Buffalo comptroller flip flops

On Tuesday morning, the Buffalo Common Council’s Legislation Committee expected a visit from interim Comptroller Barbara Miller-Williams. Miller-Williams had been invited to explain why she had issued a second, amended evaluation of Mayor Byron Brown’s proposed budget for the fiscal year 2019-2020.

She didn’t show on Tuesday morning.

Instead, Miller-Williams sent a deputy and her special assistant — newly hired out of the mayor’s budget office — to tell the committee that she had decided, upon further review, to withdraw the second budget response and go with the first one.

You can read about the first report here and here, and about the error-riddled second report here.

This disavowal nearly stopped Fillmore District Councilman David Franczyk in his tracks. Franczyk had come to the meeting loaded for bear, with a detailed comparison between the two documents and questions about the discrepancies:

  • Why had the comptroller, in the second report, expunged several sections included in the first report that cast doubt on revenue projections?
  • Why had the comptroller changed the language of the first report, and its assertions, to paint a far rosier picture of the mayor’s budget projections?
  • Why had the comptroller changed numbers from the first report? What was the source of the revised numbers?

But before Franczyk could dissect the documents, the comptroller’s new special assistant, Delano Dowell, told the committee that the comptroller wished to disavow and withdraw the second document.

It was a stunning about-face.

Franczyk plunged ahead anyway, enumerating his concerns and seizing upon that last question: Where did the new numbers in the second report come from? Who had provided them?

“That information was given by the comptroller for her independent review,” Dowell told the committee.

“By who?” Franczyk said.

“By herself,” Dowell said.

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This proved a sticking point: Councilmembers wanted to know whether the revisions in the report had been given to the comptroller by the mayor’s office. Powell insisted that Miller-Williams had prepared the report with no assistance or input from staff. The mayor’s chief financial officer, Donna Estrich, insisted her office had not contributed, either.

The second report, they asserted, was Miller-Williams’s creation alone. And she was not present to tell the committee where she’d sourced its new figures and assertions, which she had dispatched staff members to disavow.

“I’m not buying it,” Franczyk said, after the meeting concluded. “I don’t think that’s true at all. I think someone in the mayor’s office gave her those numbers.”

You can watch the meeting here.