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Editorial: Explanation needed from BMHA

Now that the information is out regarding the $107,250 bonanza paid to the former head of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, the board needs to explain why someone who underperformed in her job deserves any sort of golden parachute at all and, just as troubling, why this information was being kept secret. Albany should be on the case, too.

This is public money. There should be no secrets when it comes to this, or any other taxpayer-funded institution. Yet, this information had to be painfully extracted. What was the board hiding?

The announcement that Dawn E. Sanders-Garrett was resigning, effective immediately, came at the board’s March 15 meeting. At the time, BMHA Chairman David Rodriguez refused to disclose the details of any financial package she would receive or, for that matter, even if one existed.

The board’s decision to keep a lid on this deal only exacerbates public frustration and at a time when other sweetheart deals with even bigger golden parachutes – at the Erie County Water Authority – are being heavily scrutinized. Given the toxic atmosphere surrounding such giveaways, why on Earth did the board think it was smart to donate six figures to Sanders-Garrett, whose tenure of nearly 12 years was pockmarked by legitimate public criticism?

No, this is not as big and billowy as the golden parachute the Water Authority delivered to its executive director, Earl L. Jann Jr., to be opened if the County Legislature’s recently empowered Democrats discharged him. Thanks to the Republican-appointed board who saw their grip on the majority slip away in November’s elections, Jann is guaranteed a payment of up to $400,000.

When it comes to Water Authority shenanigans, the Democrats are no better. They just installed lawyer Mark S. Carney as a new commissioner whose sole qualification, like Jann, seems to relate to the amount of money given to political parties.

But this is the housing authority, charged with managing some 26 developments that serve 10,000 people. It’s doing it poorly.

Under Sanders-Garrett, the authority has grabbed headlines for deplorable conditions. The most recent involved tenants who had no heat or hot water for days at a time this winter. Apartments are infested with bedbugs, tenants complained, that maintenance crews do not respond when called.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo not long ago described similar conditions in a Bronx housing project as “disgusting.” The governor threatened to take action against the New York City Housing Authority. He should look here.

The problems plaguing Buffalo’s housing authority are legendary. It has failed to demolish or restore hundreds of vacant apartments in the Commodore Perry Homes and A.D. Price Courts. There has been slow turnaround on available apartments and low employee morale, which resulted in the use of large amounts of sick time. The federal reduction in operating and capital support has made fixing any of these problems difficult, at best.

Meanwhile, Sanders-Garrett did not help her case by spending a large amount of time out of town at housing conferences that were supposed to produce better oversight. Last summer, the board established a non-travel policy.

Against all that, the board – presumably after careful consideration – thought it would be a fine idea to give Sanders-Garrett a taxpayer-funded payout and then, adding illegality to injury, to try to keep it secret from the public. This is exactly the problem with too many authorities, quasi-public agencies that act as though they are in no way answerable to the public that supports them. It’s insulting.

State elected officials are on notice. Fix this broken system. Shut down unworkable authorities and lift the shroud that has been keeping the public in the dark.

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