occupy Buffalo movement had disrupted the two previous ECIDA meetings by breaking into group chants criticizing the agency for granting tax breaks to developers, and making other more spontaneous comments.

In response, the ECIDA moved its April meeting from the cramped conference room in its Oak Street office to the more spacious auditorium in the Buffalo & Erie County Central Library.

Poloncarz said some ECIDA board members felt threatened at earlier meetings by the protesters, some of whom also walked around the crowded conference room videotaping the sessions. At one point during the agency's March meeting, ECIDA Chairman John J. LaFalce raised his voice after the protesters continued to interrupt the meeting.

Monday's meeting drew a crowd of about 50 spectators, which is double or triple the usual attendance at the ECIDA's sessions. More than half of the crowd appeared to be made up of members of the Occupy Buffalo movement, including one holding a sign that read "ECIDA is giving handouts that produce nothing."

With deputies positioned on either side of the auditorium's stage, and also in the back, the Occupy Buffalo members occasionally shouted out comments during the meeting but did not attempt the group chants it used during the two previous sessions.

The agency handed out sheets to spectators outlining the ground rules for attending the meetings, which do not include a public comment period. LaFalce opened the meeting by welcoming the "members of the public to observe and listen."

On several occasions, LaFalce praised the spectators for their behavior. "The audience has been terrific thus far," he said at one point, about halfway through the nearly two-hour session. "I would encourage them to continue observing and listening."

But not long after, as the agency debated whether to grant tax breaks for a $5.3 million project by a company run by developer Carl Paladino to renovate the dilapidated Graystone Building in Buffalo and turn it into 42 apartments, several Occupy Buffalo members interrupted the meeting by shouting comments opposing the proposed incentives.

LaFalce then threatened that spectators who continued to interrupt the meeting by shouting opinions would receive a "personalized, individualized request" from one of the deputies on hand to stop.

Once the agency approved the $212,900 in sales and mortgage tax breaks for the Graystone project, most of the Occupy Buffalo members left the meeting.

News Business Reporter Samantha Maziarz Christmann contributed to this report.