|Becky Dyster (right) got a check for $173.71 for reimbursements for the Mayor's so -called "open house." An odd double standard has emerged where the council's dining and travel expenditures are questioned but the Mayor's are not, despite the fact that the Mayor's are quadruple all five council members put together. (Photo courtesy Niagara Gazette.)
Some critics have repeatedly blasted the City Council for cutting back funding to the block clubs, the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center and in due course the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. while continuing the tradition of having meeting-day dinners on the taxpayers’ dime. Those same critics have neglected to criticize travel and entertainment expenses racked up by Mayor Paul Dyster and City Administrator Donna Owens.
The City Council dinners, held usually twice a month at the Como in between the 4 p.m. work session and the regular 7 p.m. public meeting, cost the taxpayers in the neighborhood of $4,100 annually. While the council has eaten together on meeting nights for as long as anyone can remember, in the tough fiscal times now being faced by the city, a review of the expenditure is not unreasonable.
But Dyster and Owens spent nearly four times as much as the five council members combined, enjoying fine lunches and dinners, staying at fancy hotels, and flying around the country like rock stars on vacation.
Between them, they spent more than $15,200 on such frivolities in 2012 alone.
There was the Main Street Business and Professional Organization dinner and the Main Street Business and Professional Association Luncheon. The Niagara USA Chamber of Commerce dinner and the Niagara Beautification Commission luncheon.
The Mayor’s Open House got Becky Dyster a check for $173.71 as reimbursement, and Global Spectrum received $1,230 for services it provided at the mayor’s State of the City speech.
What Becky Dyster was reimbursed for, and exactly the sort of services provided by Global Spectrum, are uncertain because the records kept by the city for these expenses are perfunctory at best.
Nothing is itemized, meaning that Owens and Dyster’s bills at the Capitol Hilton in Washington and other hotels are not broken down to show how much was spent for rooms, meals or drinks at the bar.
Council members have been under fire from block club members and tenants at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center who’ve grown used to living off the fat of the land, and having taxpayers subsidize their hobbies.
Former block club leader Roger Spurback first raised the issue of the meals back on January 28, with an illiterate announcement on his Facebook page.
“Filing a FOIA TO GET ALL RECEIPTS OF MEALS OF COUNCIL THESE PAST EIGGHT (sic) YEARS,.....” Spurback wrote. “WE'LL SEE IF THEY EAT ON THE TAXPAYER DIME,....JUST HOPR (sic) THEY DON'T PARTAKE IN ALCOHOL,....DURING THESE DINNERS,....OR ELSE ALL VOTES THEY MADE WILL BE NULL AND VOIDED.....”
It’s little wonder that one of Spurback’s pet peeves has been the graffiti artists who leave their tags on buildings throughout the blighted city as each and every spray-painted slogan left behind by some sixth-grade dropout must serve as a reminder to him that just about everyone in the world has a better command of written English than he does.
Spurback of course knew at the time that the council did indeed eat their dinners at city expense, as they have since time immemorial. Why he pretended he didn’t know is anybody’s guess.
At the time, he was still stinging from a revelation that the block club had used money earmarked for crime prevention to provide refreshments and entertainment at a Halloween party in clear violation of spending guidelines.
But rather than address the problem and accept responsibility, Spurback went on the attack, hoping that throwing mud at the council would make people forget about the block club’s misuse of its funding.
Unfortunately for everyone, it’s an election year and Spurback’s brand of cowardly and uneducated invective will be very much in vogue for the next nine months at least.