Last night’s city council meeting was further proof that Mayor Restaino’s proposed use of CDBG funds for purchasing Parcel 0 is still on the table. Last night, Councilmember Vincent Cauley attempted to rescind the authority the council granted the Mayor last December to use CDBG funds for the purchase of Parcel 0. If the authority is not rescinded, the door remains open for the Mayor to use these funds.
Mayor Restaino has stated that CDBG funds are off the table, as the community has been very clear; they want the funds focused on their intended purpose, like: fixing roads, sidewalks, trees and removing blight to name the most common uses; along with funds that would go to not-for-profits. Cauley’s proposed resolution was returned to him for edits by the city’s legal department in the eleventh hour. This administration has used this tactic in the past to block resolutions proposed by Councilmembers Cauley and Donta Myles.
Thus, Cauley attempted to propose the resolution as a “walk on” agenda item; which the city’s attorney claims would require a 4 to 1 vote of approval to make it to the agenda. Only Cauley and Myles voted to walk the item onto the agenda, while Traci Bax, David Zajac and Ken Tompkins voting against it.
The three opposing council members claimed that their opposition to the agenda item does not mean that they’re going to vote to use CDBG funds for Restaino’s event center land purchase in the future, they just don’t want to close the door on the option to use the funds for the event center land purchase.
Since March of 2023, the mayor has stated that he has conferred with officials in Albany, the City Council and his administration. He’s said that he has listened to the community and declared that the CDBG funds would not be used for this land purchase, but he would continue to use them in the manner the community has demanded.
If the Mayor claims the council is on board with his decision to take CDBG funds off the table, then why would his allied council members reject making it official and removing the authority to use them in the manner that they previously granted the Mayor in December of 2022?
Cauley and Myles have been outwardly vocal in their opposition to Mayor Restaino’s use of CDBG funds for the event center. Now, it appears that Cauley and Myles are the only two members of city council who are in agreement with the mayor. If that’s the case, then why do the other three council members suddenly seem to be in opposition of Mayor Restaino who has promised the public that CDBG funds are off the table?
Let’s back track for a second and see if we can navigate through the confusion of this administration’s smoke and mirrors…
Back in December, the City of Niagara Falls held a public hearing regarding the use of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to purchase Parcel 0 for Mayor Restaino’s event center legacy pipe-dream. It was Mayor Restaino who first suggested using CDBG funds to borrow against a loan for the land purchase. The mayor quickly learned that the public was vehemently against his (not so) bright idea.
Then director of community development Clifford Scott, Jr. conducted a public survey regarding the use of CDBG funds. This occurred during the public hearing when nearly all residents in attendance spoke out against the idea. Mayor Restaino quickly suppressed the survey results, saying that he never authorized the survey. He also said that public input is not necessary when weighing this decision.
One has to wonder why Scott would conduct a survey that wasn’t authorized by the administration, when in fact nobody makes a move without the mayor’s blessing. It appeared as if Mayor Restaino simply squashed the survey once he saw the public was overwhelmingly against his proposal by about 30:1 with only 2 taxpayers in support. Those survey results seemingly disappeared and they were not included in the FOIA request submitted by the Niagara Gazette’s investigative reporter Mark Scheer. It violates all principles of transparent government when public records, taken by a public official at a public hearing from the public are held private by the government.
Has the council ever seen the survey results? Only Myles and Cauley were present at the public hearings, while the other three council members couldn’t be bothered to hear from the public, which was the whole purpose of a public hearing.
The surveys certainly would have enlightened the other council members as the results certainly played a role in the mayor reversing course on the use of funds. Where are the survey results now? They are without a doubt a public record. If they were destroyed then someone has destroyed public records.
The authority or lack thereof notwithstanding once the public official in his official capacity made these records, they immediately became public record. Only a government with something to hide, hides such records from the public from whom they conducted the records. It may even be a federal offense if they were destroyed.
Three council members certainly do not care about public input and no demands for, or investigations into these records have been made by Councilman Zajac, who has the authority to demand them.
CDBG funds are typically used for repairing infrastructure such as streetlights, roads and properties which are traditionally located in economically deprived areas of the city. Those funds are crucial for the welfare of impoverished communities. To even suggest using CDBG funds for a land purchase shows Mayor Restaino’s complete lack of understanding for the people he has sworn to serve. At least in this case the people have made it clear to the mayor that his preferred course of action is unacceptable. The task remains to make the same clear to the three council members who are willingly deaf to the people’s voices.
Mayor Restaino definitely wishes that he never proposed using the CDBG funds for his event center. It was a grave misstep during his campaign that he has hoped would be completely forgotten by taxpayers.
Last month, Mark Scheer of the Niagara Gazette reported “Last year, city lawmakers, at Restaino’s request, agreed to authorize a change in the city’s five-year Community Development spending plan to allow for the pursuit of funds under the federal Section 108 Loan Guarantee Program to cover the cost of acquiring 10 acres of NFR land off John B. Daly Boulevard, near the intersection of 10th and Falls streets.”
Scheer continues, stating “Under the terms of that proposed loan, the city would have had to pay the money back, with interest, by foregoing a percentage of its annual allotment of Community Development Block Grant funds over the course of 20 years. CDBG funds are commonly used by municipalities like the Falls to cover the cost of road repairs, the demolition of dilapidated structures and other community improvement efforts.”
The same Niagara Gazette article opens with this paragraph, “Mayor Robert Restaino’s administration told a federal agency to deny a request from the newspaper for financial documents related to the proposed $150 million Centennial Park project amid concerns that public release of the information could negatively impact the city’s ongoing bid to acquire 10 acres of private property for the development.”
Mayor Restaino has been chastised by his colleagues and by the New York Coalition for Open Government for his absolute lack of transparency. This trend in his misbehavior continued with his order for HUD to block the release of documents relating to the potential funding for his event center. The mayor’s hostility towards the 1st Amendment and the press, however, have never been more apparent than when he angrily grabbed the TV camera of a reporter from Buffalo because he didn’t like being asked how he would grade the city that he has led over the past four years.
Although Mayor Restaino indicated in an email to the Niagara Gazette that “The administration no longer wishes to use a section 108 loan and are weighing various alternatives for acquisition…” There was no specific mention that the CDBG funds are no longer an option. Obviously, there was no mention because the mayor knows the door is still open and after the election he still has the power to use these funds.
Furthermore, on March 17, 2023 Mayor Restaino issued an address in which he stated “Much has been made about the use of community block grant funding. You know, we’ve listened and this administration, this government has listened to the public. We’ve consulted with our council members. The use of community development block grant funding is not going to be the source for funding. It’s not.” Many locals have raised their eyebrows at Restaino’s statement given the fact that he recently suppressed the disclosure of financial information from HUD, specifically.
Since Mayor Restaino publicly claimed that he “consulted with council members,” why are three out of five council members opposed to retracting their resolution which authorized Restaino to use CDBG funds for a multi-purpose arena? It seems that it would be a no-brainer for our city council to vote unanimously to overturn that previous decision and fix the mistake.
The only reason for Bax, Tompkins and Zajac to keep the possibility of using CDBG funds in play is to allow Mayor Restaino to use those funds for a section 108 loan for the event center. Otherwise, those council members wouldn’t hesitate to withdraw that authorization and relieve the anxiety of countless taxpayers who fought hard to save the CDBG funds.
What Mayor Restaino says and what he does are two entirely different things. He’s stated publicly that “crime is down 45%” despite data showing that violent crimes, homicides, and property crimes are at an all time high. He also said that he didn’t have access to those numbers (which are available to the public) and that homicides are the same or below what they were in previous years. According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, homicides are up 1,000% since Restaino took office.
Mere hours after the council adjourned their meeting last night, more people were shot at the Coastal gas station on 19th street. The mayor will continue to deny the crime in our city because it reflects poorly on his lack of leadership. The mayor will also continue to deny that CDBG funds will be used to purchase land for his event center passion project. He has tried to distance himself from this idea, despite the fact that it was solely his idea.
In closing, I ask you: How can you tell when Robert Restaino is lying? Answer: His mouth is moving.