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CAO's Hare fired worker he viewed as mole, former director says

Days after L. Nathan Hare was fired in October from his job as CEO of the Community Action Organization – only to never leave – he fired his staff liaison to the board of directors that wanted him gone.

Some of the CAO directors surmised that Hare fired the liaison because she passed along too much information, but the employee did nothing wrong, former director Jennifer Shank said.

"She was giving us information," Shank said. "But she was giving us information because she was the board liaison. And that was her job."

Hare refuses to discuss what happened with the former employee, Keri Socker.

"I do not feel it is appropriate to discuss any individual’s personal matters," he said by email on Monday.

Socker did not respond to messages seeking comment. But Shank confirmed she was let go.

In addition, The News obtained an internal email in which the board's current president, Michael E. Johnson, discussed the "Keri Socker issue" with other directors in October. Hare, Johnson told fellow directors, was not contemplating "other personnel changes" as he, the board and lawyers worked out his permanent status.

Hare had been terminated by directors who said he mishandled certain financial matters and withheld important financial information. But, as The News reported Sunday, Mayor Byron W. Brown and confidante Adam W. Perry of the Hodgson Russ law firm intervened to try and reinstate Hare, who never left the payroll.

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Perry, CAO's lawyer, determined the board had not sent out sufficient notice of its special meeting. So Perry nullified the vote to terminate the CEO. Months later, Perry sent dismissal letters to at least four directors who wanted Hare fired. They remain off the board.

After Perry dismissed Hare's critics – for reasons that remain vague – the work of a forensic accountant they had hired to examine the agency's books was stopped.

Shank is one of the dismissed directors. She was serving as the board's treasurer. Another is Jenine Dunn. She was its president. Both learned in October, before being dismissed in January, that Socker had been fired.

"It was our opinion that she was let go because Mr. Hare thought she was giving Jenine information," Shank told The News.

Nate Boyd of Buffalo said he worked at CAO of Western New York as a martial arts instructor from 2015 to 2017, so he was gone before Socker was let go. But he said he remains connected to current employees. Boyd, who uses Facebook to advocate for the downtrodden, said Socker was fired days after the short-lived termination of her boss.

"She knows a whole lot," Boyd said of Socker.

CAO has hundreds of workers and spends more than $50 million a year, most of it government-provided, on programs that fight poverty. The agency also is one of the mayor's political assets, providing potential employment to allies and foot soldiers, sources familiar with the city's political scene tell The News. The mayor and Hare have been close for years.

Hare, who signed his first contract in 2002, has survived other challenges. He remained at the helm after a former CAO board president, Brian Davis, was convicted of stealing agency money. Davis had steered agency dollars to other nonprofits, which then wrote checks to fictitious organizations. Those fictitious groups then wrote checks to benefit Davis.

Davis, who also served on the Common Council, was sentenced to serve a year and a day in prison.

In January, Perry dismissed Hare's critics via letters. They were sent on his law firm's letterhead, not the Community Action Organization's. He told them there had been a "deficiency" in their appointments and they are "not a member of the CAO Board of Directors."

Perry refused to publicly explain the legal basis for his actions.

George K. Arthur, who was a director of CAO when it was created during President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty, said directors are not supposed to be removed by the agency's lawyer. Any removal requires a vote by the board itself, he said.

"An attorney works for the board and can only give his or her opinion," Arthur said. "It's up to the board members to accept the advice."

Arthur, a former Common Council president who is now the secretary of Buffalo's state-appointed control board, said the removed directors should be allowed to legally challenge Perry's actions, using a lawyer who should be paid by CAO.

"The proper process for removing people from the board has not been followed, period," he said.

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