City Comptroller Andrew SanFilippo took after Deputy Mayor Donna Brown at a press conference Thursday. He also mentioned Barron and Eric Gadley, BERC's chief loan officer, who was part of the staff panel that approved city loans to One Sunset and part of the crew that recommended that a subsidiary of the Erie County Industrial Development Agency lend the restaurant $50,000 without disclosing its financial troubles.
SanFilippo said the trio acted in a "very cavalier way" in encouraging the IDA committee to lend to "a failing operation."
"As the restaurant clearly struggled with mounting debt and appeared to be a business going down the tubes, BERC officials and Deputy Mayor Donna Brown were able to secure another $50,000 loan," the comptroller said.
Of course, Mayor Byron Brown's role needs to be examined. The comptroller's audit found no paper trail, no smoking gun, that leads back to the mayor's office. But we're early in the game.
Brown has acknowledged meeting with One Sunset owner Leonard Stokes to discuss the business and that he asked Tim Wanamaker, then the city's top economic development official, to "see if you can be helpful."
What we don't know is what, if anything, Brown did behind the scenes on behalf of the project. The mayor, who is also BERC chairman, insists he did nothing beyond what he has disclosed.
But the mayor, at his press conference yesterday, repeatedly repeated what he's been saying been saying for some time, that he essentially didn't know what was going on.
Let's keep in mind that as both chairman of BERC and a member of the ECIDA board, he has a legal obligation to know what's going on. The old Sergeant Schultz line of "I know nothing" doesn't cut it.
I suppose it's possible that Barron, Gadley and Donna Brown went the extra mile -- to say the least -- on behalf of One Sunset of their own volition. But it's quite plausible that they were appeasing higher-ups, if not following orders.
There are a lot of investigators at work trying to figure out the answers to this and other questions.
Update: One reader, writing under "William," posted a comment to this blog earlier today that is worth quoting:
Forget for a moment the role the Mayor played in securing the loans for this fiasco. The Comptroller is part of a clever political game of public relations framing of the issue. By attempting to focus the community's attention on a narrow question - "Is there a document that proves that the Mayor directed the granting of the loan?" - we are being distracted from the larger issue.
Assume for a moment that what the Mayor is saying is true. It would mean that as Chairman of BERC, he had absolutely no idea what was going on with two major loans, that he never once reviewed the progress of this business, that he read no reports, asked no questions, talked to neither his Deputy Mayor, Wanamaker, Barron, or anyone else involved with the venture, that the Mayor never attended a meeting where these loans were discussed - in other words, the Mayor is admitting that he in no way met his fiduciary responsibility to oversee the use of these funds as Chairman of the BERC Board.
This admission of failing to properly execute the duties of his position is part of a larger pattern of admissions to being unaware of major failures of his Administration (a few examples: out-of-control overtime that he was "unaware" of until it was reported in the News; the poor execution of the clean-up after the October 2006 storm; the emails sent by a Commissioner directing City employees to "volunteer" for his campaign).
The statements that Brown has made asserting that he was unaware of improper acts are made in an attempt to distance the Mayor from charges of corruption. But in doing that, he is admitting that he is incompetent.
Another update: The Buffalo Pundit also has weighed in with a noteworthy commentary.
Byron Brown and his administration may not have micromanaged the One Sunset deal. But they created the system that led to it. This is a gross violation of the public trust, and firing Michelle Barron is scapegoating. There’s far, far more blame to spread around.
On a related front, Shredd and Ragan of 103.3 FM, The Edge, asked me to discuss the One Sunset situation on air yesterday afternoon.
People tell me I have a face for radio, so I guess I was in my element.