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CAO Under Siege: A Conversation with L. Nathan Hare

By Sabirah Muhammad, Buffalo Challenger

After a few tries we make our connection, and when we do, Nate Hare jumps right in. He launches
immediately into a rebuttal of accusations of impropriety and mismanagement at the CAO, the
organization he’s nurtured and grown as its CEO since 2002. By now it’s a well-worn narrative, just like
the tale of chaos and dysfunction being pushed by The Buffalo News, despite his persistent attempts to
correct the record with documented facts. Not surprisingly, the passion that has enabled him to grow
the CAO’s budget, services, and workforce exponentially – also makes him its best defender. But it’s not
that he’s anxious to have his say; he’s been doing that. He’s anxious… to be heard.

“I have sent at least four different rebuttals to these people in the past month,” he says, “and
nothing. They’ll pick out a couple of sentences from what I said, but put shade on the sentence. Then
they’ll just keep repeating the same stuff over and over and over again.”

What was it that started this months-long campaign to slander and sabotage the CAO? According to
Mr. Hare, lay persons from the community who were granted seats on the board in compliance with
agency regulations had the erroneous perception that they were the heads of the organization, and
began jockeying for more and more influence and authority within it. Of one of them he says: “She just
basically became enamored in herself, and felt that because she was the chair of the board, that she was
the god of the Community Action Organization. That’s fundamentally what the issue was.”

On March 11th, the CAO released an audit disproving any claims of financial impropriety, which was
claimed by former board dissidents, including Jennifer Shank and Jenine Dunn. Though there were some
clandestine maneuverings, there never was an official termination of L. Nathan Hare. That would have
required a three-day notice to all board members of a special meeting, written notice of the objective of
the meeting, and formal minutes of said meeting. Calls for scrutiny of CAO operations naturally set in
motion an internal review, which resulted in the board’s decision to remove six members, not four, in
accordance with the by-laws. Two of those dismissed were opposed to the attempts to unseat Mr. Hare.
Contrary to the claim that this was not a scheme to get rid of trouble makers, even the four who were
secretly maneuvering remained for months after their initial attempts.

It’s clear that L. Nathan Hare prefers to settle on the facts and evidence that attest to the true
integrity of the CAO and its operations. But in the face of the refusal on the part of accusers to
acknowledge facts and evidence, he easily agrees to shift our discussion to the outside forces that at
some point moved to take advantage of internal strife within the CAO to advance their own agendas. “I
would say that there’s probably an agenda that’s being supported by Jenine Dunn and Jennifer Shank
that is much bigger than just the CAO,” he said. He addressed the political tensions caused by his status
as a founding member of the Grassroots organization. “Every time Grassroots comes up, they always
throw Nate Hare’s name in the game,” he says. “But I haven’t been to a Grassroots meeting since 1999. I
don’t have an attitude against Grassroots, I still support Grassroots people, but I don’t’ allow any
political stuff to be done at the CAO. I don’t allow tickets to be sold, no flyers, no endorsements, nobody
recruiting volunteers from my staff…I’d rather everybody in Erie and Niagara Counties hate me because I
won’t dance with anybody politically. I’d rather that than to put my staff in a position where they’ve
gotta be burdened because I sign on with this or that person, who didn’t win, and now all of their people
are mad at the CAO. But the Buffalo News continues to put this narrative out – I’m Byron Brown’s friend.
Absolutely, for twenty-some years. I’m not gonna stop being his friend because he’s the Mayor of the
city. But they keep trying to attack Byron Brown by lacerating me.”

He goes on to mention the resentment among some women over the lack of a female head of the CAO
in the history of its existence as an obvious irritant. Finally, Mr. Hare acknowledges the expectation of
some, that at 69, he should retire. “Whether I’m old or not,” he says through laughter, “I’m still keeping
this agency afloat.”

Indeed. Amid the sound and fury of this relentless smear campaign, it’s hard to imagine that the CAO
is not under investigation by any agency – but it’s not. L. Nathan Hare is well able to put this
reprehensible propaganda campaign in perspective: “At the end of the day, this isn’t about me. It’s
about the Community Action Organization and the willingness of the Buffalo News to sacrifice this
agency. We had a client base in 2018 of 56,000 people that we have served. They keep whining about
how much money we get as an agency. We’ve got a $50 million budget. But divide $50 million by 56,000
people. That’s less than a hundred dollars per person that we serve. We’re doing an awful lot of work for
an awful lot of people, with relatively little money, given the number of people that we have taken on the
responsibility to serve. But you never hear the CAO whining. We just continue to move forward to meet
the needs of this community. And to have that work jeopardized so that these people can essentially
make some political gain at the CAO’s expense is so despicable that it’s beyond words.”