Lawsuit Launched Against Brown As Council Gives Her A Stay Of Execution

Mayor Paul A. Dyster wants to get rid of longtime city controller Maria Brown who has continuously criticized the mayor’s spending and the $12 million plus annual budget deficit.

But the Niagara Falls City Controller kept her job for at least another two weeks after the city council voted 4-1 voted to table a motion to remove Brown – a full time controller and appoint a part time replacement, Sandy Peploe.

The council audience became restive as an executive session before the council regular meeting at 6 p.m. went past the 45-minute mark.

“Let’s start the meeting without them,” one man said. “Maybe we’ll get something done.”

Another said, “Just tell them their five minutes is up.”

When the council returned and called the meeting to order, attorney Edward Perlman, who represents a group of five city employees who work for the controller and have filed a complaint against her, was the first to speak before the council.

“As you are aware, two of the most important functions of the city council are approving the annual budget and confirming the appointment or removal of certain department heads,” Perlman said. “….I don’t know all the reasons why Mayor Dyster wants to make a change in the controller’s office…. I’ve been retained to represent several city employees who work under the direct supervision of the controller. …. Within the past two weeks three of these employees have filed federal EEOC and the New York State Division of Human Rights. Two have filed complaints with the New York State Department of Labor. All of the complaints concern an unhealthy workplace environment involving the controller. The environment has existed for years and no one in authority has adequately taken the steps to look into this or correct it. Earlier this year my clients took their complaints to the director of human resources. And I’m not sure they received proper direction from HR…..

“Twice during recent months the controller brought her attorney into the controller’s office during work hours and paraded him in front of the employees. Later on, that attorney issued a statement saying for employees that defamed his client a lawsuit would be charged. Today, knowing that my clients may speak to the council for a session tonight, a letter was hand delivered to them during work hours from the attorney again threatening a deflation lawsuit if my clients speak with council members. As you know, truth is an absolute defense to allegations of defamation. These honest, hardworking city employees will not be intimated in their workplace.”

Later, resident Brian Angelo extolled Brown an “expert” that “kept the city out of the red.”

“She spoke up at council meetings about what is right because you should hear these things,” he said. “I don’t know why we would make this change at this time.”

After the motion was tabled, council chairman Andrew Touma said the reason for the matter was that Brown was on vacation last week and could not be interviewed.

Touma said, “Now that she’s back they will have an opportunity to meet and get this rectified hopefully by the next meeting.”

Councilman Kenny Tompkins had this to say about the controller: “Maria Brown should be able to change her job if she so desires but on her terms. I think it’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.”

It remains unclear whether Dyster has the votes on the Council to remove Brown. She has served as city controller for the past 16 years, in the administrations of mayors Dyster, Anello, Elia and Galie.

Brown’s criticism of Dyster’s spending, particularly in the area of discretionary casino revenue funding has frequently embarrassed the mayor.

Dyster wants to bring Brown’s former assistant controller, Sandy Peploe, out of retirement as a part time controller. Peploe currently receives a $70,000 city pension, and can earn up to $30,000 per year as a part time acting controller without affecting her pension.

Peploe, who worked under Brown, padding her pension with thousands of hours of overtime before she retired last year, aligned herself with Dyster when Brown tried to call foul on Dyster’s $125 million budget deficit for 2016.

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