The Buffalo Common Council will “explore” a city manager form of governance to replace the office of mayor.
Under such a plan, a city manager would be selected by the nine-member Council in conjunction with the community to "carry out the will of the Council members," University Council Member Rasheed N.C. Wyatt told The Buffalo News.
Wyatt, who has often clashed with Brown, said the impetus for opening up a discussion of a city manager model for Buffalo is not an indictment of Brown. It is an indictment of the current system of governance, which has led to "disinvestment" in poorer neighborhoods in a city that has gotten smaller and poorer, he said.
From 1980 to 2020, the approximate population in Buffalo decreased from 357,870 to 255,000, while the poverty rate grew from 26.1% to 30.1%, Wyatt noted.
“It is about this mayor, but there’s been numerous mayors before him and … I’m going back as far as 1980 so you can’t put it all on this mayor, but seeing that he’s been mayor for 16 years, it does speak to that,” said Wyatt, who introduced a resolution recently directing Council staff to produce a report detailing the pros and cons of establishing such a form of government in Buffalo.
The "income assistance program" is one of 28 ways Mayor Byron Brown has recommended spending more than $328 million in federal stimulus aid to the city over two years.
The report is due in 90 days, about two weeks before the November mayoral election, in which Brown is waging a write-in campaign after losing the Democratic primary to political upstart India Walton. Any change that eliminates the office of mayor would have to come via a citywide ballot referendum, which would be all but impossible to get on the ballot by November.
The Council, which goes into recess in August, adopted the resolution Tuesday . South Council Member Christopher P. Scanlon voted in the negative, saying a majority of five Council members selecting a city manager instead of "tens of thousands of voters appointing" a mayor could lead to some "nefarious behavior."
Masten Council Member Ulysees O. Wingo Sr. also voted no because if the Council selects a city manager, the Council would become the person’s boss, which would eliminate balance of power, he said.
“I’m not necessarily seeing how this would be any more equitable than what is already in place,” Wingo said.
City spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge said, “The mayor of Buffalo is the manager of the city.”
The friction in the last year and a half contrasts with the historically placid relationship Brown has had with the legislative branch during much of his 15 years as mayor.
DeGeorge pointed to Brown's record on economic development as evidence that the current system is working. Buffalo has record economic development he pegged at more than $7 billion, the lowest tax rate in over 25 years, rising property values, more than 2,100 units of affordable housing created, the largest spending on youth employment ever and the most diverse workforce in the history of Buffalo, he said.
Wyatt has been at odds with Brown often over the last year and a half, particularly over the use of speed cameras in school zones and the establishment of a formal fund balance policy to restore the city’s cash reserves.
Wyatt said he felt retaliation from the administration over the speed cameras factored into his decision to start a conversation about a city manager.
"One of the things that really kind of added to this is the backlash that I received from the administration for standing up for my constituents,” Wyatt said. “And we cannot continue to govern in that type of way where if you don’t do what the mayor wants, he can attack you or not give you information. That is just not a good model and it’s shown over the years, the decades, that model does not help the residents in the City of Buffalo, especially those who are poor.”
Council President Darius G. Pridgen said the Council’s action was appropriate, and the Council is awaiting Brown's action.
Wyatt spearheaded the effort to remove the ticket-issuing cameras from the city’s School Zone Safety Program, which set a 15 mph speed limit around 20 public, private and charter schools. Drivers captured on camera traveling at least 26 mph around arrival and dismissal times received citations mailed to the car's registered owner. The city got $36 of each $50 citation. Sensys Gatso, the camera company that issued the citations, received $14.
Critics complained that the program targeted the city's most impoverished residents because the cameras were in high-poverty, minority neighborhoods.
The council eventually enacted legislation to have the cameras removed over the mayor's objections.