Out of Control Controller or Conspiracy to Thwart Brown’s Intelligent, Forthright Work Ethic?

City Controller Maria Brown warns the council that the city cannot spend more than it has - a position that has made her unpopular at times.

City Controller Maria Brown warns the council that the city cannot spend more than it has – a position that has made her unpopular at times.

Niagara Falls –  According to City Hall sources, a handful of civil service city hall employees who work at the controller’s office and/or billings and collections have written letters of complaints against City Controller Maria Brown saying she has been abusive and created a hostile workplace.

Sources say Brown may have been improperly informed of the names of these so-called “whistleblowers” and initiated retaliatory action against them.

Brown has retained attorney Robert Boreanez to represent her and Boreanez told the Reporter he is exploring defamation, libel and slander remedies against the employees who he suggested may be angry with Brown because she, in effect, demands a day’s work for a day’s pay.

It began when a letter was recently sent by an employee under the controller’s supervision to management officials at city hall complaining of Brown’s ill treatment.

Shortly thereafter several other employees joined in a second letter of protest/complaint against Brown, according to sources.

Sources told the Reporter that last year, following a dispute between Brown and her chief assistant, Sandy Peploe, now retired, Brown was disciplined. One source went so far as to say Brown attended an anger management class, something Brown’s attorney Boreanez denies as “absolutely false.”

Brown has been seen, according to numerous sources working at city hall, banging her fist on tables, and shouting at individuals including council members.

“Even the mayor is afraid of her,’ one source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Reporter.

Without admitting it as fact, Boreanez said the mere fact that Brown may yell at an employee or even require them to work hard is not illegal and may be an effective tool to get work accomplished.

While one source said actual union grievances were filed, the Reporter could find no evidence of this, or anyone who could confirm anything other than that unofficial letters of complaint signed by workers under Brown’s supervision were written and on file in the corporation counsel’s office.

The Reporter called Brown at her cell phone and a woman answered who claimed she wasn’t Brown and said she would take a message.

When the Reporter asked “Are you her sister since you sound an awful lot like Maria?” The woman said, “no I am not Maria. She is not home right now. If you give me your number, I can tell her to call you.”

Within minutes, the Reporter received calls from Brown’s attorney Boreanez and another city hall official explaining that Brown is not at fault.

Human Resources Director Ruby Pulliam is not permitted to comment on personnel matters.

Another source said that the initial complaint was made by a new hire.

One city hall official told the Reporter, “I think certain people went out and ‘witchhunted’ her. There was a plot, a group of people working to get people to make complaints against her. I think the mayor is behind this. He wants to remove Brown to get a ‘yes’ person in there.”

Brown as city controller serves at the pleasure of the mayor and the council and has at times questioned the wisdom of several of the mayor’s spending initiatives. Brown also was the first to ring the alarm bell, warning the mayor and the public about declining casino cash revenues. She did this in the midst of Mayor Dyster’s plan to increase casino spending on various projects and simultaneously use casino cash to plug the city budget deficit.

According to sources, over the last month, the mayor has stopped speaking with Brown and has been sending his secretary, Nick Melson, to the controller’s office and bypassing Brown going directly to her employees.

Brown said at a recent council meeting that the mayor has not returned her calls on a certain matter.

Meantime Boreanez stressed that there has been no grievance filed.

“Look at Maria Brown’s record of 16 years under different mayors. She supervised over 50 people without incident. She is an outstanding controller and the city would be devastated without her.”

Boreanez also said Brown was not required to attend anger management classes.

“The controller is a professional and has interactions with the mayor on a regular basis as her job requires. The mayor has not expressed any dissatisfaction with Ms. Brown or her performance. As recently as 30 days ago the mayor complimented her work,” Boreanez said. As for the complaining employees, if they went to the press, they “open themselves up to defamation and slander and we will investigate these potential claims,” Boreanez said. “For whatever reason there are people willing to tell lies about her and her job and her reputation. She has worked 16 years for the city and has worked under three different mayors without any problem whatsoever.”

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