Transparency in Short Supply in Niagara Falls Government

By Tony Farina

Mayoral GOP candidate Carl Cain said at Wednesday’s mayoral debate that open government is important to building good relationships with taxpayers.

Cain hit hard at that message, saying “we need to build bridges and transparency” if we are going to be successful, and that’s my pledge to the people.

Cain and Republican Councilman Vincent Cauley and another Republican council candidate, Michael Gawel, all agreed that government transparency was of great importance, all coming out against Mayor Robert Restaino’s special sessions with the City Council that block public participation.

And the issue of transparency is still very much in the air as the Niagara Gazette attempted to FOIL financial documents from HUD related to the mayor’s currently unfunded $150-million Centennial Park arena project, only to be turned down with the Restaino administration urging the federal agency not to release the information because it might negatively impact the ongoing eminent domain legal process to acquire land for the project from NFR.

So much for transparency in the current administration of Mayor Restaino, with the public being left in the dark on the mayor’s financial plans.

NFR is proposing a $1.5-billion privately funded digital data center on John Daly Blvd. property that would deliver 500 jobs and tax money to the city on the land that the mayor is trying to seize for his event center. But the mayor doesn’t want any financial information disclosed on how he would pay for the land and build his legacy project.

In denying the request from the Gazette, HUD said it determined that it could not release three documents containing Centennial Park “financial” information, including “financial assumptions, real estate budget and sources of funds.” The Gazette reports it will file a formal appeal of the decision asking HUD to reconsider its decision because the documents, as any taxpayer could understand, is of great importance to the public and should not be withheld in their entirety.

At Wednesday’s mayoral debate, Mayor Restaino suggested that once the city acquires the land it wants for the event center, money will flow from somewhere as it has in other communities on similar projects even though there is currently no identifiable private funding as was the case in other communities that eventually received state aid.

Perhaps the mayor is just so against the NFR proposal that he won’t budge on any matter associated with his event center dream that he says will transform the city.

Restaino calls NFR’s proposal another in a long list of empty promises, but many, including council candidate Gawel, think there is an opportunity to do both projects if people can work together to answer the questions that are associated with the “two-project solution” currently at an impasse.

It makes good sense to get all the parties together and find a way to possibly do both projects and get the full benefit of both instead of going forward with no promise that anything will ever get done, leaving the city out in the cold again.

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