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Bad even by City Hall standards

There have been blatant political hires in City Hall who haven't worked out for like, forever, and it looks like we've got a doozy in Karla Thomas, commissioner of human resources.

Brian Meyer reports in today's Buffalo News that Thomas, when told by city auditors that her department made double payments for health insurance for up to 250 sanitation and water division workers, resulting in a $526,309 overpayment, she responded by saying "TMI," as in "too much information."

She followed up a week later by telling the city comptrollers office to take her off the e-mail list that discussed ways of solving the problem.

A City Hall commissioner who shies away from e-mail. Who'd a thunk it?

Comptroller Andrew SanFilippo, who is not known for throwing verbal hand grenades, used "meltdown" to describe the conduct of management in the department and "mess" to describe the current state of affairs.

Mayor Byron Brown, meanwhile, is standing by his commissioner. No talk of taking the department in a different direction, as he did last week in announcing the sacking of the police and fire commissioners.

Thomas makes nearly $90,000 a year and has one of the most important jobs in City Hall, with responsibilities that include labor relations, civil service and the administration of employee benefits. While she held a similar title with the Erie County Water Authority, she got the city job in 2008 because of her political connections.

At the time of her appointment she was chairperson of Grassroots, which can be loosely defined as the mayor's political organization. Previously, she has served as chief of staff for Crystal Peoples, another Grassroots mainstay, when she served on the county Legislature.

Some credentials, huh?

While Thomas gave up her Grassroots title when she took the city job, my sources tell me she's still deeply involved and doesn't always bother to take her political work outside City Hall.

I'm told she met a few weeks back with The Rev. Darius Pridgen in a skull session to figure out how he can maneuver his way into the Ellicott Council seat vacated by Brian Davis. She also was neck deep in Brown's re-election campaign last year.

You'd think with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel sniffing around City Hall for possible Hatch Act violations, Thomas might be a little more discreet. Then again, the Brown-Casey crew isn't known for its  subtlety.

Unlike most other commissioners, Thomas does not serve at the pleasure of the mayor. Instead, thanks to state law, she's got a six-year term that extends to September 2014 and can only be removed before then for just cause. Like, in not doing her job. If pressed, Brown no doubt will use her status as grounds for not moving against her.

But keep in mind Brown had no such reservations when he had his staff look into ways of trying to get rid of Len Matarese, Thomas' predecessor who he inherited from Mayor Anthony Masiello. Brown and Casey made Matarese's life so miserable he finally left on his own accord.

Thomas appears to have no such worries. As one frustrated city employee told me during last year's mayoral campaign, the Second Floor doesn't much care what kind of job you do 9 to 5 so long as you do the political work after hours. 

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City Hall | Politics
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