Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, who also serves as chairman of the city's Urban Renewal Agency, has been officially censured by the state Authorities Budget Office for repeatedly failing to file annual budget reports. The chronic failure to file dates back to 2009, two years after Dyster was elected to his first term in office.
According to a March 5 letter sent to Dyster and made available to the Reporter over the weekend, the URA has stubbornly violated state financial disclosure laws, even after URA Counsel and Dyster campaign contributor Richard Zucco was formally made aware of the problem in August of last year.
That's right, just as election season was heating up, Dyster and Zucco chose to ignore a warning by the state that essentially told them what a miserable job they'd been doing.
Citing the "persistent failure" to comply with the law, state Budget Director David Kidera read Dyster the riot act.
"The fact you continue to ignore your obligations under state law is unacceptable," he wrote Dyster. "This continued inaction demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of your fiduciary responsibilities and is a serious violation of your duty as a director or officer of this authority."
Kidera went on to detail possible consequences for Dyster, other board members and the city should the city URA continue to flaunt the law.
"Disclosure of this delinquency and letter of censure may be required under public securities law, should the authority finance debt in the future," he wrote. "Furthermore, should the board of directors and the chief executive fail to bring the Niagara Falls Urban Renewal Agency into compliance, the authorities office may take additional steps, including initiating legal action, to access the records, books and financial documents of the Authority, and/or recommend the removal of the board of directors."
What's Dyster trying to hide? Could it have anything to do with the lucrative 2009 contract he awarded on behalf of the URA to Parsons Brinkerhoff, for planning work on East Falls Street?
Based in Los Angeles, Parsons Brinkerhoff is a global consulting firm involved in huge construction projects like the Hoover Dam Bypass in Las Vegas, the No. 7 subway line extension in New York City, the Venetian Macao Hotel and Casino in China, and the Medupi Power Station in South Africa.
What in the world were they doing in Niagara Falls, issuing a measly 21-page report on what amounted to a relatively minor street-repaving project?
The truth is that Dyster and the URA have provided Parsons Brinkerhoff with a pretty lucrative little dodge here in the Falls. In July 2010, the agency had the company "study" the north side of Niagara Street in order to "generate significant developer interest," Dyster told a gullible local newspaper reporter.
Parsons Brinkerhoff got $68,952 for its little report, about $3,300 a page.
The city of Niagara Falls got nothing, no interest and no development. It was a make-work project for a bunch of Dyster cronies, paid for by the taxpayer.
State Sen. George Maziarz said wasteful spending, a lack of accountability and complete disregard for the law are hallmarks of the Dyster administration.
"Unfortunately, the mayor of Niagara Falls has shown himself to be particularly adept at spending the taxpayer's hard-earned dollars, but he has a hard time explaining what it was he bought with their money," Maziarz said. "He's raised property taxes twice, and he's also spent the city's share of the Seneca Niagara Casino money a decade into the future."
Maziarz said the city has little hope of attaining any sort of financial stability with Dyster at the helm.
"There are children now in grade schools here in the Falls that will be paying for his incompetence when the time comes for them to take their places in the Western New York workforce," Maziarz said. "This letter of censure from the state Authorities Budget Office is typical of the reaction you see when responsible adults find themselves having to deal with the sophomoric operation you've got running at City Hall."
Next January, when redistricting dictated by the 2010 census goes into effect, Maziarz will become the city's representative in the state Senate, and you can bet there will be considerable oversight on funding requests by the Dyster administration.
"The time for study after study after study, which bleed the taxpayers dry and then sit gathering dust on a closet shelf, is over," Maziarz said. "In the past five years, we've seen the current administration presiding over increasing violence in the streets and the continued deterioration of the local housing market. Worst of all, perhaps, is that with all the money they've spent, they haven't managed to create a single new private sector job in the city."
Maziarz, along with his colleagues, state Sen. Mark Grisanti and state Rep. John Ceretto, have vowed to get to the bottom of the brewing scandal at the URA. How can an agency charged with the spending of millions of dollars simply ignore the basic sort of accounting practices demanded of every American household come April 15?
Other than laziness and stupidity, it seems that the only reason for not filing three years' worth of financial records is that there's some money missing.
We hope that's not the case.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||March 20 2012|