The Buffalo Sewer Authority hired a new press information officer in April, but neither the agency nor the mayor’s office will talk to reporters about who he is or how much he’s paid.
But payroll records and authority meeting minutes tell the story: It’s Mayor Byron Brown’s son.
The minutes of the May meeting of authority’s board directors indicate Byron Brown II was hired in April at an annual salary of $62,665. His home address is listed as 14 Blaine, which is the mayor’s house.
The authority’s payroll records show Brown II earning $2,161 as his biweekly base pay when he started in April. On his August 3 paycheck, that base pay had risen to $2,582 — which translates to about $67,000 per year.
Michael DeGeorge, the mayor’s spokesman — recently promoted to “senior advisor” — ignored phone calls, texts and emails from Investigative Post seeking comment on the hire.
As for the sewer authority, a spokesperson — who was not the press information officer — told Investigative Post it would have to file a formal request under state Freedom of Information Law to get answers to our questions.
To reiterate: To find the identity of the authority’s media liaison, a reporter would need to file a FOI request.
Getting to that answer took some doing.
When a reporter called the authority Monday morning and asked for “Mr. Brown,” the new press information officer, the receptionist who took the call first responded, “He’s no longer with us.”
As it turned out, the receptionist thought the reporter meant Ron Brown, the authority’s former chief financial officer, who passed away in January 2022. When the reporter clarified he meant “Byron Brown,” who started in April, she said, “Oh, yes. So, let me see if he’s available,” and put the reporter on hold.
After two minutes, the call was forwarded to the voicemail of Scott Steinwald, who is listed in city payroll records as a preventive maintenance coordinator. The reporter left a message, then fired off an email inquiry to Oluwole McFoy, the authority’s general manager.
The response to those inquiries came not from McFoy, but via an email from Charles Riley, who succeeded the late Ron Brown as the authority’s chief financial officer.
Riley said Investigative Post would have to file a formal FOI request to learn the identity of the press information officer and his salary.
We also wanted to know whether the job opening had been advertised and, if so, how many applicants the mayor’s son beat out for the position. We also sought a comment from McFoy about the choice to hire the mayor’s son, whose past career ambitions reportedly have revolved around the arts: filmmaking and fashion design.
A followup phone call to Riley shed no further light on the matter: He reiterated the authority’s request that we file a FOI request. Riley also said he doubted McFoy or the authority would have any comment.
McFoy himself soon emailed Investigative Post confirming the younger Brown’s salary and April 3 start date. According to McFoy, the position had been vacant since 2020. Minutes of authority board meetings indicate the position was created in 2018. Payroll records indicate the job was held previously by Tracy King, whose base salary in 2020 was $57,893.
McFoy offered no comment on the hiring process for Brown II.
The mayor’s son has been in headlines in the past.
In 20o7, he snuck out the family car at night, crashed it into a parked car near Canisius College, not far from the family’s house in the Hamlin Park neighborhood, and left the scene of the accident. At first, the mayor denied his son’s involvement, saying the car had been stolen. Six weeks after the crash, Brown II confessed his guilt to a police detective.
In 2010, he was arrested for shoplifting at an AJ Wright store on Delaware Avenue.
In 2021, Buffalo police took Brown II to Erie County Medical Center for a mental health assessment after he reportedly broke at least two windows at a Linwood Avenue apartment building in an effort to “reach a friend’s apartment.”
Investigative Post tried again to reach the younger Brown at the sewer authority office, but the automated phone directory had no listing for his office or for the office of Steinwald, to whom our first call had been directed.
The sewer authority’s “News” page on its website mostly comprises bid opportunities for vendors. The two most recent press releases are from October of last year — and one of those is just a link to a press release from the office of Gov. Kathy Hochul.
The Buffalo Sewer Authority manages the city’s sewer systems and wastewater treatment plant on Unity Island. It was created in 1935 as a public benefit corporation, separate from the City of Buffalo but governed by a board of directors appointed by the mayor.
The authority’s operating budget this year is nearly $70 million and it has more than 250 employees on the payroll, according to its latest financial report. About two-thirds of the authority’s revenue comes from residential and commercial property owners. Most of the remaining third comes from other municipalities and industrial facilities that contract with the authority to treat their wastewater.
The sewer authority is nearly halfway through a 20-year, $380 million plan to upgrade the city’s sewer infrastructure to reduce the flow of raw sewage into local waterways, including Scajaquada Creek.