Less than a week after local civil rights groups and community activists demanded his removal, Niagara Falls Water Board Chairman Patrick Brown tendered his resignation Tuesday.
Brown was appointed to the board by the members of the Niagara Falls City Council in January 2020. His term was not set to expire until Dec. 31, 2022.
In a blistering letter, sent to City Council Chairman Kenny Tompkins, Brown wrote that his decision to resign was driven by the need to tend to his private accounting business and family considerations.
“With great regret I have to resign from the board effective immediately due to family and business commitments serving our clients as we enter an extremely busy time of year,” Brown wrote.
But the one-time city controller also lashed out at his critics, including fellow Water Board Member Renae Kimble.
“One board member has referred to and characterized me, slanderously and falsely, as a racist,” Brown wrote. “I am not a racist, and in my opinion, such baseless accusations of racism could cause harm to me, my family and business.”
Brown charged that participating in board meetings with Kimble would create “a hostile environment.”
“I do not wish to serve on a board being subject to such false and defamatory accusations,” he wrote. “The continuous hateful and false accusations of racism and anger directed at me by her, and most recently, other comments made at the (January 20, 2021 City Council meeting) have taken a toll on my wife’s health, which comes first.”
Representatives of the Niagara Falls Chapter of the NAACP and the Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope (NOAH) appeared at that council meeting and told members of the City Council that they needed to remove Brown and probe allegations of systemic racism at the water board.
Tompkins said, at that time, that he and other council members would look into the claims.
Brown, was harshly criticized at the council meeting by Falls NAACP Chapter President Shirley Hamilton for what she called “blatant discriminatory actions” toward Water Board Director of Financial Services Kendra Walker. Walker is one of only four African-American employees at the water board.
Kimble, at a Jan. 11 meeting where the board voted 3-2 not to renew Walker’s employment contract, suggested the Brown was looking to “get” the board’s finance director. Brown, Board Members Nick Forester and Colleen Larkin approved the resolution that effectively fired Walker.
However, Brown maintains that he did not introduce the resolution to fire Walker. A copy of the resolution, distributed by the board, does not indicate which member proposed it.
Kimble also said at the board meeting that members of the Falls City Council had been contacted about what she described as “racist comments” on Brown’s Facebook page. She also said that a post to Brown’s page featured an inappropriate meme involving “Aunt Jemima.”
“For (the council) to know this and not do anything,” Kimble said, “shame on them.”
The day after the water board meeting, the Facebook pages for Brown and Larkin appeared to have been taken down.
When the city council appointed Brown to serve as their representative on the water board, Council Member William Kennedy was the only member to vote against the appointment. In his resignation letter, Brown took aim at Kennedy as well.
“Council Member Bill Kennedy has made derogatory/slanderous comments in the Gazette regarding my Water Board appointment,” Brown wrote. “And posted a false libelous statement about me on a public Facebook group.”
In a statement released by Tompkins and Council Members Chris Voccio, John Spanbauer and Andrew Touma, they said they never pressured Brown to step down.
“It is important that the public understand, this was fully Mr. Brown’s decision. The majority of the City Council has continuously supported Mr. Brown’s dedication to serving the people of Niagara Falls in this capacity,” the statement read. “Despite our requests that he continue to stay through his term, his decision was final. From the moment he arrived (at the Water Board), Mr. Brown proved himself to be a fiscal watchdog, ready to apply his immense professional knowledge, skills, and passion to making sure everything done was in the best interest of the city’s ratepayers.”
The council members thanked Brown for his service and wished him well.
“While I knew there would be challenges, never did I think trying to fulfill my fiduciary responsibility, bringing accountability and transparency to the public, obtaining necessary financial information and working many hours ... for the good of ratepayers would be construed as bullying, harassment and deteriorate into the ugly political situation it has,” Brown wrote in his resignation letter.