Jun 11


Buffalo lawmakers’ side gigs

From policy work for the state Assembly to driving DoorDash, Common Council members work overtime for extra cash. And for some, city jobs are a family affair.

Buffalo Common Council Majority Leader Leah Halton-Pope, President Pro Tempore Bryan Bollman, and University District Council Member Rasheed Wyatt. Photo by Garrett Looker.

The Buffalo Common Council’s majority leader, Leah Halton-Pope, was sworn into office — and onto the city’s payroll — on Jan. 1.

But she was collecting more than a city paycheck during her first four months in office.

Halton-Pope continued to work as a part-time policy consultant for Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes — the woman she has called her “forever boss” — until the end of April, making about $3,000 a month. And she continues to work as chair of Peoples-Stokes’ reelection campaign, which paid her consulting fees of $18,000 last year. 

That’s according to the latest round of annual financial disclosures that some city officials — including all those in elected offices — must file annually with the city clerk, along with state payroll and campaign finance records.

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Investigative Post received city officials’ most recent financial disclosures from a local good-government activist in February, but they had been heavily redacted by the city’s law department. The activist successfully fought the city’s redactions and shared uncensored copies with Investigative Post last week.

The unredacted financial disclosures reveal Halton-Pope’s continued employment by the state assembly and Peoples-Stokes’s campaign committee. Both side gigs are legal, according to a lawyer who tracks transparency in state and local government.

Halton-Pope told Investigative Post her last day on the assembly payroll was April 30. She served Peoples-Stokes for a decade. By the end or her tenure she earned well over $70,000 a year as a senior advisor, according to state payroll records. 

“It was definitely part-time — 15 to 17 hours a week,” she said of her final four months working for the assembly majority leader. “A lot of it was closing out projects I’d worked on previously.” 

The financial disclosures contain items of interest about other officials, too:

  • Masten District Council Member Zeneta Everhart left her job working for then-state Sen. Tim Kennedy before she took the oath of office in January. She reported no other outside income.
  • The Council’s president pro tempore, Bryan Bollman, has made extra cash delivering food for Uber Eats and DoorDash.
  • The Council president, Chris Scanlon, makes do with his city salary, but his wife and five siblings all collect city paychecks, too.
  • The Delaware District’s Joel Feroleto — one of the council’s more buttoned-up members — teaches a class on street art and social activism.

Select city officials — including all those holding elected office — must file financial disclosures annually with the city clerk, per the city’s code of ethics.

Those officials must list outside income, real estate holdings and other investments, as well as gifts and loans from individuals or institutions that might have business before the city. Officials must also disclose their spouses’ and children’s sources of income, and name any other close relatives who are employed by or do contract work for the city or other governments.

The purpose of the disclosure forms is to reveal any actual or potential conflicts of interest that might require officials to recuse themselves from the city’s deliberations over a policy or a contract.

City legislators gave themselves a 12 percent pay raise last summer, boosting their base salaries to $84,472 — nearly three times the city’s median income. The council president gets an extra $15,000, the majority leader and the president pro remorse an extra $10,000, and committee chairs an extra $5,000.  

Nonetheless, six of the nine council members work side jobs, according to the disclosures. And for some, public service is practically a family business.

Black ink everywhere

Back in February, Investigative Post examined financial disclosures filed by Erie County elected officials. (The most memorable takeaway from that story: Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns, like Bollman, has earned extra bucks doing food delivery.) The county’s human resources department provided those disclosures without redactions.

City government was, at first, less accommodating of the public’s right to know.

Nathan Feist, a paralegal, frequently writes about city government and politics for his firm’s blog. Feist in January filed a request with the city clerk under state Freedom of Information law requesting the most recent financial disclosures from a host of elected officials and members of various city boards and committees. 

The following month, the clerk’s office provided Feist with copies of the disclosures he’d requested — but only after the documents had been heavily redacted by the city’s law department. 

The city’s lawyers went far beyond blacking out lawmakers’ personal phone numbers, home addresses and the names of children. They also redacted outside income sources, as well as the names of spouses and other family members and their jobs — all of which are meant to be public information.

For example, Halton-Pope’s response to outside employment was completely blacked out:

So was the name and employment of her husband, Marc Pope, who was chief of staff to Darius Pridgen, Halton-Pope’s predecessor in the Ellicott District seat. 

Before Pridgen left office at the end of 2023, the Brown administration hired Pope as director of infrastructure at a salary of $100,319.

But you wouldn’t know that from the city’s redacted response:

Paul Wolf, president of the New York State Coalition for Open Government, told Investigative Post he didn’t think Halton-Pope’s continued employment with the assembly posed a conflict of interest. 

He cited numerous opinions from the state attorney general covering when individuals may (or may not) hold two public offices simultaneously, none of which forbid “a city elected official to also be on the payroll of a state elected official,” he said.

On the other hand, Wolf said the city’s initial redactions to the disclosures contradict the letter and the spirit of state and local transparency laws.

“The whole point of the financial disclosure form is to disclose information to the public,” Wolf said. 

“The public and the news media need to have the ability to review and raise possible conflicts of interest, which cannot be done if employment information is redacted.”

Feist filed a formal appeal to the city’s law department in March, asking that the redactions be removed. 

Last week the city’s lawyers agreed they had erred in blacking out relevant information from the disclosures and provided Feist documents free of most redactions.

It’s a family affair

Halton-Pope is not the only elected official with a spouse on the city payroll.

The council president’s wife is a city bingo inspector, a post that paid her about $52,000 in each of the past two years. She also works as an occupational therapist at a nursing home.

Scanlon also has five siblings working for the city, according to his disclosure reports. 

Buffalo Common Council President Chris Scanlon. Photo by Garrett Looker.

Two brothers, Brian and Patrick, are firefighters. Patrick was once a paid intern in his brother’s legislative office; Brian is also co-owner of an Elmwood Village bar.

Two other brothers work for the Department of Public Works — Michael as a foreman, John as a dispatcher. A sister, Kara, is a dispatcher for the police department.

In all, the city paid these seven Scanlons about $534,000 in 2023, according to city payroll records.

Two of his five siblings were already working for the city when Scanlon took office in 2012. Numerous other Scanlons have held posts in City Hall, too, not least their late father, John “Scanoots” Scanlon, who was an adviser to former Mayor Jimmy Griffin.

Delaware District Council Member Joel Feroleto works for Feroleto Law, the firm headed by his father. He handles personal injury cases, according to court records. He’s also an adjunct professor at D’Youville University, where he co-teaches a class about murals as a form of art and social activism. The class includes tours of street murals along Hertel Avenue in Feroleto’s district.

His mother, Paula Feroleto, is a state judge who until 2021 was chief administrator for the regional courts system. His brother John is a county prosecutor.

Fillmore’s Mitch Nowakowski doesn’t list any outside employment. His partner, Gary Wilson, was appointed a city court judge in 2022, in part thanks to Nowakowski’s influence and lobbying efforts. Wilson is listed as an Airbnb “superhost” for a lower West Side property the couple owns. Nowakowski told Investigative Post the rental is a cottage behind the house they occupy.

The North District’s Joe Golombek, a council member since 1999, has taught history at SUNY Buffalo State since 2001.

In addition to delivering food for Uber Eats and DoorDash, Lovejoy’s Bollman is a licensed real estate broker, though he didn’t list that profession on his disclosure form.

Niagara’s David Rivera, a retired Buffalo cop, has been collecting a pension of about $40,000 per year since 2008, when he first took office.

University’s Rasheed Wyatt declared no outside income or property interests, apart from his own house. His wife works for a bank.

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As noted, Masten’s Everhart was employed by Kennedy when she ran for office last year, but Senate payroll records indicate she left that post when she took office in January. Her disclosure form reveals no outside income and no family members on any public payroll. Her sister, Janet, is a candidate for the city’s school board.

On her financial disclosure form filed in January, Halton-Pope indicated she expected her part-time employment with Peoples-Stokes would end in March. She stayed a month longer than that, but she told Investigative Post she’s done serving two constituencies. May’s intense budget negotiations made it clear, Halton-Pope said, that she needed “to commit fully” to her post as council majority leader.

“I didn’t think I would be doing full service to the citizens of the 141st Assembly District or of the Ellicott District otherwise,” she said. 

Investigative Post

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