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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. 

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Today in City Hall: Pridgen's day

By Jill Terreri

A crowd of about 300 people is expected in Council Chambers today at 2 p.m., when Ellicott Council Member Darius Pridgen is elected Council president by his fellow city lawmakers. 

Pridgen, who surprised some in City Hall by his effort to quickly line up the support of all of his colleagues, is so confident that he will be elected Council president that his staff has already moved into the president's office on the 13th floor, and Lovejoy Council Member Rich Fontana has moved out. 

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No city funds for new movie projectors

By Jill Terreri

The Common Council will not add $250,000 for new digital movie projectors for the Market Arcade Film & Arts Centre Inc. to the 2014 capital budget when it meets at 2 p.m. today. 

Majority Leader Demone A. Smith said that the city's Law Department informed him that it could not "legally justify" the purchase. 

Smith had inquired as to whether the city could use capital budget funds on the Market Arcade, which is owned by the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., a city-affiliated organization that keeps its books separate from the city. He wanted to add the expense to the capital budget but was waiting on an opinion from city lawyers as to whether the city could borrow for a property that it does not directly own. 

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Problem properties focus of city hearing

By Jill Terreri

City lawmakers will hear from the public and housing experts about vacant or problem properties at 2 p.m. Thursday in Council Chambers. 

Majority Leader Demone Smith and the Western New York Law Center are hosting a hearing on properties that are owned by the bank and abandoned, or just abandoned, or properties where a landlord is trying to flip them. 

South Council Member Chris Scanlon has drawn attention to the problem of vacant properties where owners think they have been evicted by a bank for nonpayment of their mortgage, but don't realize their name is on the deed and they could have stayed.

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State Ed mandate confuses Council

By Jill Terreri

Concerns about the cost, loss of instructional time and apparent duplication in services were aired when a panel of city lawmakers brought in Board of Education members and school Superintendent Pamela Brown to Council Chambers today to discuss the recent mandate from state Education Commissioner John King, that the district partner with Erie 1 BOCES to turn around two failing schools, East and Lafayette high schools.

During an Education Committee meeting, Chairman Demone Smith said he was confused why the state would mandate that students be given the opportunity to take BOCES classes if they desired, when the district already offers many of the same programs.

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Today in City Hall: Smarter Cities

By Jill Terreri

Good morning, 

Today Mayor Byron Brown will welcome a team from IBM, which is offering technical assistance to the city through its "Smarter Cities" program. 

The grant offers services to help the city address quality of life issues using data, valued at $400,000. A team will be in Buffalo for three weeks. 

The city already uses data through its CitiStat program to decide where to make investments and to place staff. The city's Clean Sweep program is also data-driven, and is based on calls to 911 and its 311 center, which handles non-emergency complaints about illegal dumping, rats, broken street lights and other quality of life issues.

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Today in City Hall: Budget

By Jill Terreri

Mayor Byron Brown's 2013-14 budget will be released at 3 p.m. today. 

Brown has previously pledged that he will not raise taxes, so a tax increase is highly unlikely.  

Major questions to be asked include how much of the city's unassigned fund balance will be used, which has been a concern for credit rating agencies, which otherwise think highly of the city's finances. 

Other questions will center on whether the city's workforce will change, and whether property taxes are projected in future years. The city's four-year plan should also come out today. 

Last year's spending plan was $482.6 million. Property tax revenues have been falling, and the city last year had $18.7 million in an advance of state aid that it won't have this year, meaning the city could have less revenue.

Council Majority Leader Demone Smith, who is an ally of the mayor's, said this morning that he hasn't seen it yet. In past years, the Council got a preview.

The Council met briefly at 11 a.m. this morning to accept the budget, but had to recess until 4 p.m. because it isn't ready yet. 

The mayor is required to present a budget by May 1, and the Council has until May 22 to approve it, or it stands as presented. 

Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder will issue a budget response by May 10. 

The new budget year begins July 1.

Council members reiterate anti-fracking stand

The Buffalo Common Council, which unanimously voted to ban hydraulic fracturing in the city, hosted an anti-fracking organization during a news conference today in City Hall. 

Council Majority Leader Demone A. Smith said even if Buffalo isn't a prime candidate for fracking, upstate officials should stick together.

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South Council candidate search continues

Resumes for the open South District seat on the Buffalo Common Council will be taken through 5 p.m. Monday, Council President Richard A. Fontana said today.

The original deadline for the second round of the search, announced earlier this week by Majority Leader Demone A. Smith, was today at 5 p.m.

So far, a total of five additional people have filed resumes seeking the appointment -- James J. Creahan, Kevin M. Lafferty, Christopher P. Scanlon, Thomas J. Sullivan and Chris Taylor.

Taylor lives in Washington, D.C., and in order to be eligible for the appointment, applicants must have lived in the South District for at least a year.

In an email, Taylor writes, "I think I am just trying to show my frustration with this whole matter. I am not alone."

Fontana said he wanted the period for accepting resumes to be a full five days.

Eleven people submitted resumes in the first round of the search, and six were interviewed by the Council. Here's more history.

--Aaron Besecker
Follow me on Twitter: @BeseckerBN

Recent hires in Buffalo's City Hall

The City of Buffalo's Department of Public Works has made a number of hires in the last month or so.

In the Streets Division, Michael Murphy was promoted to head exterminator, a post that carries a $45,723 starting salary. Murphy was previously an exterminator in the department, earning $36,119.

Michael Edwards was hired as a truck driver, with a starting salary of $22,468.

In the Water Division, Cecelia Folmar was hired as a clerk, which carries a $30,507 starting salary.

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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.

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.

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 |

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 |