March 4, 2019; Buffalo News
In a bizarre turn of events, the Community Action Organization of Western New York, an anti-poverty agency founded in 1965, stationed three armed security guards at its board meeting yesterday to keep out the public its board is specifically designed to represent. This is the same organization that we wrote about two weeks ago, where the board’s attorney had taken it upon himself to dismiss four board members after reinstating the CEO who had been fired by the board. Both the CEO and the attorney are said to be longtime associates of Buffalo’s current mayor.
The four board members, who had been “dismissed” for technical reasons on letterhead from the attorney’s law firm rather than the CAO board, were turned away at the door, where a sign indicating that this was a “private meeting” was posted. One had to be “on the list,” they were told.
The board members were there to demand reinstatement. They had already been replaced, and other vacant positions filled, reportedly by “newly appointed board members connected to the mayor.”
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“They are evading federal law,” said Jenine Dunn, the former board president. Also excluded were Jennifer Shank, Doris Cummings-Ford, and Melissa R.H. Brown.
Community action agency boards are required to have broad community representation on their boards, but they also often have members appointed by local government. This and other factors make them, in some locations, highly political entities, though that element of their identities has faded over the years. The Buffalo News reports that:
While CAO states on its website that the public is invited to attend its meetings, it is not a government entity subject to the Open Meetings Law. In an advisory opinion issued two decades ago, New York’s Committee on Open Government said anti-poverty agencies like the CAO, created by federal legislation in 1964, should keep the public informed and comply with reasonable requests for financial information. But the advisory opinion does not say such agencies must open their meetings.
The excluded board members now have their own attorney.—Ruth McCambridge