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February 17, 2019; Buffalo News

In a confusing story reported by the Buffalo News, L. Nathan Hare, the longtime CEO of a local anti-poverty agency, the Community Action Organization of Western New York, was fired by the board only to have that decision somehow reversed—reportedly by the agency’s lawyer, Adam Perry of the law firm Hodgson Russ, which has done a lot of work with the city. Perry then went on to send letters to board members who had a part in the firing, dismissing them instead.

In other words, the whole picture is a mess, with the board’s attorney playing a key role, albeit not at the direction of the board.

CAO’s board fired Hare in October, around the same time it hired a forensic accountant to review the books. It had warned him about performance issues over an extended period prior to taking action.

“For quite some time, we had been having difficulty,” Jennifer Shank, a board member with a 16-year tenure, said of communications with Hare. When financial questions were asked, Shank says, the answers were often vague or nonsensical.

Shank was among the directors dismissed by Perry; subsequent to that purge, the services of the forensic accountant were ended.

In December, at least four of the directors who voted to fire Hare received letters on Hodgson Russ letterhead and signed by Perry. He told them his firm had prepared a report related to “board governance” and other issues, and they could come inspect it at the law firm without taking notes. Citing attorney-client privilege, he forbade them from discussing the topic with anyone.

None of the directors interviewed by The News said they read the report.

Perry sent Hare’s critics another letter on January 8th. The letters told them of problems with their appointments to the board.

“Due to a deficiency in your qualifications and the process used by the Board to consider and vote on your election, that action by the Board was a nullity,” the letters read, “and you are not a member of the CAO Board.”

If board members had questions about their removal, the letter said, they were to ask Perry, not any CAO staff or board members.

More confounding is the fact that both the mayor and Perry deny that Hare’s firing ever took place. Brown’s spokesman, Michael J. DeGeorge, said, “No termination took place and the mayor has no comment on something that didn’t happen.”

That claim is hard to swallow in the face of a good deal of documentation of the termination process.

When interviewed, Perry acknowledged that a lawyer to a board cannot, on his or her own, remove a board member. But he refused to explain the legal basis for their removal.

“I cannot comment on communications with individuals associated with client matters,” he said. “It’s not appropriate.”

There are some situations that call for nothing less than the intervention of the state attorney general, and this one seems to be screaming her name.—Ruth McCambridge