|Six, two and even, he’s
selling you out, Donna...
Donna Owens: Don't, Paul. Don't say it even in fun. Ha, ha, ha. Oh, I was frightened for a minute. I really thought...You do such wild and unpredictable things.
Paul: Don't be silly. You're taking the fall.
Niagara Falls residents were playing their own version of the old show business game "Dead Pool" last week.
The game, popularized in the 1988 Clint Eastwood film The Dead Pool, involves people wagering on who will die first among a select group of celebrities.
In the Niagara Falls version, locals are laying odds on how many weeks and months it will take for Mayor Paul Dyster to fire his embattled city administrator, Donna Owens.
Owens was Dyster's first hire in his "best and brightest" program of 2008 when he raised all the salaries of department heads at city hall on the theory that, if they came from out of town, they were worth more than locals .
Owens' mishandling of the city's new garbage hauling contract with Modern Disposal Inc. of Lewiston, and the subsequent firestorm that developed following the details of that contract being exposed in the pages of the Niagara Falls Reporter, have put Dyster in bad need of a fall guy.
Owens is perfect for the role.
The gist of the flaw is that city residents will have to make a drastic reduction in refuse - going from unlimited to only 64 gallons per week, the smallest in the nation.
Dyster also reversed the standard tote sizes using the 96 gallon totes, normally used for refuse, and made these recycling totes, and he took the 64 gallon totes, normally used for recycling, and designated these to be used for refuse.
Dyster also decided - without first telling business owners - that more than 500 businesses would be cut off from service altogether.
For seven years, Owens has occupied the office next to the mayor's, saying little and doing less while collecting paychecks that often ran into the six figures annually.
She kept her head down, didn't complain even when the council attempted to cut her entire salary from the budget, and sucked it up like a champion when her salary was finally slashed from $110,000 to a mere $70,000 two years ago.
She steadfastly refused to buy a house in the city, living instead in rented rooms at the Jefferson Apartments, an ancient edifice on Rainbow Boulevard owned by Shawn Weber, a Dyster campaign contributor and frequent recipient of city and state business loans and grants.
Now, today, as you are reading this, in coffee shops and restaurants around the city, patrons are now guessing the week/month they believe Donna Owens will join the ranks of the unemployed. You, too, may wish to lay a wager.
It all began about three weeks ago, after the Niagara Falls Reporter revealed the horrid details of the garbage plan.
A short time later, Lewiston resident and Niagara Falls businessman Craig Avery called for Owens to resign or be fired at a city hall public meeting where the administrator addressed a group of business people regarding the trash/recycling program. Owens first turned on the audience. Then challenged by Avery and others burst into tears.
Thankfully, Councilmen Andrew Touma and Bob Anderson were there to restore order, calm the audience, comfort Owens and mercifully draw the ill-fated session to a close.
Several days later Avery, a top Dyster campaign contributor and a multiple city grant recipient for his Third Street businesses, appeared on the Vince Anello radio show and repeated his demand for Owens' head.
Then the Lewiston Republican wrote an editorial for his Niagara Hub website and stated online what he demanded in public: Owens must be removed.
It's curious that Avery, a Dyster friend, made a public spectacle of slamming Owens. Suspicious minds suspect that when Dyster stubbed his political toe on his trash/recycling program, he dumped the plan at Owens' feet and scrammed.
Was this a set up with Avery pulling the trigger?
With Dyster recently holding a campaign fundraiser, and with 2015 mayoral contender Robert Restaino likely preparing to pull the trigger on a mayoral run, observers are speculating that Dyster will offer Owens' job to Restaino to get him out of the mayor race. For Restaino that could be a $110,000 salary (What Owens was paid before being cut by the council) as administrator, versus a $78,000 salary as mayor…if he wins.
We're waiting to see if Dyster uses his 96 gallon tote or his 64 gallon tote to roll Owens to the curb.