High Noon for Percy
By Craig Tretiak
When state Sen. George D. Maziarz walks into the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp.’s boardroom today, it will be to preside over the final stages of what has been a staggering reversal of fortunes for John Percy, the CEO of the embattled tourism promotion agency.
Two weeks ago, this newspaper reported that the Niagara Falls Common Council’s majority had dropped any pretense of renewing the NTCC’s 10-year contract with the city, and while Mayor Paul A. Dyster continues to defend the organization, his usual praise of Percy was somewhat muted in his conversations with the Reporter's founding editor Mike Hudson.
Compounding matters for Percy, Niagara County government has not taken up renewal of their contract either.
The City of Lockport, meanwhile, has one year left on their contract. However, Lockport’s tough-talking mayor, Michael W. Tucker, is known to have butted heads with Percy in the past.
Gone, too, is all that Seneca casino money.
Analysis of Percy’s dire straits must focus on several key items.
First, there is this newspaper’s reporting. Since 2006, the Reporter has highlighted the free-spending, high-living M.O. of Percy and his top executives.
Second, there is the political collapse of Francine DelMonte. The once-powerful assemblywoman, who was closely allied with Percy, and was dispatched rather efficiently by the one-two punch of a Democratic primary challenge by businessman John G. Accardo and the election of two-term Republican Assemblyman John D. Ceretto. Without his patroness looking out for his interests, Percy has become increasingly vulnerable.
Third, and most critical though, has been Percy himself. The NTCC’s lack of transparency has been a problem, to be sure, but when parts of that veil are lifted, it just highlights the problems. The Reporter succeeded in acquiring tax returns that indicated a compensation package for the flamboyant CEO that surpassed $200,000—an appalling sum for an agency funded primarily out of bed tax revenue.
And that doesn’t even begin to address his travel expenses.
Off-the-record conversations with NTCC board of directors members indicates just how precarious Percy’s position is. Several members openly balked at the agency’s request that they undertake a lobbying effort of county lawmakers detailed in Hudson’s article today. Others paint a less than flattering picture of Percy’s tenure with the tourism agency.
“We received dozens and dozens of applications when [former CEO David] Rosenwasser left town,” one individual who has served on the NTCC board said under condition of anonymity. “John Percy was far less qualified than the competition.”
The one-time board member indicated substantial pressure had been brought to bear by what was termed “a prominent supporter who lived north of the Falls.”
Presumably that prominent supporter is no longer in a position to help Percy.
Our source also indicated that several board members have soured on Percy in recent weeks as internal workings of the NTCC have come to light.
“[Percy] rewrote the bylaws almost unilaterally,” our source said. “Most of the board members didn’t even realize some of the things he had changed from the way things were run under [Rosenwasser].”
The NTCC was founded in 2003. As a Niagara Falls Reporter article written a year and a half later by a recent employee of the agency noted, “The idea at that time was to replace the two existing, often competing, tourism agencies with one cohesive entity to market the county as a whole. While it was agreed upon by all that Niagara Falls was the light drawing tourists like moths to the area, it was the rest of the county that held the promise of turning brief trips into overnight and extended stays.”
Political leaders outside of Niagara Falls have frequently criticized the NTCC for not accomplishing that goal at all. Several board members indicated that Tucker and Percy were locked in a bitter feud earlier this year over funding for the city’s trolley—the only significant tourism investment the NTCC makes in Lockport, despite receiving that city’s bed tax dollars well.
In fact, with the exception of promoting sport-fishing—which two sources closed to the NTCC confirmed is the job of Bill Hilts, Jr., who is actually employed and paid by Niagara County’s government, and not the NTCC—it’s hard to point to any large-scale promotion of anything other than the landmark adjacent to this newspaper’s hometown. Non-Niagara Falls venues are featured on the agency’s website, and get some mention in promotion materials, but that has caused even board members to question how an agency that has spent $15 million on Percy’s watch has so little tangible to show for it.
“Up until now, John Percy has managed to survive by forcing a sort of ‘Mexican standoff’ between all the various parties picking up his tab,” the one-time NTCC board member told us. “He played the county against the city, he played Niagara Falls against Lockport, he played the state-mandated payments from the Senecas against them all. Now, all of those parties are suddenly pointing their pistols at him.”
“It’s high noon at the NTCC.”
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||
May 28, 2013