The rest of the story: the mayor’s veto of council health insurance ‘ordinance’

Niagara Falls – Due to the nature of today’s subject matter we suggest you read this column very carefully as it deals with the mayor’s vetoing of the council’s attempt to modify a city ordinance as offered by well-intended rookie council member Ken Tompkins. The ordinance change would have ended the health insurance benefit for future council members, but  Mayor Paul Dyster vetoed it last week after council had approved it by a 3-2 vote two weeks ago.

Dealing with Niagara Falls city government is not unlike looking into a funhouse mirror where everything randomly changes shape depending on who’s standing in the mirror. In this particular case the Tompkins health insurance ordinance was drafted on a funhouse legal computer deep within the bureaucratic bowels of city hall.

Because it was drafted as an ORDINANCE rather than as a RESOLUTION it automatically became a veto target for the mayor. That is, the mayor can veto ordinances but cannot veto council resolutions. Do you get it now? Good, because while residents and media stumble around trying to figure out how it all went down, it went down exactly as the mayor and his advisers wanted it to go down.

That team of city hall advisers have claimed, behind closed doors, that the health insurance action offered by Ken Tompkins had to be drafted as an ordinance modification rather than as a council resolution. To write it as a resolution, they said, risked violation of the city charter. Of course that’s a lot of hooey.

To those who spew the hooey, we ask: If everything you do in city hall is within the charter and within the law then why has Mayor Dyster been allowed to violate the charter by refusing to hire a city engineer?; why was the mayor permitted to illegally hide his 2015 budget inside his desk for 37 days in 2014?; why was a resolution (that eventually failed passage) offered in 2012 to end the council health insurance opt out presented as a resolution rather than an ordinance?; why was the 2016 budget passed in secret and without a public hearing?

There are serious overarching questions at the root here as to the delineation of powers: the powers of the mayor/executive versus the powers of the council/legislative. In addition to those questions is the unresolved confusion as to the city operating with two different versions of the city charter. And here’s the dirty little secret that city hall doesn’t want you to know: As long as there’s no clear understanding as to the respective powers of the mayor versus council then the shot callers can do as they damn well please.

There are deep, significant problems of honesty, integrity and transparency at city hall and the Reporter has been writing about it for a long time now.  Some call us trouble makers. Many read us weekly with most of those readers clearly grasping what we’re saying. To those on the fence and to those with their heads in the sand, we ask: How do you think the city ended up where it presently is if not for the behavior of those in charge?

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