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Who Silenced the Exchange?

Meghan Mann is a 23-year-old go-getter who looks like the girl next door.  She put in $6,000+ of her own and investors’ money in order to pull off Silent Exchange (ironically named in retrospect), and 500+ hours of long, hot summer due diligence.  Every time we had occasion to see Mann this summer, she gave excited updates of this concert event she was planning, adding, “I’m crossing all my ‘T’s and dotting all my ‘I’s. I don’t want anything to go wrong!”

Mann was taking on a job that, as far as we know, no female her age had ever endeavored to before in Buffalo; she was bringing in national-name DJs and producing and promoting the show all by herself, with a little help from friends.  Her exuberance was palpable, and with a background like hers – working in Berlin and New York, in production and media – she was the girl to pull off a show of this magnitude.
The day after the show, when one of the BR comments under the concert listing said, “got there at 7…no one there,” alarm bells went off.  Mann was temporarily incommunicado due to a dead cell, so we heard the news from a friend; the police had shut down the concert.  The first call I made went to the Buffalo Police spokesman.
The following is a blog-style account of conversations with the police spokesman, councilman and block club leader.  

Police Spokesman Mike DeGeorge:
I first contacted DeGeorge on the Sunday following the Saturday shutdown.  I asked what he knew about the police involvement with the concert.  After some back and forth in which I said that it was a live music venue, and DeGeorge corrected me, saying it was DJs – the question was why, with permits in place, would a music (pick your poison) venue be shut down?  
It ended with DeGeorge saying he’d make arrangements for the organizer, Meghan Mann, to talk to Commissioner McCarthy Gipson the next day, and DeGeorge agreeing to get me the police records.  At this point, it was DeGeorge’s belief that there was an initial visit from police to say “turn it down,” followed by a shut down, with an order not to move it inside, though the permits allowed for that also.

On Monday, I received a call from DeGeorge, who said he was very upset.  He had just spoken to Mann, who had just spoken to Gipson, and told DeGeorge she didn’t believe a word about calls to the police.

About those calls, I asked DeGeorge if he had the log for me.  He said three visits were made to The Yard in total, with one call coming in to 9-1-1 at 12:31; it was answered by a policeman from the district at 1:00.

“So when the police visited the next two times, they did it of their own volition?”

“They wouldn’t do that, no.  It was from the complaint calls that came in.”

“Calls?  You told me about one call.”

“There were calls made to the councilman on his private phone.”

“So the next two visits were as a result of the councilman calling the police.”

“I didn’t say that.  Calls were made to 9-1-1…”

A call was made to 9-1-1. Where did the other to visits come from?”

“The police went back at 3 or 4, and then again at 7, when they shut it down.”

“And who sent them there?”

“You’re splitting hairs, Elena.”

“No.  I’m looking for answers.  I’m asking what my readers would ask.  Would the station have a record of the calls?”

“They would, but I haven’t asked for them.”

“I’m asking you to ask for them.  I could call the station and ask, but I know you can get those answers better, and you told me you would, so I’m asking you to.”

“What if you called your councilman with a complaint and he called the police for you?  Would that be bad?”

“No.  I’d be glad to know he was acting on behalf of his constituents.  That’s a good thing, so why hide it?  On the other hand, the guy that owns The Yard is also a constituent, and we’re talking about a national music event that was brought into his district, so that should be of interest too, not to mention the loss of revenue.  So, can I have the records?”

“I’ll get them.”

The next day, DeGeorge emailed me back, writing: As far as calls to the district, those are not logged.

Councilman Joe Golombek:
I sent an inquiry to Councilman Joe Golombek and got the following response, cc’d to his two legislative assistants:

On Saturday
afternoon I arrived home to find several messages on my phone from residents of
the Bradley-Danforth area complaining that they were being overwhelmed with
loud music from an event on Tonawanda Street.  I asked them if they had
spoken to the organizers and they said they did but to no avail.  I called
the police to ask them to ask the event organizers to show some consideration
for the neighbors.  Apparently they did not because there were phone
messages left on my recorder complaining about the music.  I would assume
that was when they were shut down.  There was also one from Newell that I
returned on Sunday morning.  I heard this second batch of messages on
Sunday at 3AM. 

In the future
I would recommend that event organizers meet with the residents in the
adjoining neighborhoods so a problem like that does not happen again.  It
is a delicate balancing act between quality of life for residents and
businesses.  I would be happy to forward the names of the block club
and/or host a meeting in the future. The city simply tries to do the best it

We had a chance to speak later in the day, after Golombek had met with Mann and her associate, Dino Pinelli.  Golombek stated that he clearly acted on behalf of his constituents in calling the police on his day off.  He said he had no choice but to answer the complaints by calling the police, and that he didn’t realize where the music was coming from, only that it was loud.  “Honestly,” Golombek said, “I thought it was coming from Buff State.”

Initially, Golombek said he got home and listened to calls on his answering machine at 3 or 4 on Saturday.  He was called by about 4 different people, 9 separate times.  He said one man works the night shift and was trying to sleep.  Golombek says that it was that man who made the 9-1-1 call.  “He said, ‘You guys don’t care!'” according to Golombek. 

He also said that residents claimed they had gone to the event to speak to the organizers about the noise.  As for being spoken to, both Mann and Pinelli deny being approached by any “civilians” with complaints. They claim Mann’s mother and aunt were at the gate all day, along with a rent-a-cop, and none of them witnessed anyone coming to complain.  

When Golombek got back home at 7PM, there were more messages.  It was then, he said, that he started to realize it was The Yard the music was coming from.  “I thought, oh crap, there’s gonna be a problem,” he said. He left for his evening bartending gig and went for a ride by The Yard on Sunday.  He said he heard music there and hoped things had worked out.  Little did he know that on this new day, it was an entirely different venture.  

In the end, Golombek says it’s a policeman’s job to follow the process, and that he himself has to consider the volume of calls he got to be legitimate complaints – and a sign that “something needs fixing.” But he adds that Mann did nothing wrong on her end.

“Megan and Dino are good people,” Golombek said.  “I wish I’d met them 2 weeks ago.”  He also said he’d take a good look at the permitting process, specifically where it comes to notification.  “As a councilman, I would have liked to know what event was going on.  We did embarrass ourselves. I feel very, very bad.  I understand Meghan and Dino’s anger and frustration,” Golombek offered. 

For deeper understanding, I contacted the leader of the Bradley-Dart-Danforth Block Club. 

Block Club leader Susan Guastaferro:  

Reluctant to speak at first, Guastaferro said the music was very loud.  “I live half a mile away [from the yard], and I thought it was across the street,” she said.  She also said she’d read the previous BR article and stated that there are ordinances, even with permits in place, that say you can’t exceed the city noise limits.  We were unable to confirm this. 

She spoke to neighbors over the weekend and said that it was loud at her house, but extremely loud down the street.  “The noise funneled down Dart Street.  At the other end from me, where houses have no insulation, they act like amplifiers when noise gets in them,” Guastaferro said.  “The police told us we had to put up with it until 10 at night, but you don’t have to put up with that kind of noise.  The police either don’t know or don’t care, but people could feel it at 2 in the afternoon – weird acoustics.”

Guastaferro said the police did check it out, but that permits vary and they’re unclear.  “This city is tough anyway, but why is the noise necessary?  Why is excessive noise necessary?” she asked again.  It really is torture for neighbors.  It doesn’t have to be that loud on site.  Everyone on all sides got jacked up here.”

Licensing and permits:

No calls returned.

There are a lot of issues at stake here in this account of an event gone wrong and the odd communication that followed, but it seems the bigger issue is – once again – the poor permitting process.  If a permit is simply an expensive piece of paper with no guarantees that you’ll actually be able to carry out the endeavor you purchased the permit for, then what is it?

If you were to buy a ticket to [fill in your favorite event here] and they ripped it up at the turnstile and pointed to the curb, wouldn’t you be infuriated on a lot of different levels?

So how about this – how about before the city sells any more permits, they understand what the purchaser is planning to do with said “ticket to do business,” and complies?  Maybe in the end, Mann will be teaching the city a lesson or two about business.

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