But the media, which had promised fireworks, instead created them. Members of the media appeared to be fed up with the BFSA, which had left the Central Library's auditorium to go into an hour-long executive session. Baker had advised the audience that the delay would be somewhat longer than the first executive session at the beginning of the meeting, which had lasted just minutes. Veteran television reporters, including Rich Kellman of WGR-TV and Rich Newberg of WIVB-TV, were left to speculate on what was happening at that mysterious executive session. They did not, however, choose to investigate the library's offerings. Being the owner of both a press pass and a library card, I soon possessed a book of Russian fairy tales. During the lull in action, I was well-entertained by tales of tsars, wolves, and the witch, Baba Yaga, as well as by the antics of the bored media folk.
BFSA members returned from the executive session and quickly adjourned the meeting. The moment that the media had been awaiting was at hand. The reporters were ready for a skirmish, but as participants, not as an audience. Armed with cameras, microphones, and notebooks, the media chased BFSA members, shouting questions. This was going to be fun. I put the book in my bag and prepared myself to watch a media circus. Both Giambra and Masiello were disinclined to say anything substantive, and they left, one at a time.
Baker was next. He was quickly surrounded by a swarm of reporters, who fired questions at him with a great jumble of sound and fury. They demanded to know what happened during the executive session. All that he would say was, "We met with our lawyers." He then stated, "Our conversations with our lawyers are confidential and privileged." The reporters debated the concept of open meetings with Baker. He repeated several times, "Our conversations with our lawyers are confidential and privileged."
Baker was not willing to discuss individual contracts, such as the police contract or the as-yet-unresolved firefighters' contract. He was willing to talk about what he called "the big picture." "We're going to look at all of the contracts. We're in a difficult position. This is going to be hard stuff. We can't go on spending more than we take in," he said, adding that the city's revenue gap was approximately $25 million for the 2003-2004 fiscal year. He told the reporters about the likelihood of budget cuts and revenue enhancements. He said something about "deferments and suspensions" but did not go into any detail. But, at the same time, he pointed out that 70 percent of the city's budget goes to salaries and fringe benefits.
Meegan didn't offer fireworks to the reporters, either. "We're playing it by ear," he said. "We are fulfilling our obligations," he added, referring to the institution of one-officer patrol cars in the downtown district.
The BFSA never discussed city contracts, except to say that several unions, including firefighters; school engineers; teacher aides; and tradesmen, such as plumbers, bricklayers, and glazers, are now negotiating new contracts.
The BFSA did give Acting City Comptroller Andrew A. SanFilippo the go-ahead to issue a $98 million anticipation bond. SanFilippo explained that, by mid-September, the city will be out of cash. The city, however, is expecting money from sales tax revenues and from state aid, which will pay off the underwriters of the anticipation bond. The BFSA also gave the city the responsibility of turning in a fiscal plan by September 1. Between September 1 and September 15, the board will review the plan and will decide whether to approve or disapprove the plan.
This was the BFSA's first working meeting. The members voted to appoint Dorothy (Dottie) Johnson as executive director, Carl McCall as treasurer, and Richard Tobe as secretary and records access officer. For the benefit of the audience, Baker explained the purpose of the BFSA. "It's to balance the books," with the "goal of giving the city a clean bill of financial health." The BFSA has to make "unpopular decisions," he stated, which caused a murmur in the audience.
In other business, the BFSA approved the expenditure of $618,000 for new police cars. It also discussed obtaining office space and the hiring of additional staff for its operation, including analysts, a financial expert, and an office manager.
Early in September, the BFSA will hold a public forum to get citizens' input on what will happen next. Stay tuned. I can't promise you Baba Yaga, that great witch of Russian folklore, but there is potential for sound and fury that could signify something or perhaps nothing at all. by Alice E. Gerard
The media had promised fireworks. I'd heard all about it on the radio and read all about it in The Buffalo News. The August 6 meeting of the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority, commonly referred to as the "control board," was supposed to be raucous, pitting Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello squarely against Erie County Executive Joel Giambra. The two BFSA members would skirmish over the city's recently ratified police contract. There would be sound and fury, signifying something, and cameras prepared to record the action. I was ready to watch the spectacle.