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Why Did Percy Spend $10K - On a Letter?

By Craig Tretiak

John Percy, not big on transparency..... wonder why?

Perhaps the Seneca Nation is fortunate to have a neighbor like John Percy. After all, casinos like big spenders, and there is no bigger spender than the head of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp.

It is certainly a fervent hope of those tasked with actually covering his leadership of the NTCC that new board of directors members like successful businessman Henry M. Sloma ask him to explain some of his more controversial expenditures.

This newspaper has listed such expenditure ad nauseam: the massage services, the tuxedo rentals in his own hometown, the $200 dinners-for-one, and the "entertainment" bills at dozens of ports-of-call around the world.

However, a report in the Buffalo News last fall concerning the aftermath of a threatened lawsuit against the city of Niagara Falls by the NTCC added substantially to concerns about Percy's stewardship of the agency.

According to Buffalo News reporter, Aaron Besecker, "Percy...said the lawsuit the agency had to file against the city has cost between $8,000 and $10,000." That lawsuit would have compelled the city to turn over bed tax dollars to the NTCC despite no agreement being in place for it to continue providing tourism marketing.

Percy went on in Besecker's story to lament that the money "could have been used in promotion and marketing" Niagara County.

We share Percy's concern about that financial loss. However, we question his assertion that the city is to blame for the high cost of the NTCC's legal maneuvers.

Individuals close to Niagara Falls Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson tell us that the entirety of the "lawsuit" Percy referred to was a single letter delivered from the NTCC's Rochester-based lawyers at Bond Schoeneck & King PLLC to Johnson's office.

Sources also tell us that Percy has complained of having to spend the princely sum repeatedly, despite allegations that raises dished out to NTCC staff in a budget passed by a divided board in the closing days of 2013 were several times that amount. Shortly after that budget's passage, county officials moved to place Sloma-a tough overseer of bureaucratic entities like the county's industrial development agency and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority-on the NTCC board of directors.

Ten thousand dollars for a letter seemed a bit pricey and, according to four separate law firms located in Niagara County and the city of Buffalo contacted by the Niagara Falls Reporter, it's an outrageous amount.

Estimates of what a letter like the one drafted by Bond Schoeneck & King attorneys should have cost the NTCC range from a low of $250 by two prominent Niagara Falls and North Tonawanda attorneys to $750 by a major Buffalo firm.

A partner at that firm explained to us that the culprits here are not Bond Schoeneck & King-who would likely be able to demonstrate a rationale for the high cost (including the time of associates researching the matter before the letter was sent) but rather Percy himself.

"It's certainly not how our firm would have handled this matter, but the issue is why Mr. Percy chose to pursue a lawsuit he never intended to follow to its conclusion," the Buffalo-based lawyer explained.

The record shows that the city acceded to a one-year extension of the NTCC's contract not long after that letter arrived, and that city officials were following the leads of peers in the city of Lockport and county governments that had already made the same offering.

One individual with close ties to the NTCC offered this insight: "The threat of a lawsuit against the city was timed to coincide with last year's council elections."

Indeed, the timing does closely align with last year's election calendar. News of the NTCC's threatened lawsuit broke in early August, barely a month before the Sept. 10, 2013 primary that effectively ended the reelection campaign of Falls Councilman Sam Fruscione, a frequent NTCC critic.

Intriguingly, the NTCC chose to threaten to sue neither Lockport nor the county, but only the city of Niagara Falls.

Whether the timing was politically motivated, or merely coincidental, several individuals said they're flummoxed about Percy's cavalier attitude toward spending large sums of money for "trivialities."

"Whether it's $5,000 for a rubdown, $200 for a tux rental, or $10,000 for a letter from an out-of-town legal firm, John Percy never met a check he wouldn't write," the NTCC source told us. "But hey, it's not like it's his money."



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Feb 04, 2014