Talk of political deals made around the Buffalo comptroller position was front and center during interviews of five applicants seeking appointment to the position left vacant when Mark J.F. Schroeder resigned Feb. 1, to take a job as commissioner of the state's Department of Motor Vehicles.
Fillmore District Common Council Member David A. Franczyk directly questioned Lovejoy District Common Council Member Richard A. Fontana and Erie County Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams about the rumors during the three-hour-long interview sessions Tuesday by the Common Council.
"Were any promises made to hire you after you're done as comptroller" if appointed, Franczyk asked Fontana, who said Tuesday he is not circulating petitions for the comptroller's race this year for a full four-year term. Neither is he running for re-election this year for the Council.
"No promises made," Fontana responded. "If I serve this year in the comptroller's office whoever is elected by the general public, I will also work with them to have an orderly transition to them."
Franczyk pressed further, quoting election law.
"It says, it shall be unlawful to directly or indirectly promise any employment, position, work, compensation or other benefit provided or made possible in whole or in part to any person as consideration, favor or reward for any political activity," Franczyk read.
"So you're saying today that you are not promised any political position or job at the first of the year?" Franczyk asked Fontana, 46.
"There's no job offering or acceptance. There's nobody in the office to offer" a job, said Fontana, adding that if appointed, he would recommend a capital asset management plan, increase the role of the comptroller's office with the Council and the public, including meeting with residents.
Franczyk raised the same conversation with Miller-Williams, when it was her turn to be interviewed by council members.
"Have you promised a job to any of the applicants for this position?" he asked Miller-Williams, who is running for the comptroller's seat in this year's elections and was selected Monday in a party vote to become the Democratic nominee for the position.
"No I have not promised a job to anyone at this point in time," she responded.
"Are you aware of any promises that a job for anyone appointed to this position?" Franczyk continued.
"I can only speak for myself," said Miller-Williams, 62. "I am not aware of any promises. I have not made any promises with anyone for any employment opportunities."
"If someone, if they don't run, they were promised a job," Francyzk continued.
"I am not aware of anyone being promised a job," said Miller-Williams.
Francyzk quoted to Miller-Williams the same part of the election law that he quoted to Fontana.
"I just want to read it into the record because you're here testifying before us and what you say is considered to be truthful information," he said. "There's a lot of talk out there. I know that not all the talk is true, but these things don't happen in a vacuum. Politics plays its part in it, and I just want to make sure it's above board."
Miller-Williams said, if elected, she will ensure an open and transparent relationship with the Brown administration, the Council and constituents and taxpayers of Buffalo.
Originally six people, including Fontana and Miller-Williams, submitted applications for the appointment to the comptroller's seat, which expires Dec. 31.
Jonathan A. Rivera withdrew his name from consideration, saying he wants to remain an administrator in the Erie County Department of Public Works.
Vanessa A. Glushefski, 37, who was appointed deputy comptroller by Schroeder last December and has been serving as acting comptroller since Schroeder's resignation, cited that background and touted her skills as a certified public accountant and attorney. She said none of the other candidates "bring the amount of expertise I do in the areas of financial and legal understanding."
Glushefski said why she feels a woman would be a good fit for the job. Glushefski and Miller-Williams were named in a campaign that urged the Council to consider one of the women for the appointment.
"You have the opportunity to make right what the city has gotten wrong, to say to women that Buffalo is not a city where they are passed over," Glushefski told the all-male Council. "Some of you have daughters like I do, and you see their potential like I do, and with this decision you can take a step forward creating a world that treats them with fairness and honors their skills and experience. "
Council members complimented Glushefski's resume, with Franczyk adding that Glushefski shouldn't make a person's gender a focal point of the position.
"I'm not voting for a candidate because of their gender. Whether it's a man or a woman I will vote for the best candidate," Franczyk said.
Patrick J. Curry, 38, said his "unique" position of having served seven years as executive assistant to the comptroller, under Schroeder, gives him "expertise and knowledge of every aspect of my department."
Still Curry's background is not in finance, said University District Council Member Rasheed N.C. Wyatt, but Curry, who still works in the comptroller's office, said the experience carries a lot of weight.
"Working with 10 CPAs in the past seven years gives me great understanding of finance," Curry said.
"There is a dire need for stability, a steady hand and a smooth transition in the department," he added. "Over the next few months, the department will go to the bond market to fund the city's capital projects. We will continue to transition to a new payroll system and opine on the mayor's recommended budget. These critical functions require experience, independence and accountable leadership."
Erie Community College student Scott Wilson, 18, said the position needs "something other than a career politician, an outsider." It needs a "fresh, young perspective," he said.
The Council must appoint an interim comptroller by April 27.