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MAR 10 - MAR 17, 2015

The City Hall Good Life

By Frank Parlato

March 10, 2015

Mayor Paul Dyster takes care of his friends, creating for them his $100,000 club at City Hall.

Niagara Fall-It is fair to say that if you work at City Hall - and Mayor Paul A. Dyster likes you - you can enjoy a lifestyle that surpasses the people of this economically distressed city and indeed surpass City Hall workers for bigger, more affluent cities.

That is because Mayor Dyster is generous. He believes in spending the people's money as if it were his own.

Lets' consider some examples.

The new "acting director" of the Economic Development Department, Thomas J. DeSantis, who is also "senior planner" for the city, wants to hire Joseph Collura, the former "Economic Development Professional" as a consultant for the Niagara Falls Corporation (NFC).

The NFC is a city-owned entity which makes about a dozen small business loans and grants per year with mainly casino cash totaling about $1.2 million a year.

According to a March 9th memo to the N.F.C. Board of Directors, DeSantis wants the board to approve hiring Collura at $30 per hour, for at least one year, with a maximum annual fee of $26,000.

"Mr. Collura recently retired from his position as the City's Economic Development Professional," DeSantis wrote, "and has helped guide the City in its economic development decisions for over 35 years."

While this is DeSantis' first year heading the Economic Development Department and the Planning Department, DeSantis started with the city in 1988 and has helped guide the City in its planning decisions for over 26 years.

For decades, Collura and DeSantis have guided the city in planning and economic development decisions to take the city to where it presently stands.

Mayor Dyster is the chairman of NFC and controls the votes on the board.

Collura will be hired. DeSantis' letter a mere formality.

Indeed Dyster too wrote a letter on March 9 to his board members, trying to get enough of them to come to get a quorum in order to affirm Collura's hire.

It will not be hard work for Collura either.

DeSantis will assign him some tasks and Collura will be paid to be available to provide assistance to staff, and provide guidance to new hires if there are any.

The times will be good for him now.

When Collura retired, on December 31, 2014, he was earning $71,271. He retired with a pension of about $55,000 per year.

With his retirement, he qualified to collect a check for unused vacation and sick time. In light of union rules affecting accumulated time, that might be as much as $60,000.

Back in November Mayor Dyster announced an early "retirement incentive" plan for some 60 senior union workers who, if they chose to retire by the end of last year, could collect a bonus of $20,000. Collura took the early retirement.

With his pension and his $26,000 in consulting, Collura will receive about $10,000 more than what he made working full time, and work about 16 hours a week.

This generous method of rewarding Dyster loyalists should not come as a surprise to our readers. Back in November we wrote that taxpayers should be aware of a potential "retire and rehire" plan that will allow Mayor Dyster - in this an election year- to be as kind as kindness itself.

Thomas DeSantis might be the only man in America who runs two departments in a municipal government as management yet is a member of a union so he can assign himself overtime from both departments.


In fact, the truth is, the retire and rehire seems to have been planned in advance.

An email obtained by the Reporter, dated Nov. 25, suggests that Collura was willing to retire and collect his bonus only if he would be rehired.

The email also suggests that he needed DeSantis' support. In return he supported DeSantis being named as acting director of Collura's old department, Economic Development.

Collura wrote to the recording secretary of the NFC, Gail Bimont, that he wanted to retire and then "get my job back into the department now as a part time salary," with "another union member Tom (DeSantis), now left in charge".

The Reporter in a previous edition noted that 2015, being an election year for Dyster, should usher in a wave of stipends for Dyster's most loyal employees.

On January 1, DeSantis began receiving a $12,500 annual stipend as "acting director of economic development." He will receive this in addition to his $64,198 base salary.

But DeSantis does much better than this.

Since he is a union employee, yet the "acting director" of two departments - he not only assigns duties to his union staff - he assigns work to himself.

If his duties - which he assigns to himself - require him to work more than the standard 35-hour union work week, he can get overtime in addition to his stipend.

For more than a decade, as payroll records and time sheets show, DeSantis has made his own hours, and assigned himself overtime at will.

In fact DeSantis assigns himself so much overtime he frequently trades it for compensatory time which allows him to take time off from his job at city hall in lieu of taking all his overtime pay.

This in turn permits DeSantis to do outside work, or travel at the city's expense - some $4,000 per year in travel on average.

Or teach. DeSantis is an adjunct professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo in the School of Architecture and Regional Planning.

While outside of Niagara Falls, normally, a department head may not assign himself overtime.

As matter of civil service law, and best government practices, directors of departments are "exempt" or non union and part of management team. In fact New York State Civil Service recognizes this conflict and calls for a department head who is in the union to be "acting" for no more than one year absent a waiver.

In Niagara Falls, however, the spirit of the law is quite often ignored. Waivers are typically sought, and routinely signed by the Dyster administration year after year.

A high school friend of Mayor Dyster's and his travel companion and chauffeur, it made all the sense in the world for Mayor Dyster to reward DeSantis, his longtime ally and advisor, generously with the people's money.

Here is another example.

Recently retired union member and former Chief Code Enforcement Officer, Dennis Virtuoso was appointed Acting Code Enforcement Director by Dyster in 2008- a position Virtuoso filled for six years.

As Chief Code Enforcement Officer, Virtuoso's base pay was $68,925. He got an additional $8,000 stipend for his duties as acting director. Since he was the "acting director" of his department it was up to him to assign overtime - which he assigned to himself. In 2013, for example, Virtuoso assigned himself more than $17,000 in overtime and call in time boosting his income to $93,925 for that year.

Those golden five years where Virtuoso took both stipend and overtime and landed near the Dyster $100,000 gold standard for city hall employees generously boosted his pension.

Since Virtuoso is also the Democrat minority leader in the Niagara County Legislature, and is an extremely popular politician, a top vote getter, charismatic and charming and a Dyster political ally, it made all the sense in the world for Virtuoso to reap the rewards that the generous Dyster administration awards to its friends.

Then there is the comely and energetic "Acting" City Controller and union member Maria Brown, one of the highest paid city hall employees, with a base salary of $97,433 and a host of stipends - from managing the accounts of the casino cash to the books for the NFC, and some the public probably doesn't know of, totaling around $115,000 per year or more, Brown has been "acting director" for the finance department for 16 years.

While Brown earns more than the Buffalo Comptroller ($88,171), her wizardry with finances makes it a no brainer for Dyster to amply reward her.

Throughout the 2015 budget drama - as Dyster violated the city charter and city law by withholding the budget for 37 days, Brown was outstanding. From coming up with money from the mysteriously hard to name the balance, "rainy day" fund, to assessing the amount of the structural deficit lower or higher as needed to aid Dyster in delivering his budget late while selling his dual budgetary process - hardship and tax increases for the taxpayers and happy days for those Dyster wants to shower with casino cash.

It makes all the sense in the world for Dyster to ensure he has this powerful lady as his wonderful ally.

The Niagara Falls Reporter could go on and on with sterling examples of how Mayor Dyster has created a city hall where the people who work there make far more than the residents they serve - with gilt edge benefits and generous pension padding.

Maria Brown is probably the highest paid City Hall employee.






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Contact Info

©2014 The Niagara Falls Reporter Inc.
POB 3083, Niagara Falls, N.Y. 14304
Phone: (716) 284-5595

Publisher and Editor in Chief: Frank Parlato
Managing Editor: Dr. Chitra Selvaraj
Senior Editor: Tony Farina