Dyster Attempts to Rewrite City's
Engineering History With Attack
By Mike Hudson
Make no mistake. Former City Engineer Jeffrey Skurka was fired for one reason and one reason alone: He refused to lay down for shortcuts and potential safety hazards on the Lewiston Road rebuilding project. When Mayor Paul Dyster ordered him to do the wrong thing, Skurka refused, and made his concerns public through a series of investigative articles in the Niagara Falls Reporter.
You wouldn't know any of that reading Dyster's comments in an article in Monday's Niagara Gazette about the excessive amount of overtime being paid to unlicensed engineers in the city's employ because Dyster has had a major problem in the engineering department from the beginning.
During Dyster's nearly six years in office,, the city has had a licensed engineer for about three years.
COURTHOUSE BUILT WITHOUT ENGINEER
The day Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster took office on Jan. 1, 2008 he fired City Engineer Bob Curtis. The city had no engineer for the next 15 months and the courthouse was built without the benefit of a licensed city engineer.
The courthouse developers were campaign contributors and their work was monitored by an outside engineering firm, also campaign contributors.
When you count change orders that downgraded quality and change orders that raised the price, the courthouse came off over budget for a far cheaper building.
HIRES UNLICENSED ENGINEER
It wasn't until the courthouse was finished when, on March, 30, 2009, Dyster hired Ali Marzban, an Iranian immigrant from Los Angeles.
Five months later, Dyster fired Marzban following a Niagara Falls Reporter expose that revealed Marzban did not have a license to practice engineering in New York State or anywhere else in the United States.
During Marzban's time in office, however, he was permitted to sign off on the disastrous Lewiston Road project.
Now a tangle of litigation more suited to the city's Law Department than the Engineering Department, is ongoing between the city and Man O' Trees, the original contractor, who walked off the job saying the engineering specifications were wrong.
Reconstruction went millions over budget and years behind schedule before it was completed by a second contractor this summer.
Dyster again had no engineer until January, 2010, when he hired Tom Radomski. Seventeen months later, he fired Radomski for being in violation of the city's residency ordinance.
He hired Jeffrey Skurka in July 2011 and fired him last April.
DYSTER TRIES TO BLAME FRUSCIONE
To read this week's Gazette article, one might easily think that Dyster's bad luck with city engineers was the doing of Councilman Sam Fruscione, soon to be former councilmember Fruscione.
"But Dyster believes the politicization of the position will no longer be a concern after the new year with Andrew Touma set to replace two-term Councilman Sam Fruscione after winning his seat in the fall elections," the article stated.
Let's be clear. The mayor is in charge of appointing the city engineer. And with his appointment of Ali Marzban, Dyster proved to one and all that he is and was incapable of distinguishing a licensed civil engineer from an imposter.
While the Gazette reported that, "the city's engineering department employees have been working long hours since former City Engineer Jeffrey Skurka was fired," the behind the scenes story is a lot bigger.
Dyster said that with a city council that has pledged to work with him, a new city engineer would not have to worry about retaliation from the council.
"I think it will be less likely that someone would be badgered by the council, whether they deserved it or not," he said.
PINE AVE TRAFFIC LIGHT BLAMED
A high turnover of city engineers-Dyster has seen four leave during his time as mayor-in what were at times contentious situations that were chronicled in the press, could add to the challenge, Dyster said, "of finding a good engineer," according to the Gazette article.
Specifically, Dyster was talking about the controversial traffic light installation at Pine Avenue near the Como restaurant, an installation the state Department of Transportation opposed on the basis that mid-block traffic signals have proven to be dangerous.
Based on the state's regulations, Skurka said he could not in good conscience go along with the decision to put a traffic light there.
The implication was that it was Fruscione who was "badgering" Skurka.
But a check of Gazette articles shows that it was a Dyster ally, Councilman Charles Walker, who was the one who chastised Skurka publicly, at times even yelling at him, and it was Walker who sponsored a resolution that cut Skurka's salary from $96,000 to $78,000.
Meantime, the city is out of compliance with both the city charter and state law with no department head in place.
SKURKA POINTED OUT MISTAKES
During his tenure, Skurka shined light on the botched 72nd Street sewer line job, the woeful LaSalle Waterfront Park project, the disastrous Lewiston Road reconstruction.
It's almost pathological. None of these botched projects - not 72nd Street, not the LaSalle Park and not Lewiston Road-had the blessing of a licensed civil engineer working for the City of Niagara Falls.
It's as though Dyster didn't want any true, realistic and scientific appraisal to stand in the way of what he wanted.
TRAIN STATION WITHOUT CITY ENGINEER
His "Intermodal Transportation Center and Underground Railroad Interpretive Center" stands as another example.
It is another project about to start without a city engineer.
City taxpayers have already thrown many millions into this particular money pit, and will toss in many more before the thing is anywhere close to completion.
The monstrosity is not the creation of any city engineer, but of a Buffalo engineering and architectural firm called Wendell-Dorchester, which has the coziest of relationships with the Dyster administration and, in particular, with the City's Senior Planner Tom DeSantis.
It was designed to handle the high-speed rail traffic that will soon be instituted by the State of New York and to celebrate the close history the City of Niagara Falls has with the Underground Railroad, an illegal organization that existed prior to the Civil War designed to bring escaped slaves to freedom up North and in Canada.
Just two problems with all of that: New York State will have a high-speed rail system pretty much like never, and not one single shred of evidence exists to tie the Underground Railroad into what is now the city, since the city didn't even exist until 1897, a good 35 years after the Underground Railroad ceased operation.
But this is somehow Sam Fruscione's fault?
DYSTER CHOOSES OR FAILS TO CHOOSE ENGINEER
As one of five City Council members, Fruscione had absolutely, positively and unequivocally nothing to do with the hiring and firing of Dyster's various short-termed engineers. That was Dyster's prerogative alone.
In the lone case when a council member was publicly critical of Dyster's appointed engineer, it was Dyster ally Charles Walker-not Sam Fruscione-who did the finger pointing.
In all their wisdom, the people of Niagara Falls voted on Election Day to install Dyster's campaign manager's cousin into Fruscione's City Council seat.
Good luck with that.
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||
Nov 26, 2013