At its July 7 meeting, the Niagara Falls City Council approved by a 3-2 vote a request from Mayor Paul Dyster to award $150,000 in casino funds to Community Missions of the Niagara Frontier, Inc.
That cash award touched off a firestorm among residents, many of whom expressed themselves on blogs and Facebook, saying that Dyster’s request - and the council majority approval - was secretive in nature and poorly thought out in execution.
Let us note that this newspaper is not criticizing the Community Mission, but instead is questioning the rudderless fashion in which Dyster spends casino cash, and just about every other type of public dollar within city government.
The mission assists the homeless, the ill, broken families, our youth and more. Unfortunately, in 2010, this 90-year-old nonprofit agency ran afoul of the Internal Revenue Service when they chose to pay other bills in lieu of nearly $500,000 in payroll taxes for more than 100 employees.
None of this was discussed with candor at the time of the council approval. And as for Dyster, he would have never mentioned it at all.
In particular what was not mentioned is that casino cash is being used to subsidize a not-for-profit's tax debt.
And therein lies the rub.
Paul Dyster is forever reluctant to show us what he’s doing. His projects routinely run over budget, consultants are hired to study the simplest things and casino cash is spent with a logic known only to Dyster and his mysterious advisors, while pay increases and stipends are forked over to the mayor’s favorite employees time and again.
Dyster has not only forgotten about the residents; he has deliberately removed the middleman – the taxpayer – from his governance equation.
With this latest casino cash expenditure he has opened wide the doors to the city hall vault and invited a rush of troubled nonprofits, sinking businesses, and politically connected freeloaders to hold out their hands.
What was he thinking?
Folks are scratching their heads. They have come to see Dyster as a confused, well meaning, but ineffective executive.
We beg to differ.
Mayor Dyster does exactly as he intends and as he plans.
The man fronting the request for the $150,000 was Michael Lewis, the president of Community Missions and the former City Democratic Committee chairman. He’s an ally of Mayor Dyster. In fact, Lewis and his wife received four city grants themselves over the past three years from Dyster: two for their Main Street spa and two for their as yet unopened Third Street coffee shop.
The Community Missions Finance Chairman is city employee, Sandra Peploe, the deputy Niagara Falls controller.
Dyster is her boss.
She is also the first vice president of the Community Missions’ board.
Can you say “conflict of interest”?
Does the term “the fix was in” ring a bell?
In the absence of information to the contrary, what else is a rational person to suspect?
This begs the question as to why and how Dyster spends casino cash.
The mayor promised to reveal a detailed casino cash-spending plan in June 2013 as Cuomo turned on the $89 million casino cash spigot for him. Dyster never delivered his spending plan.
Yet time and again Dyster presents requests for casino spending authorization with each request forwarded on short notice, containing little backup, and with an urgent demand for immediate approval.
The very concept of transparency is foreign to Dyster and any request of him by the residents to practice open government is considered a sleight to His Honor.
There is now less than $29 million remaining of casino cash, down from the $89 million received last year.
The only thing standing between Niagara Falls and fiscal bankruptcy is the casino cash windfall. Unfortunately, that windfall is being abused for day-to-day operations along with special awards to friends and favorites as our municipal insolvency draws closer.