The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority is obviously overdue for another audit by state officials or some other government oversight.
The recent story in The News outlining how the authority spent at least $90,218 over 16 months to hire a public relations firm to do work that it should have done in-house is an example of why the authority’s work needs to be examined.
Some BMHA board members have been left scratching their heads over why an authority with the mission to serve poor people decided it was OK to hand Eric Mower + Associates a no-bid contract for basic communications matters.
Authority executives had been handling routine matters such as press releases and media advisories up until September 2011, when they turned to the PR firm.
BMHA Executive Director Dawn Sanders-Garrett apparently hired Mower using money designated for professional services. However, the spending limit for such transactions is $25,000 a year, according to the chairman of the board of commissioners. Anything above that requires seeking bids for the work. The limit was far below the $72,882 the authority paid Mower last year. The firm additionally was paid at least $17,336 from September 2011 until the end of that year.
The authority has rules, and those rules should have been followed. Breaking spending into chunks less than $25,000, or however Sanders-Garrett wants to justify it, is breaking those rules and should be dealt with. The BMHA was throwing away money and certainly not serving the poor residents who depend on the authority.
After the story in The News, the authority decided it will bid out the public relations contract. While complying with the law, it will still be wasting taxpayer money by having outsiders perform routine tasks.
The authority hired Mower on an emergency basis in 2011 to deal with the fallout from the discovery of asbestos at Kensington Heights and Marine Drive apartments. Rather than hire a PR agency to provide favorable spin on that mess, the BMHA should have simply made public all the information it had. Even more frustrating is the notion that routine matters once handled by staff should be handed over to an expensive outside public relations firm.
This is not the first time the authority has turned to a PR firm. Travers Collins & Co. was hired in 2003 for two years for basic marketing and community services. But at least Travers went through a competitive review and was selected over four other firms.
The public dollars flowing to the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority cannot be treated like someone’s private piggy bank. Spending public money on pricey public relations firms to handle routine matters and circumventing the bidding process is simply unacceptable.