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Longtime readers will remember the name Willie Santiago, a foreman for the Niagara Falls Department of Public Works.

Santiago -- or as he is affectionately known, "Millie Willie," so named for his 2003 arrest, a direct result of the reporting of this paper, for complicity in the theft of city asphalt millings -- was back at his old job.

Mayor Paul Dyster and his DPW department head Dave Kinney not only pushed to get Santiago a raise last year, but permitted Santiago to -- I'm not making this up -- supervise the millings work in the city. For the last few seasons, he worked alone, unmonitored, counting the millings trucks, coming and going as he pleased.

Perhaps coincidentally, after the Reporter started making inquiries, according to sources, DPW officials are reluctantly preparing to switch old "Millie" to another assignment this summer, perhaps supervising the blacktop crews, far from contact with millings and their distribution -- which, in the past, was work Santiago loved a little too much.

Santiago is a friend of Kinney, who is in turn a great friend of Dyster.

In 2003, Santiago told acquaintances he was going to sue the Reporter for libel. After taking a plea bargain in the case, he dropped the idea of suing and was lucky to escape jail time.

It was during the summer of 2001 that city millings somehow wound up in parking lots of private corporations. Following an exclusive story in the Aug. 22, 2001 edition of the Reporter, Council member John Accardo asked District Attorney Matthew Murphy III to look into the matter.

A foolish, young Council member by the name of Paul Dyster was around at the time, but did nothing.

A grand jury was convened. Santiago was charged with criminal facilitation. He pleaded guilty before Judge Angelo Morinello to a reduced charge and was spared jail time. His partner in the crime, the late Armand Cerrone, a well-known contractor, also pleaded guilty and made restitution.

I'm the first to admit anyone can turn over a new leaf or old blacktop, and I hope it is true for Santiago. Nevertheless, he was at the good old job in the Dyster administration.

Another happy case of Dyster wasting public money arrived in the form of news last week. It seems there will be no vendor booths in the Old Falls walkway, after all.

Readers will recall that Dyster hired LiRo Engineering of Buffalo to do studies and draw up plans for making public vendor storefronts. Tens of thousands were spent.

With the plans mostly complete, the Dyster administration suddenly reported the city is holding off on building these storefronts, because an unnamed developer wants to put stores inside his own nearby property, and these publicly funded stores might interfere.

When the final bill comes due from LiRo, it may be in excess of $100,000 to design and engineer plans for something that apparently will not be built.

Why didn't they think of this before they got started?

Happily, not all is lost. LiRo Engineering likely made a tidy profit for a large stack of paperwork that can now be placed in the restroom stalls at Niagara Falls City Hall. The grateful folks at LiRo undoubtedly will reward Dyster this campaign season with a donation to his re-election fund, as they have in the past.

According to Freedom of Information Law request responses, LiRo already has received more than $350,000 in public money from the Dyster administration.

After the Niagara Gazette announced one of Dyster's department heads -- unnamed in the article -- was cited for a residency law violation, the Reporter tried to figure out who it was.

According to several sources -- indeed, it is the talk of City Hall -- the department head cited for living outside the city is Tom Radomski, the city engineer. Radomski was appointed by Dyster after his previous appointment, Ali Marzban of Los Angeles, was fired in March 2009 for not having an engineering license -- something it required this paper to bring to the mayor's attention.

Actually, Radomski is one of several City Hall department heads who apparently live outside the city.

A simple search of Intelius, the white pages and other Internet sites show seven department heads presently have home addresses listed outside the city. Three department heads live in Lewiston, and one each in Wheatfield, Alden, the Town of Niagara and Buffalo.

Dyster runs a peculiar City Hall.

He hired most of his top people from out of town: Donna Owens from Atlanta, Craig Johnson from Buffalo, Ali Marzban from Los Angeles, Roger Melchior from St. Petersburg, and Peter Kay from Toledo.

All these out-of-town hires made no commitment or investment in the city, preferring to rent apartments and not become stakeholders in this community.

On top of that, seven department heads live out of town. If you add Owens (city administrator) and Johnson (Law Department), who are from out of town and only temporarily rent here, you get a bizarre picture of a broken-down city, shamefully overtaxed, headed by Dyster's elite leadership team -- who don't live here!

As mayoral candidate John Accardo said, "Decisions are being made or have been made that will affect the future of the city for many years to come. They are being made by people who have no stake in Niagara Falls whatsoever, other than to just receive a paycheck here."

Dyster's leadership team mostly live and spend their paychecks out of town. Dyster himself has his beer-brewing business located out of town.

So why would anyone invest in the city, live here, put their business here, or believe anything he says about how wonderful the city is as a place to live and work?

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com May 24, 2011