HAMILTON: Water Board Woes – Is it Ra-cism or is it Renae-cism?

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By:Ken Hamilton

Current Niagara Falls Water Board chairman Patrick Brown is accused of racism by African-American board member and former Niagara County Legislator Renae Kimble. Those supporting Kimble say that Brown has posted racist memes on his Facebook page, and somehow, his wanting to not renew the contract of the board’s director of finance Kendra Walker, an African-American, is therefore also racist. But many say that the interpretation of Brown’s memes is left to the judgement of the reader and are, at worst, simply in bad taste. Much of what has been posted on all sides by many sectors of Facebook is also in bad taste. The certified public accountant Brown contends that the memes on Facebook, that he, himself did not create, has nothing to do with the lack of professionalism of the board’s director of finance, in that she was asked to bring the budget in with less than a 3% increase in rates. She brought in a higher increase at 5.5%, of which the board whittled down to 2.99%.

The following is the prologue of a series of stories on this and possibly other current or historical issues within all such local government and agencies that will be written by various members of the Reporter’s staff for the good of the common citizen.

Racism is the ultimate form of bullying, as it isn’t just a single person or a small clique that is impacting a single person; instead, it is a large group of people impacting, likewise, another large group of people. As such, any allegation of racism, or even sexism, is a serious matter and is deserving of a thorough investigation, especially when it is done in the public sector. Bullying deserves similar investigation and adjudication.

Therefore, special attention should be paid to former-Niagara County legislator, Renae Kimble, and her claim that has accused current-Niagara Falls Water Board Chairman and Certified Public Accountant Patrick Brown of racism due to his support of not renewing the contract of black female Kendra Walker, the Erie County resident who serves as the agency’s director of financial services.

Kimble, whom like Walker, is also a highly-educated black female; but the link between education and skill is indeed a tenuous one, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that one is absolutely prepared in the workroom as they were in the classroom. Some believe that Walker’s purported MBA in Finance didn’t necessarily prepare her in all aspects of understanding finance, such as budgeting and accounting for governmental entities, no more than the University at Buffalo’s Juris Doctorate degree program absolutely prepared Kimble to actually pass the New York State Bar Exam and to legally practice law. Despite the apparent lacking quality of Walker’s work, Kimble seems to indicate just the color of Walker’s skin is sufficiently satisfactory to keep her in her highly-paid job.

Brown says that his reasons for the non-renewal of Walker is based upon professionalism rather than of race, and specifically for what he says is in her inability to answer the board’s questions on the increase of 5.5% on the minimum water rates for its residential, institutional and commercial customers in the city of Niagara Falls, as well as in parts of the adjoining Town of Niagara, and she not bringing that increase down to the marginal 3% that is legally required to meet bonding parameters of law.

 

Water Board Member Renae Kimble

 

Kimble also chides Brown for the disproportion of blacks that are employed by a Niagara Falls Water Board that is four in about 100 total employees.  Walker is the only black manager in the authority. Brown is in his 1st term as a board member, whereas Kimble has been on the board for 10-years, a term that expired in 2017, and had once served as the board’s chairperson. As such, she, therefore, must take a lot of the blame for the lack of minority hiring that took place under her tenure. Several board members cite that former Niagara Falls City Councilman Charles Walker, an African-American male, had a known interest in being employed by the board but wasn’t championed by Kimble, as was the female African-American Kendra Walker.

But Kimble is known for her bombastic methods of getting what she wants and halting what she doesn’t by pulling from the deck her poker hand of sex, politics and race cards – with the race cards being the most effective of all others.

Take one of Kimble’s first hires, for instance, of when she was in the majority of the county legislature, and her hiring of her friend, African-American female Theresa Holland (not to say that Charles Walker wasn’t her friend, despite in his early 1997 run for Niagara Falls City Council, as indicated by then-Democratic City Chairman Tom Lafornia, the Democrat Kimble had Walker’s petitions challenged).  Niagara Reporter David Staba wrote of Kimble’s antics in his April 30, 2002 Citycide column, under the masthead Political Patronage A Local Tradition.

Staba wrote, “[…] Which isn’t to say Holland isn’t qualified — she holds a bachelor’s degree in social work and a master’s in Student Personnel Administration from Buffalo State College. And whatever lessons she learned from her decade-old legal troubles may well better suit her to run an agency, whose job should include serving the thousands of Niagara County kids who grow up in an all-too-real world of poverty and worse, than some idealistic suburbanite.”

Staba was clearly indicating that whatever legal flaws that Holland may have had in the past didn’t necessarily preclude her from actually doing the job.

Kendra Walker has no known legal flaws – in fact, in my, Ken Hamilton, opinion – she’s very outstanding as a person and with very broad, interesting, and even intriguing experiences. But Brown’s questioning was not of the issue of her education, but of her knowledgeable experience base in handling the water board’s finances and budgeting.

Staba goes on by writing, “But most of the Democratic majority that approved her [Holland’s] hiring in January [~2002] never knew about those experiences. “There were some things that weren’t disclosed because she didn’t think they were necessary,” county attorney Mort Abramowitz said.”

“Like just about every other hire by the Legislature,” Staba wrote, “the only thing that mattered was an item that did make it on to Holland’s resume — her extensive background working on the campaigns of Legislator Renae Kimble (D-Niagara Falls). I still haven’t quite figured out how working a phone bank, going door-to-door with campaign literature or hawking fund-raiser tickets qualifies one for any governmental job, but maybe it’s just me.”

And so, again, racism is the ultimate form of bullying, as such, any allegation of racism, or even sexism, is a serious matter and is deserving of a thorough investigation, especially when it is done in the public sector. But doesn’t false and/or unsubstantiated allegations deserve the same investigation and adjudication as real racism and bullying, so be it by current water board chairman Brown or by the former chairman Kimble?

Unsubstantiated allegations of racism must have consequences, because the more that the dripping brush of such is dipped into the dark paint bucket from which racial allegations come and are painted on the faces of straw people, the volume of its bucket can only be brought back to the original level by the addition of more paint thinner; and what’s then in the bucket becomes more and more transparent with each ineffective brush stroke. To be effective in rooting out real and/or merely falsely-allegations of racism, upon finding guilt, either Brown or Kimble needs to be immediately removed by whomever has the authority to do so.

A thorough, objective investigation by this Reporter will soon follow, giving everyone involved an opportunity for an interview, and the printing of the same, as we dig down into our local public institutions. Offers of such to Kendra Walker and several board members have already been extended. The board members called have already responded, one with no comment; but Walker has not returned numerous calls for comment. It’s understandable under her circumstances.

 


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