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City Hall cronyism traceable to Dyster's Campaign fundraising

Niagara Falls Repoerter

January 04, 2011

By Frank Parlato Jr.

Recently fired Economic Development director Peter Kay was the topic for Mark Scheer, distinguished reporter for the Niagara Gazette. Kay left City Hall last week after the City Council voted to cut his salary to $1. Scheer lamented our ingrained habit of hiring locals. We didn't want Peter Kay from Ohio.

Mayor Paul Dyster wants to find a replacement for Kay from out of town. And Scheer suspects the Council will go back to the bad old ways and approve someone local.

Scheer writes, "Anyone want to bet the address of the city's next economic development director? Chances are good we're looking at someone with a local zip code."

Scheer recommends talent from "hard-hit places like California, (where) thousands of public sector employees were laid off simply because the government had no more money to pay them."

Scheer asks, "Might there be some smart, energetic, talented people in this (California) crowd? Wouldn't they (from California and other places) be more likely to be looking for a new opportunity, a fresh start, a place to move their families and get their lives back on track?"

According to Scheer, we should be "reaching out to the best and brightest of these individuals, encouraging them to move into town and assume important jobs and top leadership positions."

But is he right? Should we really give preference for important jobs and top leadership positions to outsiders?

Dyster thinks we should. He prefers outsiders, the "best and brightest" -- excepting himself, of course, presumably the one local bright enough to lead us.

Is his top choice, Donna Owens, brighter or better than the local, Bill Bradberry, her predecessor, as city administrator? She was a mid-level bureaucrat in the garbage collection department in Atlanta. Bradberry is a lawyer, writer, leader of the NAACP and longtime resident. He made $60,000 when Dyster replaced him with Owens at $110,000.

Dyster suggests that people here are too corrupt to govern properly.

He told the Buffalo News, "I think having somebody from the outside who has a sense of objectivity about what is or is not an appropriate level of government participation -- for example, in a project -- and, in particular, someone who does not have any personal ties to the people whose loan and grant applications he has to process ... can be a substantial advantage."

That's ironic, since Dyster seems to have personal ties to almost everyone whose loan and grant applications are approved. For instance, $350,000 to Dyster campaign contributor Craig Avery to open a saloon on Third Street; $13,150 to Dyster campaign contributor Clinton Brown for a study for "historic district" designation on Orchard Parkway, where the mayor himself lives; $131,000 to Brown to prepare an application to the state to turn South Junior High School into condominiums; and $20,000 in grants to Mike Lewis, Dyster's political ally and campaign strategist, for a wellness spa.

Dyster gave Jeannine Brown Miller a contract to do presentations and write reports regarding the city work force. She is a human resources "expert." She is also a sister of the Brown brothers -- Patrick, Steve and Chris -- of Brown Accounting, who have supported the mayor with contributions. And she is sister-in-law of Maria Brown, the city controller.

And Dyster gave his friends at Li Ro Engineering a $14,000-a-month construction monitoring contract.

Council Chairman Sam Fruscione told the Reporter, "Every single contract Dyster has done is connected in some way to his campaign headquarters. I don't care if you put that on the record. Every contract can be traced."

Additionally, Fruscione doesn't think we need to replace Kay.

"The department has more than enough (local) people," he said.

There is Kevin Cottrell, North Star Development Coordinator ($74,800); Joe Collura, Economic Development Professional ($63,941); Tom DeSantis, Senior Planner ($57,283); and Fran Iusi, director of Business Development ($55,550).

Indeed, Iusi was considered for Kay's job, but Dyster's "brightest and best" must be from outside the area, unless of course it is his campaign manager's wife.

One of Dyster's appointments was to replace a vacancy at city court. Many attorneys wanted the position. Dyster appointed Diane Vitello, fairly young and certainly not -- if you compare resumes -- the most qualified.

But she is married to Craig Touma. For those tempted to buy into Dyster's high-minded "brightest and best" theory, keep in mind that he appointed his campaign manager's wife for city court judge, without interviewing one other lawyer.

Meantime, Dyster has skewed pay upward at City Hall for his out-of-town brilliance. Before Dyster, department heads were paid between $57,000 and $68,000. Now the city administrator gets $110,000. The economic development director, Kay, got $100,000.

Buffalo attorney Craig H. Johnson is corporation counsel, getting $93,000, which is $23,875 more than the last counsel.

Dyster lured Ali Marzban from Los Angeles to be city engineer for $90,000, up from $68,000. The only problem with Marzban was that he did not have an engineering license -- as this publication was first to point out. He was fired.

The city's new fire chief -- apparently a formerly unemployed Floridian named Roger Melchior, age 65, and apparently in feeble health -- gets $79,092.

Local candidates were ignored, including retired Niagara Falls firefighter Nick Vilardo, who served 30 years in the city Fire Department -- 12 as captain, six as battalion chief, and six as chief of fire prevention and code enforcement. Vilardo offered to take the job for $30,000 a year.

It must be demoralizing for longtime City Hall workers to be passed over for new hires from Atlanta, Toledo, Buffalo, Los Angeles, Florida -- anywhere, really, as long as it isn't here.

But why shouldn't the people here govern themselves? Why does Dyster want uninformed strangers, who apparently know nothing, and do little to lead us?

Kay was "fired" by the Council after two years, during which he hadn't created a single private sector job.

Dyster said he purposely sought Kay from outside the city to serve as economic development director in hopes of dispelling longstanding concerns about Niagara Falls being an insulated place where only the connected can get things done.

Today it is a place where only those connected to Dyster can get things done.

"I'm very concerned about sending the wrong signal," Dyster said. "I don't want people to think that we are going back to the old Niagara Falls."

 

 

 
 
 
  Copyright © 2008 Frank Parlato Jr.