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Before Paul Dyster became mayor of Niagara Falls, he announced he was appointing his good friend Dave Kinney as director of the Department of Public Works (DPW).

No out-of-town hires here. No one from Atlanta, Los Angeles, Ohio or Florida. This job required a man of talent. But, because Kinney is only a local man, he need not be paid the $100,000-per-year salary Dyster reserves for out-of-town hires.

The DPW is one of the keys to keeping voters pacified: cleaning streets, maintaining parks, paving streets and patching potholes.

Indeed, the most ignorant voter, it is said, requires only a paved street -- his own street -- and cares little that his city is in decline, that businesses are moving out or closing, that crime is out of control, that people are fleeing town, or that taxes are going up -- all things that happened during Dyster's term.

He is the pothole voter.

Never does it strike him that the mere act of paving a street should not be a litmus test for re-electing a man. It is the barest minimum standard of governance. But even by this standard, Dyster has failed.

It is not for lack of money. The spendthrift Dyster persuaded the City Council to spend millions for new equipment -- rather fancy but unnecessary toys.

Contrary to how the city streets now look, Kinney actually paved and patched some streets for Dyster with his multimillion-dollar equipment, including his pothole killer. By the Reporter's count, 24 of more than 40 recently patched and paved streets are coming apart.

According to sources at the DPW, Kinney and Dyster apparently agreed to utilize a less-expensive grade of asphalt (more stone, less tar), possibly so they could pave more streets, as one DPW employee said, "quick and dirty" before the election.

City Councilman Robert Anderson says he's received complaints from residents asking why recent road repairs aren't holding up.

Anderson said, "The roads used to last 20 to 25 years, and now it looks like after a year and a half they need treatment. Something is grossly wrong."

A close examination of several recently patched potholes that have come undone reveal that the material does appear thin, and rock salt has taken a toll this past winter.

Dyster, of course, claims otherwise. He said in his State of the City address this January, "We broke our own in-house paving record in 2010 by repaving 40 streets. ... We've done a phenomenal job. ... In 2008, we did just under 155,000 square yards; in 2009, about 218,000 square yards. I'm happy to report that in 2010, we put down a total of just under 300,000 square yards of binder and topcoat combined."

It sounds impressive. But it is not.

Three hundred thousand square yards is feeble for a city this size. The mayor should have paved at least 600,000 square yards, and 1 million square yards per year would have been more appropriate. That's what the city needed, just to maintain the roads.

For what he spent on Hard Rock Cafe concerts, studies for an Underground Railroad museum, and engineering studies handed out to Buffalo campaign contributors, he could have paved a million square yards every year. Then the streets would today be passable.

If you do not believe me, try this experiment: Take a car -- preferably an old one that you do not need anymore -- and drive around the city of Niagara Falls. Every major road and almost every side street is rough and riddled with potholes. One rarely sees such a collection of poorly maintained streets in any but Third World countries.

Dyster says he is the paving mayor.

Then answer me this: Why are the streets in such disgraceful condition? Why are cars ruined every day? Good cars become rattletraps in no time, because the streets are so bad. The roads have never been worse.

I will go further: The first impression of everyone coming into Niagara Falls is that it is a run-down pothole of a town.

Perhaps Dyster wants people to come by train, instead of car. In spite of more than millions spent by Dyster on studies for a train station, people do not come to this city by train. They come by car 99 percent of the time.

For all the talk about culinary institutes, big fancy taxpayer-funded projects like an experience center and an Underground Railroad museum, taxpayer-funded concerts, train stations that will seat fewer than 1,000 people per month, and a $110,000 administrator from Atlanta, if the money goes here and there on frivolous projects and at the same time most roads in the city are rundown and ill-kept -- what has Dyster done?

He has failed even the simple litmus test of the pothole voter.

Recently, the Council approved more money for Kinney to poorly patch more streets, and Dyster will do a blitz this summer as election nears, hoping to catch a few last-minute pothole voters who might forget that for three and half years their streets were a shambles.

The idea that an informed electorate will vote for a mayor -- even if he wastes money everywhere, even if he cannot do one thing right, even if their city is every day descending into vacancy and high crime -- if he patches their street is idiotic.

But, after all, as Dyster knows, the electors are not nearly as smart as the man he hopes they elect. Dyster is proud to inform us on his website that he is a member of Mensa -- a society that he paid for a certificate saying he is smarter than 98 percent of the rest of us.

Dyster also knows that the brightest and best, outside of himself, must be hired from out-of-town -- people like Donna Owens of Atlanta, Roger Melchior of Florida, Ali Marzban of Los Angeles, Peter Kay of Toledo, and Craig Johnson of Buffalo, all top hires for his administration.

Sadly, the poor local guy, DPW head Dave Kinney, is not a member of Mensa, as far as we know. Nevertheless, in 2010, Kinney reorganized his department and watched his pay rise from $63,056 to $67,056. He achieved raises for many of his favorites in his department, including his secretary. He got another 6 percent raise two weeks ago, bringing his salary over $70,000.

On the Tom Darro WJJL radio show in April, Kinney complained, "I'm the lowest-paid department head in the city." In the pre-Dyster days, a guy making $70,000 would have been the highest-paid department head in the city.

If Kinney were a member of Mensa and lived out of town, he would not need to complain. He would get $100,000 per year.

And the streets would still look like hell.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com July 12, 2011