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Police request equipment upgrades to collect phone data

By Jill Terreri

The release of a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision dictating that police need a warrant in order to search a cell phone coincides with a request by the Buffalo Police Department to purchase equipment that would transfer all data from a cell phone so it could be examined by detectives. 

Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said the department's possession of the data-transfer device does not change the fact that a warrant is necessary to search someone's phone. 

"As the Supreme Court says, you need a warrant," Derenda said. "But we've never gone through anyone's cell phone without their permission, just like permission to search, or need be, we'll get a search warrant. So really, procedures aren't going to change." 

Common Council members have been concerned about whether all officers know that citizens do not need to turn over their phone if an officer does not have a warrant, based on anecdotes from their constituents and from published reports. At least one officer, John A. Cirulli, was reported to have demanded that a bystander turn over their cell phone, in an incident in which he was caught on video hitting a suspect in handcuffs. He resigned. 

The Police Department is asking the Common Council permission to purchase "universal forensic extraction devices" from Cellebrite

Continue reading "Police request equipment upgrades to collect phone data" »

Council's Police Oversight panel to focus on policy

By Jill Terreri

The Common Council's Police Oversight Committee is preparing for its first meeting next week, and Chairman David Rivera made clear today what the committee will not do. It won't investigate officers or reveal details of matters that could turn into a lawsuit for the city, he said.

"Our goal is not to investigate police officers," said Rivera, who is also a former officer. "Our goal is to assist them."

The department is in the midst of turmoil over several unrelated incidents involving officers.

In the wake of a disturbing cell phone video of an officer assaulting a man in handcuffs and an unrelated incident in a bar that left a man in a coma in which two officers were present, many Council members did not see a reason to revive the long-dormant committee. They changed their opinion last week.  

Continue reading "Council's Police Oversight panel to focus on policy" »

Council to explore public campaign financing

By Jill Terreri

The Common Council on Tuesday took a step toward exploring the idea that taxpayers would cover at least some of the cost of political campaigns in the city.

The news was met with praise from Common Cause/NY, which has lobbied the state legislature to set up a system of public campaign finance, and has encouraged Buffalo lawmakers to do the same.  

"The Buffalo Common Council has achieved what the New York State Legislature could not: a significant step toward a meaningful system of public financing of elections," Executive Director Susan Lerner said in a statement. "Public financing holds public officials accountable to the people who elect them, not big donors who line their pockets. Common Cause/NY applauds Buffalo lawmakers, Majority Leader Demone Smith and CM Golombek in particular, for prioritizing the public interest, and working to empower voters to participate fully in our democracy."

The resolution that passed sets up a committee to look at creating a system of public campaign financing for contests for mayor, comptroller, Council and Board of Education. 

North Council Member Joseph Golombek reassured his colleagues that might be skeptical of the resolution that instituting a public financing system is still a long ways off.

Continue reading "Council to explore public campaign financing" »

Pridgen calls for mandatory parent assembly

By Jill Terreri

Council President Darius G. Pridgen is calling on the Board of Education to hold mandatory assemblies at the beginning of the school year in each school for parents or guardians. 

The assembly will help prepare parents for what the year holds, he said, adding that while some parents are involved, it's "criminal" what some parents are not doing for their children. 

The Council adopted the measure unanimously on Tuesday.

Pridgen, a former school board member, is recommending that the assembly cover the district's:

  • Parent involvement policy
  • Parent engagement strategy
  • Code of conduct
  • Parent Portal

Other topics include Common Core standards, and meeting with teachers.

The resolution was sent to Superintendent Pamela Brown and Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold.   

Buffalo passes fiscal stress test

By Jill Terreri

Buffalo is not susceptible to fiscal stress, according to an analysis by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released today. 

The city scored 16 percent in an analysis of various financial indicators, such as debt, the cost of employee wages and benefits, how much the city has in reserves, expenses, and operating deficits. In order to be classified has being susceptible to financial stress, a local government had to score at least 45 percent.

The stress tests are intended to create an "early warning" system for municipalities and school districts that have financial trouble on the horizon, DiNapoli said.

DiNapoli has done initial scoring for all local govenrments and school districts and found that 142 taxing jurisdictions are in some level of fiscal stress, including 16 counties, 18 towns, five cities, 16 villages and 87 school districts. 

Buffalo's score was consistent with its peers, on average. While Buffalo was at 16 percent, an average of all other cities was also 16 percent. Cities in Western New York scored 13 percent, while large cities scored worse, at 24 percent. 

 

Look up any local government or district here.  

UPDATED: Budget day in City Hall

By Jill Terreri

Mayor Byron Brown is scheduled to release his budget for the year that begins July 1 at 2 p.m. today.

UPDATE: A preview of the budget is here. Brown proposes a slight reduction in taxes and the use of $28 million from city surpluses. The budget calls for no layoffs.  

Brown already pledged in his state of the city address in February that he won't raise taxes or assessments in 2014. (Tax rates for residents and businesses have fallen since he was elected.) 

But some questions about how he will balance the budget, if indeed he does not raise taxes, will come up: 

  • Will there be layoffs?
  • Will he use the city's surpluses to plug holes?
  • Will he sweep from parking or other areas to pay for recurring operating expenses? 
  • How much slot machine revenue from the Buffalo Creek Casino is the city expecting? 

Then there is the question of whether the city will rely on tax increases in the coming years. In addition to the budget, the mayor must also file with the Common Council a four-year plan, which will offer some hints. 

The Common Council begins its budget hearings with department heads at 10 a.m. Monday. 

Buffalo's credit ratings yield savings

By Jill Terreri

The city borrowed $33 million on Wednesday for major capital projects at rates of less than 2 percent. 

The city's strong credit ratings drew 18 bidders for $33 million in short- and long-term bonds the city sold to finance upgrades at Coca-Cola Field, the Buffalo Zoo and Erie Basin Marina, among other items. In prior years, only six firms had bid on city bonds. 

The city borrowed $25.6 million in long-term bonds at an interest rate of 1.88 percent, and sold $7.4 million in short term notes at a rate of .29 percent. Both interest rates were less than what the comptroller's office expected. 

"Buffalo's rising bond ratings, as well as favorable market conditions have resulted in outstanding interest rates for the city," said Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder. 

The city has credit ratings of A+ from Standard & Poor's, A1 from Moody's and A+ from Fitch. 

The long-term bonds, which will mature in nine years, were purchased by Guggenheim Securities, one of 13 bidders. The short-term bonds, which are one-year notes, were purchased by Raymond James. 

The borrowing will cover about two years worth of capital projects, those ready to be bid out this year, and projects from prior years that were not ready in the past. 

Today in City Hall

By Jill Terreri

Good morning, 

Today the Common Council will meet and is expected to approve a labor contract with Teamsters, who repair city water lines. The caulkers are in line for 2 percent raises, retroactive to 2007. Lawmakers are also expected to approve a $75,000 settlement with a retired police lieutenant who said she was discriminated against by the city. 

A measure that would revive the city's public art program, which requires that 1 percent of capital project spending goes toward public art, is expected to be adopted today. 

Continue reading "Today in City Hall" »

Today in City Hall: Marina contract

By Jill Terreri

The Erie Basin Marina will likely have a new operator in place by the end of the Common Council's meeting today. 

The Council appears poised to approve a five-year contract with Smith Boys to run the marina, as well as rate increases for slipholders effective in 2015. (The mayor has to sign the contract, but it was his administration that recommended Smith Boys.) Rates have not increased since 2002. The average annual rate increase over the term of the proposed agreement is 8 percent for city residents and 16 percent for non-residents. The agreement, from 2014-18, shows that the city won't see any rent from Smith Boys until 2016, when the rent is 10 percent of any net profit over $80,000. The same figure is due the city in 2017. In 2018, the rent increases to 20 percent of any net profit over $80,000.

Continue reading "Today in City Hall: Marina contract" »

Wyatt gets committee chairmanship

By Jill Terreri

The Common Council's newest member, Rasheed Wyatt, has been appointed chairman of the Civil Service Committee, one of four committees that meet every other week.

Committee assignments are made by the Council president, Darius Pridgen, and the Council does not vote on them.  

Wyatt was appointed by the Council on Jan. 28 to fill a vacancy in the University District, and on Tuesday, the Council approved a new roster of committee appointments. 

Putting a new Council member into a committee chairmanship - which comes with a stipend - isn't new for this Council. When South Council Member Chris Scanlon was appointed in 2012, he was immediately made Finance Committee chairman. He has since ascended to lead what is arguably the Council's most important committee, Legislation. 

Continue reading "Wyatt gets committee chairmanship" »

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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

rmccarthy@buffnews.com


Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

tprecious@buffnews.com


Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri | jterreri@buffnews.com


Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski | jzremski@buffnews.com

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