Comptrollers behaving badly, Part 1

Buffalo's Barbara Miller-Williams scrubs the comptroller’s website of criticism of Mayor Byron Brown's budgeting
News and analysis by Geoff Kelly, Investigative Post's political reporter

On the website of the Buffalo city comptroller, the top tab on the left — the place of pride — is occupied by the word “Transparency.”

I guess that’s meant to be ironic. Click on that tab, and follow the prompts to the page titled “Financial Reports,” and you’ll soon discover what I mean.

In the last week or so, Barbara Miller-Williams, the interim comptroller who is running unopposed for a full term in November, wiped that page clean of critical reports created and published by the staff of her predecessor, Mark Schroeder.

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Gone are the former comptroller’s analyses of Mayor Byron Brown’s past proposed budgets, as well as the responses to quarterly budget reports issued by the Brown administration. In those reports, Schroeder often found fault with the administration’s revenue and expense projections and decried Brown’s use of reserves — $107 million in the last 10 years, and likely more when the budget year that just ended is tallied — to reconcile deficits incurred as a result of those misleading projections.

All those reports, which used to reside on the page titled “Single Audits, Letters & Other Documents,” have disappeared.

Even the evaluations — both of them — that Miller-Williams herself issued in response to Brown’s 2019-2020 budget are gone. One can understand the desire to delete those competing documents: That whole affair was an embarrassing public fiasco, for both Miller-Williams and the mayor, who was the political engineer behind her placement in the comptroller’s office.

Schroeder’s audits of various city departments and functions are still there. So are the annual financial reports. But those are objective documents, largely free of analysis and opinion.

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All the deleted documents continue to exist in filings with the Common Council. But finding and accessing them among the Council’s filings takes time and effort. Under Schroeder, they were easy to find, an historical record available to the public. Under Miller-Williams, they’ve been effectively hidden from view.

Of course, the comptroller can publish or not publish anything she’d like on the office’s website. But to remove all reports critical of her political ally on a page titled “Transparency”? That’s just rich.

A few of the deleted documents — including Schroeder’s especially scathing and prescient critique of the mayor’s 2018-2019 budget — continue to exist in the city website’s document center and a couple other hard-to-find archives, obscure corners into which few browsers wander except by accident. Perhaps whoever was dispatched by the comptroller to expunge all criticism of the mayor doesn’t know they exist.

Let’s see how long they stay there, now that we’ve mentioned it.

Coming Tuesday: Stefan Mychajliw’s anti-immigrant dog whistle.