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Editorial: The rat's nest at BMHA

How to shaft the public, BMHA style: It’s about family, friends and manipulation. With that combination, you can evade the rules, cheat your competitors and gouge the system.

That certainly appears to be what has been going on at the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, where 90 percent of the $2.5 million spent last year on cleaning and repairs was in increments of $2,000 or less. Only a child would think it’s mere coincidence that $2,000 is the highest amount at which work can be contracted without seeking competitive bids.

Here’s how it worked in one case:

A local company, GFY General Services & Cleaning, received an order to clean and paint an apartment at Langfield Homes. The value, $1,950, was just under the bidding threshold. At the same time – here comes that noncoincidence, again – the same company received another $650 order to remove trash from the same apartment.

A single contract would have bumped the value over $2,000 and required the BMHA to solicit bids. As it played out, though, GFY was able to snag all of the work, avoiding the messiness of bidding for the job.

It gets more interesting. The company is owned by Brandi A. Clark, who employs and has a close personal relationship with Jeffrey DiPalma, whose brother – coincidentally, we are sure – is a BMHA assistant maintenance superintendent with the authority to help pick contractors for some jobs that don’t exceed $2,000.

GFY, only months after its founding, managed to snag nearly $400,000 in work from the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority in 2017, most of it without bidding, according to a review of BMHA records acquired by The News.

It’s hardly surprising in an operation that oversees some of the nation’s worst public housing units. Why should Buffalo’s public housing be so bad when Rochester’s is rated highly? Something is clearly going wrong here.

It’s important to pursue this question and, in fact, some welcome changes may be afoot. The agency’s recently appointed interim executive director, Gillian Brown, has begun a restructuring program that is expected to increase supervision and address some of the purchasing issues. In particular, he has adopted a motto that should be as useful as it its obvious: “Share the work and don’t split the bids.” That, alone, will help avoid whatever games might be played in the unsupervised shadows of the housing authority.

In addition, Buffalo Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder has suggested that the Common Council and Mayor Byron Brown take a more active role in overseeing the authority, most of whose members are appointed by the mayor. He wants the city to conduct an audit, which he says is beyond the abilities of his office.

It’s a good idea. It seems clear that the BMHA requires closer monitoring than it has received in the past. And while it is true, as mayoral spokesman Michael DeGeorge observed, that the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is already investigating the BMHA, that in no way excuses city leaders from its obligations of oversight. Indeed, given the mayor’s influence over the direction of the authority, he should be especially concerned that an adversary could plausibly try to pin its mismanagement on him.

It will be enlightening to see what the HUD investigation produces. Given the history of inattentive and incompetent management at the BMHA, and now with the stink of what smells like bid evasion, it should shock no one if other rats’ nests are disturbed in the report. Indeed, it will be surprising if none is.

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