Transparency, City Hall style

iPost chronicles efforts by the Buffalo Sewer Authority to avoid answering questions about sewage flowing in city waterways. Evasiveness is the norm under Mayor Byron Brown.

Editor’s note: Phil Gambini is working on a story about sewage and stormwater runoff that flows into local creeks and rivers. Municipalities are required under state law to track the volume of these pollutants, but data reported by the Buffalo Sewer Authority does not identify discharge points or, in many cases, the amount of wastewater that flows into individual waterways. Gambini has been attempting to reach the Sewer Authority since the middle of May to make sense of the incomplete data. He documents his efforts below. 


There’s many ways to reach Oluwole “O.J.” McFoy, general manager at the Buffalo Sewer Authority. 

In theory, anyway. 

McFoy has an email address, an office phone and an assistant who monitors both. He has a city-issued cell phone, too. But don’t ask for the number. McFoy doesn’t give it out. At least not to an Investigative Post reporter when they spoke June 23. 

 

Reporter: If I do need to follow up with you. How can I reach you? 

McFoy: Yes, just give a call to [McFoy’s assistant] LaToya.

Reporter: The past couple of times that I got this line, though, I just — there was no answer and there’s no voicemail. So in that case?

McFoy: Right, because everything goes through her.

Reporter: I can’t call you directly? 

McFoy: Nope. 


McFoy joined the Buffalo Sewer Authority in 2006, the same year Mayor Byron Brown took office. Since then, he’s donated at least $500 annually to Brown’s campaign committees, except 2018. In all, McFoy has given $8,515 to Brown over the last 15 years, according to state records.

Oluwole McFoy

Oluwole McFoy

McFoy’s salary and responsibilities at the Buffalo Sewer Authority have grown over the last 15 years. The oldest payroll records maintained by SeeThroughNY list his role as “secretary to the general manager” in 2008. His salary then was $81,082. Seven years later, McFoy was promoted to general manager. 

By 2019, the most recent salary record available, McFoy made $120,057. His salary, and other authority expenses are funded largely by assessments on homeowners and businesses for sewage treatment. 

That’s not to say, however, that the authority is independent from City Hall. Its five board members are appointed by the mayor and approved by the Common Council. As such, the authority has historically been a source of patronage jobs for City Hall.


Investigative Post attempted, without success, to reach McFoy at least nine times between May 18 and June 23. He returned calls three times when the reporter was not available. Finally, the two connected on June 23.

The reporter explained how difficult it had been to reach him. No one on staff ever answered the phone at his number and his voicemail didn’t accept messages — it was always full. So the reporter asked for a cell phone number.

 

Reporter: I can’t call you directly? 

McFoy: Nope. 

Reporter: Is that a BSA policy? Or is that a city —

McFoy: That’s to protect me from all you guys. 

Reporter: Protect?

McFoy: No really, the way we have our system coming in from the outside and everything goes through the front desk, right,and from the front desk —

Reporter: Do you have a cell phone? 

McFoy: Not …Not… Not that I would choose to give you my cell phone number — but listen.

Reporter: OJ — wait wait wait. Why not? 

McFoy: Why not? 

Reporter: Yeah.

McFoy: You know, I simply don’t do that. I don’t like to give out my personal …

Their conversation continued.

 

McFoy: … So you asked how to get in contact with me and I’m telling you the best manner in which to get in contact with me is to contact my assistant, Latoya.

Reporter: Do you have a work cell phone?

McFoy: I do.

Reporter: But you will not share that number with me?

McFoy: Not interested in sharing that with you.

McFoy did, however, agree to an on-camera interview July 1.

After the call, Investigative Post submitted a Freedom of Information Law request for McFoy’s city-issued cell phone number and records detailing its recent use. The authority lost the initial request, submitted through its website.

The day before the scheduled July 1 interview, McFoy cancelled the interview.

“If you require additional records, kindly submit a proper request,” he wrote.


The complete conversation

 


Editor’s note: McFoy’s evasiveness is consistent with how city officials frequently interact with reporters. The Brown administration insists on funneling interview requests through Michael DeGeorge, the mayor’s spokesperson. DeGeorge often fails to return phone calls, much less schedule interviews with city officials. Likewise, the city is often slow in responding to information requests submitted under the FOI Law, and sometimes ignores them altogether.