Skip to primary navigation Skip to main content

City planning director by default

Not to get on Brendan Mehaffy's case before he's had a chance to hang the pictures on his office walls -- from scattered reports I've heard he's a fairly sharp attorney -- but Byron Brown has hired a city planner who has never worked as a city planner.

Yeah, a look at his resume shows he has a master's degree in urban and regional planning and his work as an attorney has involved planning issues. All that helps.

But the job of a city planner is to be a planner, not a lawyer, and one could argue that having an experienced planner is especially important in a town that has a history of terrible planning decisions.

That's one issue. The other is that, as best as I can tell, Mehaffy is the only job candidate Brown interviewed.

If you recall, the city did an extensive search for a planner more than a year ago and offered the job to Michael Kimelberg, a Buffalo native working in Seattle. He accepted the position, then had second thoughts and turned it down. 

Suspecting that the administration did not conduct a new job search, and hearing City Hall was having a hard time getting candidates to accept the job after Kimelberg turned it down, and further suspecting Brown and Co. didn't interview anyone in recent months other than Mehaffy before offering him the position, I e-mailed Cutler the following:

Peter: I have a few questions related to the hiring of Brendan Mehaffy.
What kind of job search was involved - local, national? How many candidates applied for the post? How many were interviewed?
While he's had experience dealing with planning as an attorney, he hasn't worked as a planner, which could be regarded as a pretty big hole in the resume. What was the rationale in bypassing someone with experience as a planner?

Cutler responded with this:

There was as you may recall a national search that resulted in the initial announcement of Michael Kimmelberg, but he withdrew.
Drew Ezak continued in the role on an interim basis and did an admirable job.
The Mayor ultimately chose Brendan Mehaffy, with the support of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, based his broad experience and knowledge, which I think is evident in both his resume and his professional employment.
To help you understand better his excellent qualifications, I’ve listed below some of his more notable academic and work experience:
Academic & Professional:
· Planning Degree
· Law Degree with a Community Development Focus (no joint MUP/JD program when I went to UB)
· 18 months in Kansas City working for a national land use law firm writing comprehensive plans, zoning codes, and subdivision regs for municipalities around the country
· 3 years in Buffalo working for a land use/environmental firm litigating urban renewal plans, zoning code, environmental matters, and working with developers and planning firms
· City attorney assigned as counsel to Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, and Parking (which is planning)
· Deputy Director of the WNY American Planning Association for 3 years, member of the national APA for 6 years
· Committee member on the Buffalo SmartCode Initiative
· Elmwood Village Design Committee Member (until I became a City Attorney)
· Longtime Member of Partners for a Livable WNY

Peter didn't exactly answer my questions, so I responded with this:

Is that to say you drew on the pool of applicants from the search that resulted in the Kimmelberg hiring?

More importantly, who, besides Mehaffy was interviewed this time around before the decision was made to go with him? I'm not looking for names, but number of candidates who got interviews.

Cutler's response:

The Mayor went with the person he believes will do the best job, especially in light of the plan to reconfigure the city’s overall economic development activities.
I don’t know why a number is so important to you, Jim. We’ve got an extremely experienced and talented person to do a very important job.

That, of course, did not address my questions, so, being the pain-in-the-butt reporter that I am, I asked one more time:

I want to know if anyone else was interviewed, and if so, how many of them. Based on your response thus far, my hunch is that no one else was called in form a formal interview. Please confirm, correct and, if you so desire, otherwise enlighten.
As for experience, yes, he has it as a lawyer. It does not appear from his resume that he has worked a day as a planner, however.

I sent that e-mail last Tuesday and I haven't heard from Cutler since. My experience as a reporter tells me that when you ask three times "how many job candidates were interviewed" and you don't get a straight answer, it means that the only guy interviewed was the guy who got the job.

Mehaffy's hiring is not the end of the world. He might work out.

In fact, he's likely to work out better than some of the other folks Brown has hired into key positions, although I realize that may be damning with faint praise.

Perhaps more telling is what this says about how undesirable City Hall has become as an employment destination for top-shelf talent.

I mean, to find our new planning director, Brown only looked nine floors up in City Hall, where Mehaffy was working as an assistant corporation counsel. He's the lawyer Brown entrusted the negotiations with the Olmsted Conservancy, which the administration came close to tossing out in the street despite the stellar jobs it has done.

The hiring also raises questions about just how diligent the Brown administration is being in filling other top jobs. We've been promised national job searches in filling the top jobs in the police, fire and economic development departments.

Is the mayor breaking a sweat in trying to recruit and hire the best and brightest? Or will he and Steve Casey be satisfied in hiring loyalists who will walk with petitions, host fund-raisers and do as they're told.

It's not like they haven't done it before.

There was the appointment a few years back of Karla "Too Much Information" Thomas to a secure six-year term as Human Resources commissioner.  She had some paper credentials, but I suspect they didn't count as much as being president of Grassroots, the political club with close ties to the mayor, and being a longtime sidekick of Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples, a Brown ally. 

I can envision a scenario in which Acting Police Commissioner Dan Derenda -- who is tight with Casey, has contributed to the Brown campaign, and whose family apparel business has done business with both the city and mayor's re-election committee -- gets the appointment as H. McCarthy Gipson's permanent successor.

After a "national job search," of course.


(Follow this blog and my reporting on Facebook and Twitter. Have a story tip or something you want to share? e-mail me.)


City Hall
comments powered by Disqus