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BMHA Action Plan
On December 30, 2005, the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority ("BMHA") received a report from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") that included "…a detailed analysis of the Authority's governance, operational management, financial management and facilities management activities."
Contained in the HUD report were 30 findings, 19 concerns and 16 observations.
While identifying several issues requiring immediate attention and remediation, the HUD report stated that the issues were "solvable," and, importantly, no allegation of criminal conduct was stated in the report.
On January 4, 2005, three days into his new term as Mayor of Buffalo, Mayor Byron Brown moved decisively to determine how best to address the HUD report by appointing John V. Elmore, a prominent Buffalo defense and civil rights attorney, as special counsel in the HUD/BMHA matter.
As he appointed Mr. Elmore, Mayor Brown stated, "…it is important to determine the facts … and to take appropriate action."
Mr. Elmore's review included interviews with HUD officials; BMHA executives, management and past and present staff; all current BMHA commissioners; BMHA tenant representatives; and BMHA residents.
In his report, Mr. Elmore noted that the BMHA representatives agreed with "…95% of the …HUD report" and "…displayed a willingness to work towards fixing the problem[s]…."
Thus, Mr. Elmore "…focused on finding constructive ideas to help BMHA come into compliance with the deficiencies detailed in the [HUD] report, and to improve the management …of the BMHA."
Mayor Brown received Mr. Elmore's independent analysis of the HUD report on January 25, 2006, twenty-one days from the day Mr. Elmore was appointed special counsel.
Following receipt of Mr. Elmore's report, Mayor Brown and senior administration staff reviewed the contents of the report and developed an Action Plan for the BMHA. This Action Plan is designed to provide recommendations to the BMHA Board of Commissioners for it to immediately address concerns raised in the HUD report and the City Comptroller's audit, incorporate recommendations from the Elmore study and institute corrective actions throughout the BMHA.
Mayor Byron Brown's BMHA Action Plan contains the following points:
It is the responsibility of the Commissioners appointed by the Mayor to implement the recommended corrective action.
Appoint BMHA Commissioners
Mayor Brown appoints today four new Commissioners to the BMHA. These appointees are experienced professionals possessing varied skills, which will benefit the residents of BMHA properties. Mayoral appointees serve 5-year terms.
They are: Michael A. Seaman, Director of Treasury and Collection, City of Buffalo; Ronald Brown, Chief Fiscal Officer, Friends to the Elderly, Youth and Family Center, Inc. (a tax accountant); Hal D. Payne, Vice President Student Affairs, Buffalo State College; and Betty Calvo-Torres, Esq. (solo practitioner and former Erie County Assistant District Attorney).
The Mayor will submit the names of his BMHA appointments to the Common Council for confirmation and to the New York State Department of Housing and Community Renewal ("DHCR"). Each new Commissioner is required to file their oath of office with the DHCR Commissioner within 30 days of their appointment.
Of the remaining Commissioners, Commissioner Charles Flynn, whose term expires in October 2008, will meet with Mayor Brown when returns to Buffalo, following a leave of absence, to discuss his future. The Commissioners voted onto to the Board of Commissioners to 2-year terms by BMHA tenants, Mary Rogers and Aqiel Qadir, have terms that expire in June 2006.
Hire Permanent Executive Director
Both the HUD and Elmore reports cited this action as pivotal to the overall well being of the BMHA. The Brown Action Plan agrees with those assessments.
Once in place, the newly constituted Board of Commissioners must commit to an aggressive search schedule to seek, review and hire an experienced and qualified Executive Director.
Resolve General Counsel Position
The interim Executive Director has performed this duty along with the responsibilities of General Counsel since the departure of the former Executive Director.
The Brown Action Plan recommends the creation of a permanent oversight position of the Authority's legal matters by the city's current Senior Deputy Corporation Counsel, David State.
Professional Management Liaison
In addition to the role of the Senior Deputy Corporation Counsel, the Brown Action Plan recommends creating a Professional Management Liaison from the Brown Administration who will serve as a member of the BMHA Board and work in close collaboration with BMHA staff and management.
Michael Seamen be available to will meet regularly with BMHA staff to assist on any number of technical issues, including purchasing and procurement procedures, as well as other Authority-related matters, to comply with HUD policies and procedures.
It is recommended that, effective immediately, all Commissioners and staff will be prohibited to partake any BMHA-related travel for the next six months.
While it is acknowledged that participating in various nationally-coordinated public housing seminars can be of benefit and value to commissioners and staff, there must be a complete re-examination of all future travel activities.
A six-month travel ban will enable the new Board of Commissioners to evaluate travel policy and to enact strict guidelines for BMHA-sanctioned, and funded, travel.
We are in complete agreement with Mr. Elmore's recommendation on mandatory training for all commissioners and senior staff.
Working cooperatively with the local HUD representatives, BMHA commissioners and senior staff will be required to participate in training exercises with HUD officials that will help them to be more effective board members and managers of an extensive tenant population that relies on them for the proper management and coordination of all BMHA properties throughout the city.
As Mr. Elmore noted in his report, "This training will be a good orientation for the new [Board] appointees and will direct them to problem areas that need immediate attention."
The BMHA Department of Finance will be under strict orders that requests for reimbursement will not be granted to BMHA staff or commissioners without proper verification of expenses and compliance with all internal and HUD procedures concerning reimbursement.
No one should be allowed to incur any costs that require reimbursement for at least six months until an Authority reimbursement policy is revised and reviewed, and strict guidelines are enacted by the Board of Commissioners.
In the future, notice of this directive should be given with every request for travel or expenditure approval and for requests for advances of money.
Centralize Procurement Procedures
BMHA procurement procedures must be centralized to ensure that all BMHA departments fully comply with HUD rules and regulations. It is proposed that the designated BMHA Procurement Officer will immediately meet with local HUD procurement specialists to assure that BMHA procurement procedures meet HUD specifications.
Return BMHA Credit Cards
All of the members of current board of Commissioners have agreed to return BMHA credit cards to the Executive Director. The Executive Director should secure the credit cards. The Board of Commissioners must establish a formal policy allowing them to be issued credit cards when there is a demonstrated need to carry them in order to attend out of town BMHA-related events only.
Eliminate Board of Commissioners Cell Phones
It is recommended that at the next meeting of the BMHA Board, all Board of Commissioner cell phones will be eliminated.
A land-line with local call capacity only will be established at the BMHA offices and will be available for all Commissioners to use in relation to tenant matters and other Authority-related issues.
Establish Strict Board Attendance Policy
It is recommended that attendance policies for all BMHA Commissioners must be revised and strictly enforced. Commissioners who do not consistently attend BMHA meetings will be notified of their violation of Board policy, afforded a public hearing, in accordance with federal public housing law and, if found in violation of the Authority attendance policy, relieved of their responsibilities.
Review and Revise BMHA Board By-Laws
The new BMHA Board of Commissioners will immediately establish a By-Law Committee. This committee will consult with representatives from HUD for assistance in modifying the current BMHA by-laws, which are out of date and not in full compliance with HUD rules and regulations.
Development of Public Safety Plan
The Action Plan seeks participation from the City of Buffalo Police Department and other City Departments to implement community policing and gang intervention at BMHA properties. Police Commissioner Gipson will be called upon to develop a public safety plan for the BMHA properties and their surrounding neighborhoods. The effort will be designed to deter crime on BMHA properties and ensure the safety of residents living in and around BMHA properties.
Enact Strict Fuel Consumption Controls
As noted in the City Comptroller's audit, the Mayor's Action Plan recommends comprehensive training for all relevant Authority employees on the Fuelmaster System. All reports regarding mileage, gasoline usage and times of use must be strictly controlled and monitored.
Further, as recommended by the Comptroller, all reports of the Fuelmaster System must be submitted to senior BMHA management on a monthly basis.
Director of Youth Programming and Self-Sufficiency Services
In an effort to stem the potential of youth-related problems at BMHA properties and Buffalo public schools, the Action Plan recommends the creation of a new BMHA staff position designed to focus on all youth-related and self-sufficiency issues throughout all BMHA-run properties.
Working in collaboration with the city's Commissioner of Community Services, the Workforce Investment Board, and the Buffalo Public Schools, among others, this representative could help track any youth-related disturbances at Buffalo public schools and determine if any of the young people involved are residents of BMHA properties.
Working with the Buffalo Public Schools, the Director will track graduation rates for BMHA residents and review standardized test scores to determine if these youth require additional services and assistance both from the School District and other appropriate city agencies, notably Community Services.
It is also recommended that particular focus be given to literacy programs (for students and adults), increasing college attendance and strengthening graduation rates.
Once information is obtained and BMHA residents have been identified, the BMHA Director of Youth Programming will work with the appropriate city agencies to develop various intervention and prevention programs to address the specific problems on a case-by-case basis, as well as develop general leadership development and conflict resolution programs for BMHA youth residents.
The combined reports of HUD, the Office of the City Comptroller and the Special Counsel indicate the need for immediate and decisive change in management practices at the BMHA, particularly in the role and composition of the Board of Commissioners.
The recommendations of this Action Plan address the immediate and pressing needs of the BMHA, particularly in terms of the Mayoral appointment of new commissioners to fill existing Board of Commissioner vacancies and the management actions that will be directly responsive to concerns raised in the three aforementioned reports.
As Mayor Brown stated at the time that he appointed attorney John V. Elmore Special Counsel to review the HUD report, the BMHA tenants (and adjacent neighborhoods) deserve nothing less than the best possible housing that is safe, clean and affordable. As Mayor, and the person responsible for appointing five of the seven BMHA commissioners, Mayor Brown stated that he will not tolerate any action that threatens those essential conditions in every BMHA-managed property and adjacent neighborhoods.
With the expert analysis of the HUD report, the review of the City Comptroller's Office and the professional and timely review of the Special Counsel, Mayor Brown's Action Plan will set in motion the necessary and critically important actions that will guarantee that the BMHA is not only acting in compliance with federal regulations, but that it is meeting the needs of its tenant population in an efficient, effective, transparent, professional and responsible manner.
© 2001-2011 City of Buffalo
Photos by Angel Art LTP, compliments of the Greater Buffalo Convention and Visitors Bureau. Additional photos by Adrian Roselli, compliments of Algonquin Studios