Still Waiting for Mayor to Come Clean on Slush Fund
By Robert Anderson
I thought it was all over, said and done, and put to bed. The mayor’s anonymous fund, that’s what I’m talking about.
The City Council first dealt with this situation in 2008 when Mayor Paul Dyster received cash from the Building a Better Niagara Falls Fund, administered through the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo. That cash was contributed by faceless individuals, dropped into the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo accounts, and then accepted by the mayor as a donation through the Building a Better Niagara Falls Fund.
At the time - January 2008 through December 2008 - it created a serious controversy. Throughout it all, the mayor refused to identify the donors, saying he didn’t know who they were, and claiming it wasn’t necessary to know anything about the donors or their intentions.
Long story short, the mayor refused to explain the source of the money and the City Council closed down Dyster’s Building a Better Niagara Falls Fund at the end of 2008.
Last month, Dyster reopened the anonymous fund controversy by seeking the City Council’s approval to allow him to receive $4,000 in cash from the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo. The mayor requested the money to cover his membership in a Great Lakes environmental organization. The mayor had been a member of this organization for several years with his dues paid by the city. But the City Council cut his dues this year as part of the budget process.
In 2008 the City Council asked the mayor to identify the contributors to his fund and he refused. It’s now 2013 and we’re still waiting for those cash donors to be identified. While we have no answers from 2008, we do have a new request for 2013. That wasn’t government transparency then and it’s not government transparency now.
The City Council majority cannot allow anonymous donations from a secret fund to be made a part of city government. The disturbing questions that caused us to turn back those funds in 2008 are no less troubling in 2013.
In 2008 when Councilman Sam Fruscione and myself asked questions regarding the mystery money, the Niagara Gazette, on June 5, 2008, wrote: “FOUNDATION INVESTIGATION: It’s good to see a couple of members of the City Council finally starting to ask questions regarding the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo’s Building a Better Niagara Falls Fund.”
In that article the Gazette went on to criticize the Council for approving the mayor’s covert plan in the first place. And you know what? The Gazette was correct to write that. We should have never allowed the mayor’s fund to get off the ground in January 2008.
The really unfortunate part of this is that the anonymous fund conversation has become, in part, a game of insults with some of those insults being written on Facebook. The mayor on his own Facebook page wrote this about the City Council: “I am personally insulted by some of the insane allegations. These guys are just nuts.”
“Insane” and “nuts” aren’t words generally associated with good faith negotiations or political compromise. And these words aren’t part of the conversation I’ve come to normally expect from the mayor. The Paul Dyster I’m familiar with is usually courteous and respectful even in the face of an opposing view. But political issues that are shrouded in secrecy and resistant to transparency have a way of raising the temperature in the room and bringing out unexpected responses in people.
At the end of the day, here we are five years after having posed the first questions about the clandestine fund. We know less now about the matter than we did five years ago.
If the facts of the situation haven’t changed, if the questions posed five years ago by the Council remain unanswered, if it was a legal and ethical concern in 2008, and if the mayor has added no clarification to the issue in five years, then the City Council has no other option than to continue to refuse this unknown money.
As elected officials charged with representing the best interests of the city residents, it is unacceptable that we be asked to operate in the dark while being told, “there is no problem here, just move along.”
Transparency and integrity are demanded now more than ever from all levels of government: from Niagara Falls to Albany to Washington. The taxpayers deserve nothing less.
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||