In many respects, last week's rout of Mayor Paul Dyster's parking meter plan was unsurprising. First off, the mayor's plan, which he said was largely the work of City Administrator Donna Owens, raised more questions than it answered. Council was asked to authorize $258,950 to Ber-National Inc. of Rochester, N.Y., to install 40 parking meters in downtown Niagara Falls and subsequently oversee their operation.
The role of city workers in maintaining the meters, the duties of Dyster's proposed "parking director," and even exactly where the meters would be located – such as Pine Avenue(?) – were details the mayor perhaps thought were too insignificant to explain to the Council.
Secondly, even though it will take at least 10 weeks for the proposed meters to be installed. Dyster already included the projected income they may or may not generate in his 2015 budget.
With the tourist season set to kick off on Memorial Day and the meters not expected to be operational until August at the earliest, that projected revenue will have to be made up somewhere else.
And finally, after admitting that she found Dyster's plan to be "very confusing," Council member Kristen Grandinetti voted for it anyway, as she does for virtually every hare brained proposal her political mentor and neighbor sends her way.
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. Council Chairman Craig Touma and Councilmen Glenn Choolokian, Charles Walker and Bob Anderson, perhaps still stung by the disastrous Dyster recycling program that went into effect earlier this year, all voted against funding the scheme until further information was forthcoming.
"We certainly understand the purpose of this," Touma said. "But we need more of a plan in place." Touma was clearly disappointed by the mayor's vague proposal.
"There's a lot of questions here that we need to discuss as a group," he added. Dyster bristled at the notion that he came in unprepared, or that he hadn't taken enough time to go over the details of his parking meter proposal. "We do have a plan in place," Dyster said. "It's time to move forward on this. We've analyzed it to death. It's time to take action."
In a weekend interview with the Niagara Falls Reporter, Bob Anderson said that authorizing the expenditure at this time would be reckless. "He's asking us to spend more than a quarter of a million dollars to put in parking meters when nobody even knows who's going to run them," he said. "It's like the recycling program all over again."
The Council has taken considerable flack over Dyster's recycling program, which the mayor claimed would improve solid waste management and reduce costs at the same time. Instead, trash hauling services were dramatically cut back and the plan has proven to be more expensive that what had already been in place. Business owners and citizens called for Donna Owens's firing or resignation after Dyster credited her with being the brains behind the proposal. Now it's the parking meters. And what have we learned?
That Dyster's lack of attention to detail is surpassed only by his desire to "do something." Further, the mayor has shown us once again that he has no problem at all budgeting money he has no idea will ever be collected, the City Hall equivalent of spending money you don't have. And that Grandinetti, for reasons even her Council colleagues obviously can't understand, will continue to support her mayor in whatever flight of fancy he comes up with.