Council Beats Back Tompkins Bid to Cut Ties With Law Firm Keeping Door Open for Possible Settlement Talks With NFR

By Tony Farina

There was good news for the taxpayers at Wednesday’s Niagara Falls City Council meeting as lawmakers beat back a bid by outgoing councilmember Ken Tompkins to cut ties with the outside counsel which would have effectively ended the possibility for continuing negotiations with NFR in the eminent domain case and possibly a settlement.

As reported by the Gazette, the council blocked consideration of a resolution by Tompkins that would have terminated the agreement with attorney Jeffrey Palumbo and recover any funds still held by Palumbo’s firm. The vote was 3-2 against consideration with Council Chair David Zajac and council members Donta Myles and Vincent Cauley joining together to vote against consideration of the Tompkins resolution which was supported by Traci Bax.

David Zajac

Zajac said he feels the outside counsel has not done everything the council wants him to do and that he still has questions about the eminent domain proceedings tied to the mayor’s legacy events center known as Centennial Park.

Cauley said he believes the outside counsel might possibly negotiate for a better settlement agreement with NFR, adding “we need someone to move us forward,” thereby saving taxpayer dollars in legal fees and other costs.

That’s certainly true, and Tompkins kept pushing that Palumbo had advised lawmakers that they had a strong case for the land grab from NFR to potentially use “Parcel 0” on John Daly Blvd. for the mayor’s project which has not publicly identified any funds for the event center. And HUD this week kept the funding picture in the dark by refusing a FOIL request from the Gazette for financial documents related to the mayor’s $150-million events center.  Restaino urged HUD not to release anything as it might hurt the city’s bid to grab the NFR land in eminent domain proceedings that are still ongoing with NFR appealing an appellate court ruling in favor of the city. The Gazette said it will appeal HUD’s ruling.

Tompkins stumped relentlessly to end all possibility of a settlement between lawmakers and NFR by cutting the strings on the outside counsel, leaving no possible negotiating partner to, as Cauley put it, “move us forward.”

The negotiations that Tompkins would have effectively undercut is the bid by NFR to build a $1.5 billion data center with its Toronto partner Urbacon on the John Daly Blvd. property it now owns and the city is seeking to grab via eminent domain.  How the city would eventually pay for that land and build an events center was effectively covered up by HUD’s decision to refuse to release the financial documents to the Gazette.

Secrecy and lack of financing are just two of the issues surrounding the mayor’s project and if the Tompkins resolution had made it, it would have further clouded a possible settlement of the competing development projects.

The best solution, it seems to many observers, is for the city and NFR to come together at the bargaining table, hopefully in public, and find the best path forward.  It certainly seems that based on what we know, and in the case of the secrecy surrounding the mayor’s financial plan for his events center, what we don’t know, the data center with jobs and tax money financed privately might be a big win for Niagara Falls taxpayers.

Expect all of this to be on the table at Wednesday’s mayoral debate between Mayor Restaino and challenger Carl Cain.           

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