"You can't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need."
I believe those words were first sung by a guy named Mick something or other in 1969. It's with those words in mind that I write this column about City Hall's reply to the Reporter's FOIL of several weeks ago. Did we receive what we asked for? The short answer is yes and no.
It appears that City Hall wants our readers to know a great deal about Kevin Cottrell, the city's Underground Railroad expert, but they don't want us to know too much about other things. While the Dyster administration reply didn't include Cottrell's shoe size and favorite color, it did give us 26 pages of information on his salary and duties, such as they are. With 26 of the 54-page response zeroing in on Mr. Cottrell, it means clever people at City Hall are drawing a bulls-eye on him through a preponderance of paper. Mr. Cottrell may want to consider hiring a food taster and a flunky to start his car at City Hall.
We knew he was knocking down $74,000 per year, but we also wanted do know how he was spending $350,000 of casino cash. We still don't know where the money went and what it did when it got there. Note to City Council: Maybe this is why the casino cash is tapped out, no one is managing the account.
We were shown nothing as to how Cottrell was absolved of the conflict of interest between his city job and his Motherland Connextions Underground Railroad tour business. Surely such a document exists (we understand Tom O'Donnell worked it up), or how could Cottrell have been approved for hire by the city?
We received no meeting minutes of the Underground Railroad Commission, save for the first meeting. That's the commission that has been charged with overseeing $350,000 in casino funds. What are they doing, what is Kevin Cottrell doing, and what is the city doing about it?
We did receive copies of the letters of agreement in which Dyster hired Peter Kay, Donna Owens, Jeffrey Skurka and Ruby Pulliam. We did not receive a similar letter hiring Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson. Instead, we were given a copy of the City Council sign-off on Johnson's hire. Why weren't we given the mayor's letter of hire? Does that letter contain something the public isn't supposed to see?
And then there's the question of the Building a Better Niagara Fund, commonly referred to as the "anonymous fund" or the more accurate "Buffalo slush fund." Our friends advised us, "FOIL all you want, City Hall won't give you a damn thing on the slush fund." How right they were. What we did get is a couple of figures on a page and less than 30 descriptive words.
The "document" shows anonymous fund income in 2008 of $114,897 and income in 2009 of $34,778, for a total of $149,675. And it shows "recruitment reimbursement" payout of $132,445 and "wages paid for Peter Kay and Donna Owens" at $17,230, which totals $149,675. Do you see how neatly it all adds up? There's nothing to see here, just move along.
Kay was making $100,000 per year, and Owens is making $110,000 -- $17,230 is the sum total of what they were paid from the secret fund? The total of the "building a better Niagara fund" is $149.675, so why all the pushback from Dyster and crew as the nature of the account was questioned? Why all the secrecy, and why the claim that the big salaries of Dyster's best and brightest had to be supplemented from the fund in order to guarantee good government? It doesn't add up.
And how about those "recruitment" expenses? We received nothing explaining the hefty charges. No invoices, no names, no canceled checks, zip. We received not a thing with regard to our request for the slush fund ledger, balance sheets, payroll records, invoices, written agreement between city and fund, etc.
While the anonymous fund was supposedly closed in 2009, rumors abound that the account was renamed and is active to this day. Based upon the ridiculously slim documentation we've been given, there's every reason to believe that the taxpayers have been misled.
The folks in the top spots at City Hall think they're pretty clever. In fact, they think they're the smartest people in the proverbial room.
What they fail to realize is that a response to a FOIL is an answer to a question. And how you answer that question demonstrates the existence, or lack of, integrity and honesty. We believe an effort has been made to conceal the facts and prevent us from giving you the truth.
We didn't get everything we wanted but we got some of what we needed. We'll get more, and when we do, it will be shared with our readers.
Contact Joe Donovan at email@example.com.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||April 10 2012|