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AUGUST 05 - AUGUST 13, 2014

DeSantis Worrisome to Black Heritage Commission Members

By Mike Hudson

August 05, 2014

Tom DeSantis
Bill Bradberry

The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Commission has thus far received about $2.1 million of your taxpayer money. The commission's treasurer, City Planner Tom DeSantis, has failed to file the financial report that was due April 1 that would explain what he did with the money.

Attempts to reach DeSantis were unsuccessful, but we did talk to the commission's chairman, Bill Bradberry.

"We've got around $1.8 million in the bank," he said. "That's pretty much what came from the Seneca casino settlement."

Bradberry said he's worried that DeSantis will try to use the money to fund construction cost overruns at the new city train station, located at the old Customs House on Whirlpool Street where the Underground Railroad Museum is supposed to be located.

News reports last week pegged the cost of the museum exhibits at around $500,000, using DeSantis as a source.

City Comptroller Maria Brown said the commission is long overdue on filing its financial statement, and that information about how the taxpayers' money is being spent is absent.

"Until we get that we can't know," she said. "The way it was set up, they got their money right off the top after the settlement."

Former Niagara County Legislator Renae Kimble is listed as a member of the board of the Heritage Commission, but said she wants nothing to do with its shady financial shenanigans nor its treasurer, DeSantis.

"I just stopped going," she told the Reporter. "I could see where it was headed and wanted nothing to do with it."

The Underground Railroad Museum was supposed to have been a big buck extravaganza dedicated to the memory of Harriet Tubman, who city employees like Kevin Cottrell and Mayor Paul Dyster said led 300 escaped slaves or "Freedom Seekers" to Canada across an old bridge located at what is now the site of the Whirlpool Bridge.

That falsehood was debunked in a series of articles appearing in this newspaper, Cottrell was fired, Dyster was re-elected and the once proud museum has been downgraded to a 3,500 square foot exhibit.

Last week, DeSantis told reporters that he "would love" to have a statue of Harriet Tubman standing out in front of the building.

His position as treasurer of a 501c not for profit organization dedicated to investing in a train station he designed as a part of his regular paying job constitutes a conflict of interest that reporters didn't ask him about.

Bradberry, who serves as the chairman of the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Commission, thinks it stinks and so does board member Renae Kimble, who served as treasurer prior to DeSantis.

Both Bradberry and Kimble are African Americans, of course, giving them something of a vested interest in the future of the commission, something that white guys like DeSantis and Dyster don't have.





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