Skip to primary navigation Skip to main content

Money for nothing at BERC

Things have gone from bad to worse at the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp.

Mind you, bad was bad. Loans to One Sunset. Grants to barbershops. Stuff like that.

The agency has descended into a state of paralysis since Mayor Byron Brown announced in February his intention to eliminate BERC and shift its work to the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency.

You'd think the mayor would have had a plan in place before making the announcement, but he didn't. If you're looking for one now, well, keep looking.

Some board members - appointed independent of the mayor, who serves as chairman - were miffed that Brown didn't consult with them before announcing his intention to disband the agency. While I'm told there was some talk about fighting him, there was no evidence of that Tuesday at a board meeting I attended. Instead, there was a lot of talk about "transition."

It became clear to me as the meeting unfolded, and in several subsequent conversations I had with folks later in the day, that there is no plan in place to manage this transition. BERC President Dennis Penman told board members he and several high ranking members of the Brown administration - including Finance Commissioner Janet Penska - are working on it. But he doesn't expect the merger to be complete until September, maybe October.

In the meantime, BERC has stopped accepting loan applications and stopped making grants. Last month, its loan department did close on two previously approved loans worth $375,000, and there are two more in the pipeline, but that's it. If you call BERC seeking to apply for a loan, you're told "no can do."

Keep in mind that BERC does three basic functions - make loans, give grants and manage real estate. And on two of three fronts, there is precious little work to be done.

Now you might argue that given the agency's track record, this amounts to addition by subtraction. Problem is that all this inaction is costing money.

The agency employs, at last count, 25 people, at a cost of $1.2 million.  This money comes from block grant funds - i.e., money intended to fight poverty - and other money intended to promote economic development.

I asked Penman after the meeting if there was any plan to eliminate staff now that there is so much less to do. I was told no.

Later in the day I spoke to a rank-and-file staff member and asked what folks were doing now that the loan and grant programs have been suspended.

"Nothing," I was told. "Nothing."

Some of the staff in the field are managing to keep themselves busy. But many folks working out of BERC offices in City Hall have a lot of time on their hands.

Great. The economy is in the crapper. Poverty in the city is getting worse. Albany's fiscal crisis can't help but trickle down. Meanwhile, the city's economic development agency isn't doing much more than paying people a lot of money to do a little work.

Then there are the lawyers. Don't get me started on the lawyers. 

BERC has a full-time staff attorney. So does BURA. Nevertheless, the BERC board was told Tuesday of plans to hire outside counsel to deal with the merger of the two agencies.

All this leads to the obvious question: How many lawyers is it going to take to screw in this light bulb?

Answer: Too many.

All this grousing overlooks the larger issue related to the merger of BERC and BURA, one I wrote about when it was announced.

Moreover, while BERC has an independent board that includes members with professional expertise, the BURA board is controlled by the mayor and populated with politicians and staff who work for them.

It's pretty obvious that Brown announced the merger at his State of the City address to make a political splash - big surprise there, huh? - without doing his homework. More than a month later, there's not much progress to show. Then again, he got the spin he wanted at the time of the announcement, and wasn't that really the point?

On a more positive note, I'll close by reporting the mayor actually showed up for the BERC board meeting Tuesday. As I've reported in the past, he hasn't been in line for a perfect attendance sticker. But this time around, the mayor is marked down as "in attendance." Alas, he was tardy, showing up a half-an-hour late and doing little at the meeting aside from introducing a member of his staff. 

********************

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

What $150 an hour will buy you

There are two issues with the Erie County Industrial Development Agency's use of public relations consultants, as I report in Wednesday's paper.

First is their cost -- $150 an hour for the firm now on board, $190 for the previous crew.

Those are prices usually associated with high falutin' attorneys. Go much higher and we're talking services that got Eliot Spitzer run out of office. 

The other issue is what they do  their money, which, as my story in today's Buffalo News demonstrates, sometimes involves enough spin and obfuscation to make all but the most-hardened of PR hacks blush.

Long story short, the ECIDA got called out last August for failing to vet the now-infamous loan application by Leonard Stokes to keep his failing One Sunset afloat. The IDA did little more than run a personal credit check and failed to check the public record, which would have set off all sorts of warning flares, Liens, lawsuits, failure to turn over sales tax receipts to the state. Stuff like that.

Rather than simply admitting they screwed up and promising to do better in the future, the IDA, working with Travers Collins & Co., issued a press release that claimed the loan application had been the subject of a "stringent review," that the handling of One Sunset "adhered to loan review guidelines," and that "due diligence is a way of life for us."

IDA Press Release on One Sunset

Having done the original investigation of the One Sunset deal with Pat Lakamp, I knew the press release simply wasn't true.

Which all begs the question: Why is the ECIDA spending money that's supposed to go towards promoting economic development on public relations consultants?

Especially when it involves spin rather than facts.

At $150 an hour, to boot.

Here's what the damage looked like for "due diligence is a way of life" and other efforts at damage control for the month of August.

Travers Collins bill for August 2009

I'll grant the IDA this much. With a staff of 16 -- down considerably from a few years back and less than half of its do-nothing counterpart at the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. -- it doesn't seem like the agency has people sitting around with time on their hands.

On the other hand, the ECIDA is far from the only economic development agency working with a leaner staff, and others somehow find a way of surviving without top-dollar PR help. Some make due with what I know is a foreign concept to people in government here -- collaboration with others in government.

Down the road in Rochester, for example, the public information officer for Monroe County helps out the IDA in issuing press releases and fielding calls from reporters. It would be like Grant Loomis, who functions as a spokesman for County Executive Chis Collins, pitching in.

The thing of it is, when left to their own devices, the folks I deal with at the IDA are generally upfront. Decent people, actually, who get a lot more done with way fewer people than their counterparts at the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., who snookered them into lending One Sunset the money.  When I find them fibbing or stonewalling, they're usually in the company of their lawyers or PR handlers.

In the case of the "due diligence is a way of life for us" press release, the IDA and Travers Collins outsmarted themselves.

Mayor Byron Brown had tweaked them in the morning paper one day last August about their role in One Sunset, and by the end of that day they had issued the press release in the mistaken belief that The News was planning, in the words of IDA Executive Director Al Culliton "a very negative, one-sided" story on his agency's role in One Sunset.

The trouble is, as I explained to Culliton on the phone last week, that no such story was in the works. Pat and I had spoken our piece on the IDA's role months earlier in our original investigation. We had no plans for a follow-up story.

I remember reading the "due diligence" press release when it was issued and showing it to Pat.

Our jaws dropped.

Then we had a good laugh.

Then our blood pressures rose.

We decided there was a lot more detail that we didn't report back in May that we should put on the record in the face of the IDA's disinformation.

Here's what we wrote.

And here's what I blogged.

That experience, and the subsequent refusal of the IDA to honor a Freedom of Information request seeking the repayment status of active loans made by its Regional Development Corp., got me wondering just how much money the agency is spending to get all this bad advice.

I filed another FOI request to obtain the IDA's contracts with Travers Collins and Harris Beach and found out the answer is $150 an hour for the flak and $125 to $175 an hour for the lawyers.

Actually, the rates for attorneys in Harris Beach aren't out of line. Even if their lawyers don't understand the FOI Law -- or are simply intent on ignoring it

As for Travers Collins, I look at the $150 an hour and think to myself that telling the truth doesn't cost a thing.

******************************

Want to nose around for yourself? Here you go ...

Travers Collins contract with ECIDA

Travers Collins bills submitted to ECIDA

Eric Mower contract with IDA

City comptroller audit of One Sunset deal

******************************

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

Brian Davis sentence, short on punishment, is par for the course

He stole and he lied, but Brian Davis will not spend one minute in prison or pay one penny in fines thanks to the sentence handed down Wednesday by Chief City Court Judge Thomas Amodeo.

Instead, Davis was granted a conditional discharge, ordered to perform 200 hours of community service -- of his own choosing -- and prohibited from taking a job involving the handling of money for a year.

It could have been worse -- indeed, some will consider it a slap on the wrist -- considering that each of the two criminal counts he pleaded guilty to last November carried a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

To say nothing of the fact that Davis, in pleading guilty to pocketing $1,900 in campaign funds for personal use and masking his actions by filing false disclosure reports with the state Board of Elections, became the city's first elected official in more than 50 years to end up with a criminal record as a result of his conduct in office.

Unfortunately, the sentence is par for the course when it comes to public corruption around these parts.

John Doscher, chief of the district attorney's special investigations and prosecution bureau, said the Davis case was the 50th case he has handled since 1989 involving the misuse of public funds by someone on the public payroll. Most were rank-and-file employees, but about a half-dozen of them were elected officials.

Doscher said he doesn't recall on of them receiving a jail sentence. Only a small number were fined, he said.

I find this telling. White-collar crime by politicians and government employees just isn't a big deal when it comes to judges and prosecutors. Not enough to actually impose what the public would consider real punishment.

I quizzed Amodeo and Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita III after Davis was sentenced and came away thinking their jobs leave them with a different perspective -- and frankly, a little tone deaf -- when it comes to while-collar crimes committed by people who get paid by taxpayers.

For Amodeo, his decision was pretty straightforward. He read the pre-sentencing report issued by the county Probation Department, asked the DA in attendance if he had any thoughts, and then pretty much imposed the recommended sentence. Amodeo said he follows the recommendations most, but not all of the time, and I came away from my interview with the sense that the Probation Department's report on Davis was fairly gentle.

Sedita wasn't about to criticize the sentence. That's not how he and most prosecutors operate.

More to the point, Sedita views his job, first and foremost, as putting violent criminals behind bars. People who murder, rape, etc. Politicians who steal from their campaign contributors don't rise to the same level. Nor should they.

He'll prosecute them, but he picks his spots when asking a judge to impose a stiffer sentence than what the probation folks recommend, and it almost always involves a violent crime. The DA wasn't about to depart from normal operating procedures on the Davis case.

OK, I understand. Compared to the horrors they routinely deal with, Davis pocketing $1,900 in campaign money and filing false campaign finance disclosure reports aren't that big of a deal to the judge and the DA.

As a result, Amodeo and Sedita, as well as the Probation Department, treated this sentencing as business as usual. But this was not a routine case.

Rather, we have a very visible violation of a public trust committed by a politician with a history of transgressions. Again, he's the first city politician to get caught with his hands in the cookie jar for at least a half-century.

Brian davis Moreover, Davis and his lawyer weren't exactly fessing up in comments they made before Amodeo handed down his sentence.

Yeah, Davis said all the right things about accepting responsibility and apologizing to his family, friends and constituents.

At the same time, he and his lawyer insisted that Davis did not intentionally commit a crime.

Rather, they chalked it up to "stupidity," implying that this was somehow out of character.

What a load of you-know-what. 

The crimes he pleaded guilty to were very much in character. As I reported in April:

... the Council member has a history of running afoul of state authorities and people to whom he owes money.

Since 2000, state officials have placed a lien against Davis to collect unpaid income taxes, suspended his driver’s license for lapsed auto insurance, and frozen his campaign account because of violations of election laws, according to public records and interviews. His license remains suspended and his campaign account frozen.

Davis has gone through personal bankruptcy and his Council wages have been garnisheed, according to public records. He and his wife also had their home built by a developer who does business before the Council, and their house is exempted from property taxes.

Creditors, including state tax officials, have filed five liens with the Erie County clerk and five lawsuits in Buffalo Small Claims Court in an effort to obtain payment of $22,456 in debts, public records show. Some $8,018 of that has yet to be paid, records show.

Davis, who failed to respond to repeated interview requests from The News, also has been under scrutiny for his involvement with One Sunset, a now-closed restaurant on Gates Circle that was launched with the help of city loans and grants.

I followed up with a story in May documenting that Davis doctored his resume to claim a college degree he didn't have.

Now maybe this isn''t how it's done in court, but it would have been nice if the judge or prosecutor had challenged Davis or his lawyer in the middle of their "dog ate my homework" speeches.

Rodney Personius, Davis' lawyer, spoke about how difficult the past year has been on Davis, how it has changed him. He essentially gave the "my client as suffered enough" speech.

I'm sure it has been hard for Davis. But he is hurting from self-inflicted wounds and, from where I sit, I don't see where it has humbled him.

Davis wouldn't resign from the Council until every major political ally except Mayor Byron Brown had called for him to step down, even as Sedita was insisting that Davis had no choice but to resign.

Then, Davis tried to make himself a player when Democratic committeemen convened to consider his successor, to the point where some in attendance said he was a disruptive presence.

To top it off, I'm told by one person active in Ellicott District politics that Davis recently told him and others that he is giving serious thought to running for his old Council seat in 2011.

Does this sound like a repentant person?

Then again, why should he be?

Davis has learned, as have 49 others before him, that when you commit a crime while on the public payroll, your punishment isn't going to get much worse than community service.

That explains in some small way why local government in this region is the pits. Corruption, while not endorsed, isn't really punished.

********************

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

More detail on the One Sunset disaster

Stokes, leonard

Can indictments be far behind?

And perhaps a few more firings?

We've known since last spring, when Pat Lakamp and I reported on the city's bankrolling of One Sunset,that the $160,000 in loans and grants City Hall and the ECIDA put into the business were a terrible investment.

An audit done by the city comptroller that was released Monday provides more gory details.

"The use of these funds were mismanaged from the very start," the audit concluded.

City and county development officials come off as incompetent, at best, and possibly complicit in the fleecing of the public.

What's more, it's pretty clear that unknown parties flat out stole from the business.

The audit found that $27,985 of the ECIDA loan can't be accounted for, nor can $38,000 of inventory. And there's the matter of money lent to pay bills that were never paid.

Here are the "highlights:"

-- The restaurant lost money every month it was open. For example, the "business plan," and I used the term loosely, projected a $154,020 profit the first 3 1/2 months of operation. Instead, it lost $178,126. And that's not counting the sales tax that the restaurant collected, but never turned over to the state.

-- One Sunset owner Leonard Stokes's credit score was so bad that it should have disqualified him from borrowing.

-- The Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. made exceptions left and right to help Stokes, pictured above. His business was given a $30,000 grant without having to make a required match. BERC made additional exceptions when it lent Stokes money despite his poor credit score. The agency also failed to hold Stokes to several loan terms. Most egregious - it lent him $40,000 to pay off vendors, but he never paid the debts.

-- BERC took Stokes' word that he invested $119,000 in the restaurant without ever receiving supporting documentation. Then again, the audit said BERC never reviewed his original business plan, either. No need to, I guess, given that Pat and I previously reported that city officials who were supposed to review it actually wrote it. 

-- The ECIDA failed to do its homework before deciding to lend Stokes $50,000. In fact, One Sunset had expenses of $53,711 and sales of just $14,889 the month before the IDA awarded Stokes the loan.  

"If the ECIDA had performed adequate due diligence,as they publicly stated in newspaper reports, they would have discovered the downward trend in revenue and presumably would have never approved the new loan," the audit said.

Michelle Barron,the BERC vice president who was neck deep in the One Sunset deal, right down to buying the bar stools and helping manage the restaurant, was fired over the summer. Eric Gadley, the agency's chief lending officer whose fingerprints are also over the deal, still has his job. And that would be because why?

Likewise, no one at the ECIDA has paid a price for that agency's actions. Criticize the city all you want - please - but don't forget about the IDA.

Hey, Chris Collins, do you tolerate this kind of behavior in your businesses?

Why are you tolerating it at your IDA?

Brown on primary night While the audit doesn't address the question of Mayor Byron Brown's possible role in the restaurant deal, Darryl McPherson, the city's chief auditor, told Brian Meyer in an interview that Brown's hands are clean.

"What happened at BERC [with One Sunset] had nothing to do with the mayor," McPherson said Monday. "This wasn't about him tampering with operations."

I'm not sure what McPhearson is basing this on. I don't know if Brown played a role or not, but I'm skeptical that Barron and Gadley wandered this far off the reservation of their own volition.

I say this because (1) BERC didn't cut this many corners or ignore so many of its own policies for other business deals it has made and (2) Brown has a documented history of involvement with Stokes, most notably when he interceded right before police were ready to arrest Stokes. 

Like I said, I'm not saying Brown greased the skids for Stokes on the restaurant deal. I'm just saying.

********************

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

In defense of Frank Sedita

No reporter in town likes to hoist politicians by their petards more than I do. But I just don't buy into the grief Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III is getting from some quarters for the guilty plea entered last week by Ellicott Common Council Member Brian Davis.

SeditaThe argument goes something like this: Davis might have committed felonies, and might have been convicted if brought to trial, so therefore Sedita was wrong to negotiate a plea to Class A misdemeanor charges.

I see two flaws in that reasoning.

First, prosecutors since -- what, Roman times? -- have taken the bird in the hand (a plea) over two in the bush (the prospect of a conviction through trial). But all of a sudden, in this case, there's something wrong that that strategy.

Second, the plea by Davis was grounds for his automatic removal from office.

So, what the district attorney effectively did was get Davis to plea to charges that resulted in his removal from office. And some people are taking him to task for it. I guess they think more pounds of flesh should have been extracted.

The bottom line to me, as I close the book, or at least this chapter, on the Brian Davis Story, is that Davis no longer holds public office.

The Common Council didn't get rid of him.

Mayor Byron Brown certainly didn't get of him.

Frank Sedita did.

It's time people direct their cynicism elsewhere.

Brian Davis quits after being fired

Brian Davis quit a job Thursday that a lot of folks, including Erie County DA Frank Sedita, thought he was fired from last Friday.

Whatever, he is gone.

Davis resigns Last week, Davis, through his attorney, vowed to hang onto his job after pleading guilty to pocketing campaign contributions for personal use and lying to the state Board of Elections about it.

But, after being a no-show for work this week, and after hearing every single one of his Council colleagues say he needed to give up his post, Davis threw in the towel at a 5:30 p.m. press conference on the steps of City Hall.

Well, not exactly a press conference. That would imply he answered questions. No, after reading a statement, he bounded up the steps. Marshawn Lynch should be that elusive.

I'll give the guy this much -- he finally said he was sorry. Over and over again.

Reports Brian Meyer: 

"My conduct was unacceptable and I do want to apologize," Davis said in the statement. "My 32,000-plus constituents in the Ellicott District, and the city as a whole, deserve better. I
am truly sorry."

With Davis officially out of the way, the fun 'n' games to choose a successor is off and running. I floated some names the other day and Brian's story in Thursday's News mentions a few others, including the Rev. Darius G. Pridgen, pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church.

PridgenHe would be a formidable candidate. He's held elected office before on the Board of Education, although he quit 19 months before his term was up, saying his pastoral duties demanded his time.

Psssst, Rev, serving on the Council is a full-time job involving a lot more hours than the School Board. Could you really do justice to both jobs?

Then again, while I don't know Pridgen, from a distance he seems to be dynamic and accomplished, and knows how to operate in the public sphere. All good things.

He's said to be close to the mayor, and for all I know, hizzoner is one of the folks encouraging him to seek the post. Given his standing in the community, Pridgen could be a tough candidate for the Council to turn down if he is recommended by Democratic committeemen.

I don't know enough about him to know whether he'd operate independent of the mayor. I mean, does he have the backbone to tell Steve Casey to take a hike? And would he want to?

Fom all the names floated -- and remember, it's still early -- Pridgen and Bryon McIntrye strike me as possible front-runners.  

McIntryre is a city firefighter who knows his way around the district, being active in community affairs and having run for the Council and School Board. His support for Mickey Kearns in the mayoral primary will not hurt him with the Council majority who control the votes that choose Davis' successor.

Barbara Miller-Williams, meanwhile, insists she is not interested in leaving her seat on the County Legislature for a return engagement on the Council. She must be having too much fun playing footsies with the Republicans.

One new name I'm hearing is Don Allen, a former commissioner under Jimmy Griffin and Tony Masiello.

Update: Don called me Thursday morning to say he will be filing his resume for consideration by the Council. He said he's got the experience in government to be an effective Council member.

What names are you hearing, folks, or what names ought we be hearing?

Anyone have any insights -- as opposed to scuttlebutt -- on Pridgen's relationship with Bryon Brown?

Criminal and Councilman -- Brian Davis wants it both ways

Davis in court 

I'll admit to being just a wee-wee bit sorry -- maybe 2 percent -- for Brian Davis on Friday for about half an hour when he was in City Court to plead guilty to charges he pocketed campaign donations for personal purposes and lied about it.

First there was the "perp walk" between the elevators and the courtroom with five or six TV cameras and bright lights in his face.

Humiliating, I thought to myself.

Then there was the courtroom scene. After conferring with attorneys, Chief City Court Judge Thomas Amodeo allowed cameras into the chamber, and they set up shop about 15 feet away from Davis.

Lights, action, camera.

Yeah, humiliating.

It was all over in about 12 minutes and then Davis and his attorney, Rodney Personius, eventually headed to the hallway and quickly ended my sliver of sympathy.

Personius said he had a statement, but was not going to answer questions. He went on to praise Davis for making his plea and declared his client is not stepping down from office.

With that, the pair bolted to the elevators, ignoring a torrent of questions, including "what do you have to say to your constituents?"

Davis never said "I'm sorry." Not to the judge. Not to reporters. Not to his constituents.

Maybe that was the time and place. Maybe it wasn't.

But to dig in his heels and declare his intention to fight to keep his Council seat was brazen, especially given what DA Frank Sedita is saying: that Davis vacated the seat in making his plea.

I should not have been surprised by Davis' bloodied but unbowed stance.

After all, this is the guy who, as I documented in April, has been stiffing people for money for years.

Who is a chronic abuser of the state election law.

Who lied about his college degree.

Who kept losing his license and driving anyway.

Who was part of the crowd that brought us One Sunset.

Who has been skipping meetings and blowing off anyone who has questioned his actions.

No, Brian Davis is not going. Not without a fight. And certainly not gracefully.

This tiger isn't changing his stripes.

  *********************************************************

Want to delve into the details? Check out these documents.

DA's case against Davis filed in City Court 

Public Officers Law

Related court ruling

Another related court ruling, involving Erie County Legislator george "Butch" Holt

*********************************************************

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

 

Brian Davis finally fesses up

Ineptitude in city government is a given. But corruption, in the form of an honest-to-goodness plea or conviction is rare, rare, rare in City Hall.

That makes Common Council Member Brian Davis' plea today to criminal charges that he pocketed campaign contributions and used them for personal purposes and then lied to the state Board of Elections about it particularly scandalous.

Brian davis I picked the brains of some old-timers and while mayors Steven Pankow and Chester Kowal were indicted in the 1950s and 1960s respectively, they were never convicted.

The no-show job scandal during the final term of Mayor Frank Sedita in the early 1970s did not result in legal action.

The Parks Department scandal in the late 1980s and early 1990s under Jimmy Griffin resulted in Parks Commissioner Bob Delano going to jail, and the mayor's brother Tommy served time for property tax fraud in Florida, but neither episode landed hizzoner in court.

So, it's been more than a half-century since an elected official in Buffalo has been guilty of a crime - in the eyes of the legal system, anyway. Think about that, given how screwed up City Hall has been for, well, forever, or at least since Grover Cleveland was in office?

The only thing I find surprising about Davis' fall from grace is how quickly it happened.

I reported in April that he was a deadbeat, followed up in May with a report that he had doctored his credentials, and BAM! -- six months later he's plead guilty to charges that are probably going to lead to his removal from office.

Suffice to say, District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III didn't waste time.

Although Davis took a deep breath today and pleaded guilty, it doesn't mean his legal troubles are necessarily over.

He's also still got the FBI sniffing around the One Sunset scandal, in which he played a role, first helping to secure city funding for the project and later writing a check to cover the rent Brian Davis that bounced.

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

IDA continues to obfuscate in wake of One Sunset fiasco

The folks who run the Erie County Industrial Development Agency must still be smarting over the grief they caught for lending Leonard Stokes $50,000 when his One Sunset was in the process of tanking.

A few months ago they made the laughable claim that "due diligence is a way of life" at the IDA. This, from an outfit that didn't even do a basic public records check on Stokes and his restaurant, one that would have screamed "do not lend money to this business!"

Stokes, leonard Now, earlier this week, the IDA staged a press event in which it trotted out some of the other minority business owners who borrowed money at the same time as Stokes in an effort to make the point that not all the loans went bad. In fact, the IDA says, nine other loans made at the same time are panning out.

Perhaps a bit of perspective is in order, however.

For starters, a report released by the IDA in February showed that nearly half of the money its Regional Development Corp. has lent to minority businesses over the years has not been paid back. As in 43.6 percent. Compared with 12.7 percent for all loans.

In other words, the RDC's track record when it comes to lending to minority business is abysmal.

Don't get me wrong. We need to seed minority-owned businesses. But we also need to be smart about it. And the record strongly suggests the IDA/RDC isn't.

But there's more.

I inquired last month as to the repayment status of the RDC's current loans. The Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. routinely makes this information available. But not the RDC/IDA. It responded to my recent Freedom of Information request with a denial.

I called Bob Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, and he termed the IDA's position "ridiculous." I've filed an appeal.

Think about it -- a public agency is lending money to businesses and claiming that it's none of the public's business whether the money is being repaid, at least not until the loans go officially belly up. Thus, the IDA is less transparent than BERC.

I'm not the only one the IDA is trying to stiff for this information. County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz is having the same problem getting this data.

One final bit of information. The IDA is paying good money for all I reference above.

The press events are being staged managed by the PR firm of Travers Collins & Co. The bad legal advice comes from Harris Beach.

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

 

I'm No. 2 and trying harder

Uh-oh, it looks like the FBI is engaged in "dirty politics" as Byron Brown perceives it, but before I get to that bit of news I'd like to share that Outrages & Insights has been selected as the second-best newspaper blog in the state.

The New York State Associated Press Association announced the winners of its annual journalism contest today and Outrages & Insights placed second among newspapers with a circulation over 125,000, which includes the dailies in New York City and Rochester.

While Rochester Slept, by Chad Roberts of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle placed first while Inside Pitch by Mike Harrington of The News was awarded third.

Mel brooks

My posts submitted for consideration included mini-exposes on Tom Golisano's and Steve Pigeon's slime job on Sam Hoyt and the Buffalo Police Department's suppression of crime reports, and, my favorite, the ongoing efforts by village mayors -- including the leader of Farnham, population 322 -- to save their "phony baloney jobs," in the legendary words of Governor William J. LePetomane.

To paraphrase the Elvis album, I guess 629,735 page views can't be wrong.

My live blogging of the crash of Flight 3407 was included in package that took first place for spot news coverage, although I was a bit player in the Herculean task by our staff to cover that tragedy. In all, The News won nine first-place awards.

In the print competition, the AP honored the One Sunset investigation Patrick Lakamp and I did as the top business story of the year in the large newspaper category.

My coverage of the New York Power Authority -- including this story on NYPA bonuses and this piece on how the authority is profitting at the expense of Western New York  -- placed third in the business reporting category.

But enough about me.

Back in City Hall, the FBI delivered a letter to Common Council President David Franczyk on Tuesday that many are reading between the lines to mean the Eliot Ness crowd is looking into the mayor's interceding into the police department's handling of Leonard Stokes when he was ticketed for having a stolen handicapped parking permit on his car.

We already know that the FBI has interviewed at least one of the police officers who was involved in questioning Stokes. Phil Fairbanks, in his story today, reports:

A number of Council members speculated privately that the FBI is probably not interested in the permit issue per se, but may be looking into what the handicapped parking issue reveals about Brown's relationship with Stokes. The question, they speculated, is whether that relationship influenced the city's handling of One Sunset.

 Fairbanks also reports that the city's Ethics Board has swung into action.

In a related matter, the city Board of Ethics voted unanimously Tuesday to ask Brown to respond to a separate Franczyk letter about Stokes and the handicapped permit.

 Board Chairman Douglas Coppola said the request is part of the normal process for reviewing any alleged ethics violation. Brown has repeatedly refused to comment on the permit allegations.

As I said the other day, this story is not going to go away, and the appearance of a coordinated effort by Brown and Co. to "disappear" the incident is only piquing curiosity.

« Older Entries