It may be, as one City Hall insider suggested to me Thursday, that Mayor Byron Brown and his inner circle really want to get to the bottom of what went wrong with the One Sunset deal. But from outward appearances, Brown and Company could be construed as circling the wagons.
For starters, consider their response to a "request" from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to review the One Sunset deal to determine if it followed the rules and regulations governing the use of block grant funds.
The Brown administration had one development agency headed by the mayor review the actions of a second development agency headed by the mayor.
The conclusion: the city did nothing wrong.
Then there's the refusal to turn over either of the two internal reports the city has done regarding the One Sunset deal. Yes, there may be legitimate privacy concerns involved, but the refusal to provide any information doesn't exactly make the Brown administration look forthcoming. The leadership of the Common Council has written BERC asking for release of the reports.
Then consider my interview Wednesday with Brian Reilly, president of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., whose shop provided Leonard Stokes money and manpower that was deployed to help keep the restaurant in business for all of one year.
I asked Reilly three or four times what he thought of everything he's read about the One Sunset deal, both in the paper and internal reviews conducted by the city.
Well, he started out with a reply similar to what ended Mark McGuire's prospects of getting elected to the baseball Hall of Fame.
Like McGuire, Reilly wanted to talk about the future, not the past. Then again, he said, it doesn't really matter what he thinks. After all, there's an investigation going on.
I got a bit incredulous at that point of the interview, telling Reilly, in effect: "You're the boss of this operation and you don't have an opinion? Get real."
Finally, finally, he grudgingly conceded that, yes, indeed, he was "definitely concerned."
Whew, I'm glad he got that off his chest.
It was Reilly's turn to get animated when I brought up Michelle Barron's performance and credentials.
He sounded genuinely offended by my story calling her qualifications into question.
I reported her job calls for a college degree and five years experience, while she is a high school graduate who had, at best, three years of applicable experience, before being promoted.
Reilly challenged me, saying that Barron has equivalent experience that qualified her for the job.
What equivalent experience might that be?
Reilly didn't really say.
I asked him whether Barron's job is on the line.
Reilly's response: She's been given additional job duties over the past two months.
OK, Brian, I hear you. I think we all hear you.
While I can only speculate, I think Reilly is probably aghast at what he's read in the paper and in his agency's own internal reports these past two weeks. Not that he can say that, given that he's part of a City Hall team that values image above all else.
I'll give Reilly this much credit -- at least he's answering questions. Sort of.
His boss, the mayor, continues to duck them.
I told you readers a couple of days ago that I had again asked for an interview with the mayor, not to talk about the One Sunset deal in general, but about questions I had about Brown's potential direct involvement in the One Sunset deal. They are questions that he and he alone -- well, and perhaps Steve Casey -- are qualified to answer.
Here's the e-mail response from Peter Cutler, the mayor's press handler:
As you know, the Mayor forwarded on Monday a report from BERC's ongoing review of this matter to the City Comptroller's office. Following that action, the Mayor spoke briefly with the paper's City Hall reporter, whose feature is in today's paper. Given that fact and the ongoing internal BERC review and Comptroller's audit, the Mayor will not comment any further.
So, he's clammed up until Comptroller Andrew SanFilippo's shop has done its review of both the One Sunset deal and the overall performance of BERC.
Which brings me to another point: In theory, an audit by the comptroller sounds good. But does SanFilippo have the manpower and the expertise to really get to the bottom of things?
Might he benefit from, say, asking State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for a helping hand? Or perhaps HUD?
(When I asked Reilly if he thought it was a good idea to involve the feds, he responded with an emphatic "Absolutely not!" Reilly is no doubt aware of Brown's ongoing efforts to stifle and otherwise marginalize the local HUD office since it issued a critical review of City Hall's management of block grant funds. We can't have that kind of scrutiny, especially in an election year.)
No knock on SanFilippo's staff, but the more people I talk to, the more I question if they have the chops necessary to do this audit justice.