Dyster Throws Baby Out With Bathwater; Fires Maria Brown As Well As Donna Owens

by Mike Hudson

Last week, the Niagara Falls Reporter predicted that City Administrator Donna Owens was going to be given the axe by Mayor Paul Dyster. This week, Dyster showed up at City Hall, axe in hand and let her have it.

He also announced that, if the council approves, he will fire City Controller Maria Brown, a 16-year veteran who served in the administrations of mayors James Galie, Irene Elia and Vince Anello prior to Dyster’s election. Tough and independent, her loyalty has always been to the taxpayers of Niagara Falls.

Insecure, Dyster only wants people who are loyal to him.

“Ms. Brown’s discharge is not a reflection of her performance in the oversight of city finances,” Dyster said in a prepared statement. If the council approves her ouster, Brown will remain in the finance office as a senior auditor for the time being, he said.

Maria Brown is a fiscal conservative. Paul Dyster is a socialist spendocrat. No wonder he wants to replace her.

Maria Brown is a fiscal conservative. Paul Dyster is a socialist spendocrat. No wonder he wants to replace her.

Owens’ firing makes sense. The only question is why it took so long. Since her appointment in 2008, she has been the target of harsh criticism by members of the business community, city council and the general public for her haughty attitude, poor preparedness and lack of attention to detail. Dyster said the rebukes and disparagement had no bearing on his decision to replace her.

“Her character, integrity and enthusiasm have been a shining example for all the employees of the city,” he said in a prepared statement.

The departure of Brown would be effective May 31 — if the decision is approved by the Niagara Falls City Council. Owens, hired by Dyster at the start of his first term in 2008, will continue until July 8.

As of press time, it is unclear whether Dyster has the three council votes necessary to remove Brown.

As the Reporter detailed last week, Nick Melson, hired as Dyster’s secretary in the run-up to last year’s election will step into the role of acting city administrator in July. He is a seasoned political operative and was very active as what was in effect a taxpayer-funded campaign director for Dyster last year.

Donna Owens will be mooching along....

Donna Owens will be mooching along….

However, unlike the nearly invisible and largely incompetent Owens, Melson is energetic, highly engaged, a take-charge kind of guy who for the last several months has been the de facto city administrator anyway.

If a single hire can make a difference in the way a city runs, Melson may be the answer in getting the lard out of the Dyster administration’s arse.

Melson first became involved in politics here when he was 18 with an unsuccessful run for city council. He later met then-state Rep. Francine Del Monte and went to work for her as a political aide. In 2009, he ran unsuccessfully against Vincent Sandonato for the LaSalle seat in the county legislature.

City hall insiders agree that Melson will do a far better job than Owens, who became known as the “invisible administrator” due to her reticence about appearing or speaking in public.

Melson found himself in hot water shortly after being hired by Dyster when a series of social media posts he’d written between 2008 and 2014 were brought to light by this newspaper. Many interpreted the posts to be racist, sexist and homophobic in nature.

“You’re talking to the guy who performed the first same-sex marriage in New York State,” Dyster said when asked about the texts, although no one was quite sure what he meant.

Sandy Peploe will be tapped as acting city controller - reducing the controller’s job to a part time position. This should be mighty convenient for Mayor Paul Dyster who loves to spend the taxpayers’ money on a full time basis.

Sandy Peploe will be tapped as acting city controller – reducing the controller’s job to a part time position. This should be mighty convenient for Mayor Paul Dyster who loves to spend the taxpayers’ money on a full time basis.

While Dyster can have whoever he wants as city administrator, replacing Brown will require approval by the council. The council will consider the matter at its next meeting May 31.

Dyster has proposed Sandy Peploe to serve as acting city controller. Peploe was a long-time assistant to Brown, and the Dyster administration regularly approved tens of thousands of dollars in overtime for Peploe who became one of the highest-paid city hall employees hovering in and around the $100,000 club of Dyster elites prior to retirement.

Now that she snagged high overtime amounts for several years under Dyster she retires at a pension estimated to be around $70,000 per year.

The plan is, according to city hall sources, that Peploe will return as a part-time acting controller. And while keeping her $70,000 pension, she will collect an additional $30,000 per year for her part-time role, bringing her compensation to $100,000 for part-time work.

While she served as an assistant to Brown for years, Peploe did once serve in the role of city controller for 15 months under the Falls’ former mayor James Galie during the 1990s.

Critics and supporters of Dyster agree that removing Brown — who has been a full-time and very vocal fiscal watchdog – for the part-time Peploe will create a felicitous environment for Dyster to spend taxpayer money more freely than ever before and quite possibly without any oversight from his city controller.

“If we have it, let’s spend it” has been Dyster’s motto for the last eight years. It has driven the city into near bankruptcy.

Brown has for the last eight years challenged his spending decisions and often refused to sanction some spending that were not legal.

Time will tell whether Peploe will watch the mayor’s extravagant spending carefully or be an accomplice to an extravagance never seen in the history of this city.

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