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BMHA attorney Gillian Brown offered agency's top job

Gillian Brown, the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority's attorney and interim executive director, is being offered the top job at the troubled agency.

Brown, 54, was one of three finalists interviewed Wednesday for the BMHA's executive director position. The other applicants were Douglas Owens, retired deputy director of the housing authority in Alexandria, Va., and John Hall, executive director of the Wichita Housing Authority in Kansas.

The BMHA board of commissioners met behind closed doors after the interviews Wednesday, and agreed that Brown was their top choice. His selection was announced late Thursday afternoon.

"I have every confidence that working together with this board, and Mayor Byron Brown, Gillian and his team will be able to bring much-needed positive change to the authority," said BMHA board chairman David Rodriguez.

"We were impressed with his commitment to our residents and their communities, and we know he will make the physical conditions of our developments a top priority," Rodriguez added.

Gillian Brown, no relation to Mayor Byron Brown, was appointed BMHA attorney in 2017, and named interim executive director after Dawn Sanders-Garrett resigned in mid-March from the post she had held for 10 years. He previously served as BMHA attorney, and in a prior stint as interim executive director, in the early 2000s, during the Masiello administration.

Sanders-Garrett was paid $120,000 annually as executive director, but under the terms of the new BMHA union contract – which extends to exempt employees – the salary could be in the $135,000 range. However, Rodriguez, the board chairman, has said the salary for the new executive director is negotiable.

The terms of Gillian Brown's contract will be negotiated over the next few weeks, and presented to the BMHA board for approval at its October meeting, Rodriguez said.

The BMHA board, working with a professional recruitment firm, received 20 applications for the executive director post, and identified five individuals it was interested in interviewing. The board then identified the three finalists.

"The board interviewed three highly motivated and qualified candidates, and ultimately came to its decision based in large part on our confidence that Mr. Brown and his team are on the right track, and are already making significant progress on various changes and reforms at the BMHA," the board said in a prepared statement.

Gillian Brown declined comment Thursday. As executive director, he will oversee a housing authority with a $40 million annual budget, providing housing to about 10,000 residents.

The agency has been struggling for much of the past decade, and has been labeled "substandard" in recent years by HUD.

The BMHA received low scores in part because of the hundreds of shuttered apartments at two of its developments – A.D. Price Courts and Commodore Perry Homes – that it doesn't have funds to fix up or tear down. But other problems are related to the overall operation of the agency.

Residents complain of myriad problems, from bedbugs and mold, to leaky ceilings, inadequate heat, and constant delays in getting even minor repairs done.

In recent weeks, Buffalo City Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder has been requesting an outside firm be called in to audit the agency, which hasn't had an internal auditor of its own for at least five years. Schroeder's request comes in response to stories in The Buffalo News about questionable BMHA purchasing.

The News, in an article published in July, found that a recently created firm with ties to a BMHA supervisor last year received almost twice as much work fixing up and cleaning out public housing apartments as any other outsider contractor hired to do similar work. The firm, GFY General Services & Cleaning, of Batavia, was paid almost $400,000 – most of it no-bid work permitted when individual payments do not exceed $2,000.

In another article, published in August, The News found that the BMHA sometimes paid more for items it purchased, such as rock salt and garbage bins, than did other local governments, or even, in the case of batteries, than a typical consumer.

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