By Ken Cosentino
Mayor Robert Restaino nearly rushed our community into a bad deal with National Grid.
The deal, whereby the City of Niagara Falls would have purchased its streetlights from National Grid, would lead to ongoing financial costs and maintenance nightmares for taxpayers.
Luckily, that deal didn’t go through, thanks to three of five city council members choosing not to attend the mayor’s special meeting.
Council member Donta Myles was one of the three who boycotted the mayor’s special meeting.
Also absent were Councilman Vincent Cauley and Council Chairman David Zajac. Their absence led to the mayor’s special meeting agenda breakdown because a quorum was missing, and likely saved taxpayers millions of dollars in upfront and long-term maintenance costs.
Mayor Restaino claimed this deal would result in annual savings between $800,000 – $1 million for the City of Niagara Falls.
A careful review of the proposed contract between National Grid and the City of Niagara Falls revealed that the agreement clearly states “Buyer desires to purchase the Street Lights,” meaning this was not a conversion deal.
Subsequently, Restaino has chosen to shame two council members – Donta Myles and Vincent Cauley – calling them a “disgrace.”
In fact, knowledgeable professionals applaud Myles, Cauley and Zajac because the proposed deal would not have been favorable for the city.
IBEW Local 97 Business Representative Tony Trusello called the mayor’s proposal to purchase streetlights a “colossal mistake.”
He said in a written statement: “As an energy professional both in policy and as a former street light asset representative for National Grid, the collapse of the special council meeting saved citizens of a dead and broke city from further ruin. Most importantly, my concern is for residents and a city my entire family has called home for 130 years…”
“What isn’t being reported to you in the matter of Street Lighting is that the contract company Wendel is fleecing municipalities and cities for consulting fees all over New York. Or, that once lighting is purchased, the city is on the hook for the same electric bill, plus pole rental from National Grid for EVERY WOODEN POLE, and that the city now has to employ full-time electric utility workers, or pay contractors at New York State rates around the clock to meet the demands. As well as build and maintain a reporting system and real-time public site. National Grid will NEVER assist the city in the matter of lighting in any way once purchased.”
Councilman Myles has boycotted Mayor Restaino’s use of special meetings since last year. According to Myles, the mayor has used special meetings to ban public participation while influencing voting.
All of this despite his campaign platform centered around government transparency.
Since it was such an essential item, why did the mayor wait until one week before the “grant deadline” to call a special meeting?
Why didn’t he inform council members well in advance, ensuring everything would run smoothly?
The mayor must have known the deadline date and should have briefed the council weeks in advance, not 72 hours prior, for such a significant capital investment and long-term maintenance commitment, which would have likely increased the city’s legacy costs.
Clearly, Mayor Restaino knew about the National Grid program for longer than a week, so he had no reason to call a special meeting to vote on it. In 2019, former Mayor Paul Dyster attempted a similar program with National Grid, urging the council to vote for conversion from current lights to energy-saving LED bulbs. That city council, which included current council member Ken Tompkins, chose to explore the current purchasing option instead. As a result, the matter was left unresolved.
IBEW Local 97 Business Representative Tony Trusello gave his professional opinion of the matter, stating, “The current mayor defiantly choosing to ‘purchase’ under the guidance of Wendel should bring questions of who at Wendel knows who and what kickbacks are in place.”
Mayor Restaino has already paid Wendel $88,000 for a “traffic study” regarding the eminent domain lawsuit against NFR.
Trusello continues, saying, “Those snow storms, wind storms, vehicle accidents, etc. National Grid workers will throw the city’s street lights on the ground and only install their own assets. Leaving the city to figure out their own lighting and workforce issues to make repairs or installation. At first, between New York State incentives and a reduced LED electric bill, it seems to save money. Within two years, the city would be drowning in Public Service Commission requirements, contractor fees, pole rentals, and maintenance issues with no choice but to raise property tax, or some other tax.”
Once again, the mayor has shown a complete lack of transparency and leadership. Because of his lack of moral character and ineptitude, the taxpayers nearly had to pay for Restaino’s fiscal folly and bite the bullet.
Instead of taking the blame, Mayor Restaino redirected public attention towards Council member Myles, attempting to shame him and force the public to believe that we’ve somehow “missed out” on a big opportunity.
Myles issued a press release, saying “A mayor should call a ‘Special’ Council meeting for emergency use for time-sensitive issues.”
Restaino called seven special council meetings last year and several this year.
The mayor’s proposal to commit the city to a National Grid program wasn’t time sensitive. The program has been around since at least 2019. There was no logical reason for the mayor to call a special meeting.
This spending item was only time-sensitive because Restaino procrastinated and didn’t plan accordingly.
In reality, this was a bad deal all around and should never have been proposed in the first place.
Says Myles, “He obviously knew about the grant opportunity way in advance. It’s not like National Grid called him one week before the deadline.”
The failed special council meeting agenda also included another item.
If the council had approved it, the proposal would have led to American Rescue Plan funds (pandemic relief for the City of Niagara Falls) to cover a proposed feasibility study for the mayor’s monument to himself – Centennial Park.
A proposed “grant” from National Grid would have reimbursed the use of the ARP funds, a total of $140,000, once the feasibility report was completed.
This is more proof of the mayor’s incompetence, lack of transparency and experience regarding budgets.
Restaino’s liberal spending spree of taxpayer dollars rushed the city into an eminent domain lawsuit before securing funds for a feasibility study or requesting such for his proposed project.
Any college freshman would know that a feasibility study should have been the first order of business before spending what some experts say is already more than $1 – $2 million (so far) in taxpayer dollars for a lawsuit likely going nowhere.
Mayor Restaino will never take responsibility for his actions. In reality, when the council members did not appear, he went off half-cocked.
But he should have launched a feasibility study before rocketing the city into legal proceedings for his grandiose Centennial Park project.
His attempt to purchase street lights from National Grid would have led to a major financial issue for years to come – with taxpayers left holding the bill.
Restaino should have informed every city council member about the National Grid grant as soon as he was made aware of it, allowing council members ample time to review the proposed contract properly. His lack of transparency and use of special meetings has finally bit him in his ass.