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JUNE 03 - JUNE 11, 2014

Lewiston Residents Paid for Tango, Moonwalking, Abacus, Records Show

By Mike Hudson and Frank Parlato

June 03, 2014

The late Michael Jackson made the moonwalk famous.

Two invoices, one for $1,930 and another for $13,209, from the Buffalo engineering firm of Nussbaumer & Clarke, for some surveying and engineering work at Joseph Davis Park in Lewiston awhile back, raised hardly an eyebrow.

Former Town Supervisor Steve Reiter's signature appears at the bottom of the last page, and the bill was paid.

Councilman Mike Mara and former Councilman Ernie Palmer also signed off on respective billings.

However it seems unlikely that anyone including Reiter, Mara, Palmer or anyone else responsible for protecting the taxpayers of Lewiston read it.

Licensed Surveyor Michael Ennis, a Nussbaumer & Clarke Inc. "professional," is apparently a bit of a card, a kind of cutup, a wit, a class clown, as it were. Because in among the scores of line items submitted by various employees on the invoice for time spent mapping, surveying and designing the project, Ennis' entries seem played strictly for laughs.

"Learned to Moonwalk," he wrote in one entry dated Nov. 28, 2012, which was signed off on by Mara and verified by Reiter, as well as by the CFO of Nussbaumer and Clarke, Margaret Lawless.

Nussbaumer and Clarke's bill charged the town for two hours at $90 per hour as Ennis purportedly learned the dance step made famous by the late Michael Jackson.

The town paid $180 for Ennis' lessons.

Two days later, another two hours were billed by Nussbaumer for Ennis who this time was "Doing calcs with an abacus."

Surveyor Michael J. Ennis said he learned to moonwalk.


An abacus, a bamboo calculating tool, uses beans or stones that slide on wires and was used centuries before the adoption of the written modern numeral system.

Modern surveyors do not use the abacus, as far as the Reporter could ascertain.

The $180 bill for abacus calculations was also paid, but, again, not before being signed off on by Mara, Reiter and Lawless.

Lawless signed off that the "items, services and disbursements charged were rendered to or for the municipality on the dates stated."

Happily, while it took two hours to learn to moonwalk, Ennis spent a comparatively briefer time, a mere hour, on Nov. 21, 2012, "Dancing the tango," according to another bill Nussbaumer and Clarke submitted for work done at Joseph Davis Park.

Nussbaumer billed the town $90 for Ennis' one hour of tango dancing, which, as most readers know, is a Latin dance that is usually done with a partner.

The tango dancing bill was given the okay by then-councilman Ernie Palmer, whose business it is to prepare other people's taxes - after scrutinizing their financials, line by line.

The bills were also verified by Reiter.

"The above services or materials were rendered or furnished to the municipality on the dates stated and the charges are correct," Reiter's statement on the vouchers reads.

When contacted by the Reporter, Mara said he was unaware of the strange billings.

"I'm not sure what it is," Mara said. "I have no clue what that would be there."

When asked by the Reporter if he even looked at the bills before signing them, Mara said, "If this is something the engineer did, it is not amusing. Maybe someone thinks it's funny. And, if I signed it, I missed it. Hopefully, it was just a poor attempt at humor and (genuine) work was completed that was supposed to be. If I missed that, it was my fault. I have no one else to blame."

Michael J. Sendor, president of Nussbaumer and Clarke, told the Reporter that it was indeed a mistake, actually an inter-office joke, which unhappily and unexpectedly wound up on an actual bill.

"Ennis' role in the firm is to review the mapping done by other surveyors in the firm," Sendor said. "[the project leader, Ryan Smith] was very anal about keeping track of time, so he had the accounting department set it up that [firm employees] had to put in a comment before the time sheet would accept his time, and Ennis, to bust his balls, put in some stupid comments and that's the result of it. He didn't realize what was going to happen. He thought it would only be an inter office joke."

Sendor said the hours on his company's bill for Ennis' tango, moonwalk and abacus entries were actually spent reviewing maps.

What's curious about the entire matter, beyond the fact that Lewiston taxpayers were underwriting something other than what Ennis said he did for the time he spent on the project, is the fact that his superiors at Nussbaumer & Clarke and Reiter and other town officials who signed off on the document and approved payment, even bothered to read it.

And that's pretty much how it's been going at the former Joseph Davis State Park, which was taken over by Lewiston following a Reiter-led campaign. The former supervisor and his supporters argued that the state had neglected the park, and maintained that the Town of Lewiston could do better.

Whether it has done so or not seems to be a matter of debate but one thing is certain – Lewiston taxpayers have been left to pick up the tab and are still doing so even after Reiter's term ended Dec. 31, 2013, after he lost in a primary to Ernie Palmer last September.

Palmer went on to lose in the general election to Democrat Dennis Brochey.

Under Reiter's leadership, and the consent of his all Republican town board, the town took over the park in 2011. Over the course of the next two-plus years, they formed a publicly-funded local development corporation to oversee the proposed development of a lodge, conference center, campsites, a boat launch and other amenities.

Records show they spent more than $1 million in taxpayer money on the effort. Much was spent on developing plans that were ultimately rejected and will not be built.

Originally, the town was granted a 10-year lease to operate the park, but Reiter pushed the state to consider a longer, 40-year term extension and give the town the ability to improve the land. He spoke directly to state parks Commissioner Rose Harvey at one point in an effort to move things along.

Brochey believes that spending town money to improve land owned by the state was a bad idea to begin with. The boat launch and other improvements will not happen under the Brochey administration, he said.

More than $1 million in just a bit over two years; that's a lot of money for a town like Lewiston, where garbage cans have to be placed strategically around the floor of the senior citizens' center on rainy days because of a leaky roof.

Nussbaumer and Clarke Engineers billed the town for surveyor Michael Ennis to dance the Latin tango at Joe Davis Park. The town paid it.

The engineering firm of Nussbaumer & Clarke – which submitted the jokey "Moonwalk," "abacus" and "learning to tango" invoices – received a total of $143,000 for work it allegedly performed.

Nussbaumer & Clarke Vice President Marie Nowak said her firm provided the town work on three separate Joseph Davis contracts. Of the money spent by the town board on Nussbaumer projects, she said a majority of it was toward a contract to design the abandoned campsite.

"This work included the design of a campground area, which is for trailers and RVs, as well as a tent area," Nowak said of the $108,000 project. "It would have to include a building for lavatories and showers, along with a washing machine area and space for a little store. There also was an exhibition area, for a small concert or a band performing ... and a new entrance road to get into the park. And it includes all of the permitting to go along with the work."

The other two contracts include surveying the park for $13,800 and work on updates to the park's master plan for $20,000.

Brochey said he's exploring ways in which the town can get out of its contract with the state. He says Lewiston's troubled financial future simply won't allow for town residents to continue underwriting the state park.

"We're looking to see exactly what it's costing us per year," Brochey said. "We would like to get out of it because it's using too much of our town funds. We're looking for greenway funds to cover all the costs. If we can get the greenway money, I have no problem staying with it. But if not, it's too expensive."

What were they thinking? With all the tax, casino and tourism money Albany sucks out of Niagara County each and every year, what induced Reiter and his supporters to agree to pick up the state's maintenance tab, and plan expensive new projects, at an underutilized and neglected park on the remote far eastern area of the town?

We may never know.



The role of the New York Office of State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation in Niagara County has always been shrouded in mystery, and the labyrinthine mechanizations that result in millions of dollars being pulled out of the local economy at the falls themselves even as local money is being poured into non-starters like Joseph Davis can only be imagined.

One thing is for certain. The whole thing is a joke. A sick joke, for sure, played on the unsuspecting and ever suffering taxpayers here.

A surveyor named Michael Ennis was in on the joke. And he was stupid enough to include his adventures moonwalking, dancing the tango and using an abacus for project calculations in what wound up as an official document that is part of the scant evidence that remains to show how the taxpayers of Lewiston were taken for a ride once again.

Joseph Davis Park has so few visitors, the state closed it and happily found some suckers (the Lewiston taxpayers) to foot the bill....



Councilman Michael Mara said the buck stops with him!





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