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Appointment of Donna Brown to BMHA board is questioned

After serving four months in a post to which she was never legally appointed, Donna M. Brown's name has been resubmitted by the mayor for a seat on the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority board of commissioners.

But even if the appointment had been legal from the beginning, it seems Brown would not have made much of an impact as a commissioner, having been absent for three of four regular board meetings since being designated for the seat in January to fill a vacancy.

That attendance record has caused at least one Common Council member to say he may not vote for her when her name comes up for Council confirmation, even if it's done right this time. And he even questions whether the resubmission followed city rules.

The saga started when Mayor Byron W. Brown appointed Donna Brown, a former deputy mayor -- the two are not related -- in January. But the appointment, which was received and filed as a communication rather than voted on, was invalid under state public housing law stipulating that "any member of such authority appointed or reappointed by the mayor of Buffalo shall be subject to confirmation by a majority vote of the Common Council."

Five members of the seven-member Housing Authority board are appointed by the mayor, and all but Donna Brown were confirmed by the Council.

According to City Hall officials, it was a procedural mistake that slipped through both the Council and the Law Department, which advises the Council.

"The mayor filed it appropriately with the intention for approval, and then for some reason, the Council received and filed it rather than approving it," said mayoral spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge.

Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk agreed that the matter should have been voted on as a resolution and that the Law Department should have advised the Council.

"No one was 100 percent sure, but [Council members] should have been because we've done this before," Franczyk said.

The mistake means that any votes Brown cast during Housing Authority meetings are invalid. But she has not been present for many votes.

At her first regular meeting in January, she left after about five minutes to attend a State of the Hospital address at Erie County Medical Center, where she works as a patient advocate.

She was absent from the February meeting. She attended the regular meeting in March but was absent for a special meeting also held in March. She was absent again from the April meeting.

When contacted to comment, she said she was out with a medical emergency and was not available to discuss the matter that day. She did not return subsequent phone calls seeking comment.

Now some officials are questioning her level of commitment.

"With a record like that, I would not be inclined to vote for her," Franczyk said. "With that kind of record, she doesn't show an interest. We need someone who is engaged and shows and interest. As far as being any kind of go-getter, I didn't see it as deputy mayor. She did absolutely nothing, and obviously she's showing no interest in BMHA."

Indeed, Donna Brown was criticized for her work on poverty issues while in City Hall after delivering an anti-poverty plan widely panned as merely a regurgitation of existing programs.

One of the Housing Authority's two tenant-elected commissioners also was critical.

"We'd appreciate it if she took an interest with the Housing Authority," Joseph A. Mascia said. "I'm sure she's very busy with her position at ECMC. We all have other duties we have to attend."

Brown's appointment was sent to the Council's Civil Service Committee for review and could be dealt with at Tuesday's committee meeting -- if the resubmission is legal. But Franczyk also has questioned that.

Tuesday, a day after The Buffalo News questioned the administration about the matter, the mayor moved to correct the mistake by resubmitting Brown's name at that day's Council meeting.

But Franczyk objected to the "late file." As per Council rules, he said, any member can object to consideration of any item not filed by 2 p.m. the Thursday prior to the next Council meeting. A majority of the Council voted to send the matter to committee anyway. Franczyk has asked the corporation counsel to review the legality of that move.