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Wednesday, August 17, 2022
The independent student publication of The Unversity at Buffalo, since 1950

A Crash Course In City Management

In order to teach UB students the complex workings of the local economy, the School of Management went straight to the source: Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello. The school enlisted the city's chief executive to teach MGE 690: The Changing Economy of Buffalo, a week-long graduate course offered during the winter recess.

The class, co-instructed by former dean of the School of Management and current professor Lewis Mandell, was reintroduced by popular demand after its debut last winter.

The course syllabus spanned a broad range of topics: education and crime, urban transportation, local government/financing and consolidation, poverty and housing, land use/regionalization, and the history of Buffalo. The course also featured visits from key local government leaders and field trips to pertinent points in the city.

Second-year graduate student Nicholas Corcoran said the two instructors complemented each other in the classroom. Corcoran said Mandell "has given the course structure" through theoretical knowledge culled from the required text while Masiello has "shown the implementation or non-implementation of theories [the class] has studied and the ramifications."

Masiello described his students as "very inquisitive and opinionated" and was enthusiastic about having open discussions with students in which he could "deal with reality without textbooks."

School of Management spokesman John Della Contrada said the session afforded the mayor an opportunity to address the area's "future business leaders" and discuss the city's problems in an academic setting "away from the political spotlight."

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"[Students] can make more informed decisions to guide the city if they choose to," Della Contrada added.

A Day in the Classroom with Professor Masiello: Wednesday, Jan. 16.

Masiello discussed Buffalo's current economic crisis with the help of City Finance Director Eva M. Hassett. The mayor addressed the many factors leading to Buffalo's fiscal decline and said there are no "quick fixes" to the problems.

"We have to negotiate for the future," said Masiello. "Unless the mayor, the union leaders and the special interest groups fix this fiscal problem, we're not going to have the ability to keep families living here and businesses coming here."

Hassett agreed.

"These are problems that didn't just happen this year," she said. "They have been here longer than I have been around or a lot of [the students] have been around."

According to Hassett, the property tax is the sole source of revenue completely under the city's control. Only 61 percent of Buffalo property, however, is taxed because 39 percent consists of churches, not-for-profit organizations, schools, government offices and abandoned buildings. Currently, 52 percent of the property tax is funneled into Buffalo's public schools, leaving the city only 48 percent to put toward other expenses.

Raising taxes, said Masiello, would put an "unfair burden of taxation" on those who pay property tax and would only lure residents and businesses elsewhere.

According to Masiello, the city's greatest expense is the police department. The mayor was visibly agitated when discussing the 1993 contract the city signed with the police union, which required police to ride in two-person vehicles and shortened their workweek from 40 hours to 37.5. As soon as the contract went into effect, payroll expenses and overtime hours skyrocketed.

After examining peer cities such as Rochester, Toledo, Milwaukee and Cincinnati, Masiello concluded "there is no reason I can't have one-person patrol cars with proper training and supervision" and noted case studies showing a higher incidence of police deaths among officers with partners — countering the police union's primary claim that having one-person patrol cars would put officers' lives at a greater risk.

"We're not asking our police to do anything more than what other cities are doing," said Masiello.

Last year, Buffalo was scheduled to receive substantial funds from the state government but, as a result of fiscal reallocation in the wake of Sept. 11, a portion of New York's budget earmarked for Buffalo was cut. Masiello vowed he would go to Albany and demand the financial support Buffalo deserves, an action Mandell supported.

"Buffalo is a total welfare case — that's the way it works in New York state," said Mandell. "We may be subsidized because of social problems. It's really our money we're getting back by and large."

Despite the overwhelming concerns the mayor expressed, he concluded this portion of the lecture with an optimistic plea.

"Don't give up on Buffalo," the mayor said. "Believe me when I tell you we're going to make it. We have good people and good things are going to happen."

During a break in the class, Masiello received stellar praise from many of his students. Sara Reiner, a part-time first-year graduate student, said her only qualm with the course is the short duration — it lasted only one week — because the information presented is "so useful and interesting." She considered the course particularly beneficial to MBA students.

"Sometimes MBA students only focus on the bottom-line rather than human costs and implications," said Reiner. "Decisions can't always be based on the bottom-line because human lives are affected."

Stephen Schroek, a second-year graduate student, said MGE 690 was his favorite class and, as a Buffalo resident, "the issues are real and relevant."

"[The mayor] is an honest person I can trust," said Schroek. "He seems like a neighborhood guy rather than a deceptive Harvard graduate — you can tell he lives right behind my house."



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