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JULY 28 - AUGUST 04, 2015

The Best and the Brightest?
No, Just the Most Expensive

By Mike Hudson

JULY 28, 2015

One of the best and brightest, Roger Melchoir proved you cannot go too far when it comes to procuring the best.
Paul Dyster, Donna Owens and special friend comedian Bill Cosby share special moments together.

When Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster was first elected back on 2007, he announced that his administration would be characterized by its’ dedication to what he modestly called “big ideas.”

One of those bright ideas was, instead of hiring locally, or promoting from within, key administration officials would be chosen through a process of nationwide searches. Salaries would be significantly increased, to ensure that only “the best and the brightest” would have their own City Hall offices.

How to pay for assembling this veritable dream team of brightly shining stars? Not to worry, the mayor said. A shadowy group of still unidentified contributors would make up to $1 million available for the purpose.

The backers of the Building a Better Niagara Fund went to great lengths to conceal their identities. They set up an account with a charitable organization in Buffalo to essentially launder the money and to this day no one can really say who they were.

The city Council at first approved taking the money. But on serious reflection, following a series of articles in this newspaper and in the wake of the scandal surrounding the Vince Anello administration, the Council members reconsidered. They would not take the $1 million after all.

But Dyster was undeterred. He went ahead and conducted his nationwide searches anyway, keeping the salaries being offered at their vastly inflated levels. If he was looking for the best and the brightest he didn’t find it, but he did manage to make his administration the most expensive in the city’s history.

Remember Peter Kay? He was hired as the city’s director of economic development at a salary of $100,000 a year after a fairly undistinguished career in the Toledo, Ohio area. He created now a single new private sector job in the city, nor was he successful in seeing even one vacant storefront reopen.

Mostly, Kay spent his time here leading a turf war, battling with the county Industrial Development Agency over projects they had in the city. After two years and zero progress, his position was defunded by a disgusted city Council.

And then there was Roger Melchior, “the best and the brightest” fire chief anyone could wish for. The elderly and unemployed Floridian, who suffered from, among other things, a myriad of health issues, racism and an anger management problem, lasted less than six months, most of which was spent on sick leave. It is uncertain how much Melchior ended up costing the city, but it was certainly more than the $78,000 annual salary he was hired at.

Ali Marzban was brought on board as city engineer in 2009 and, like Melchior, didn’t last six months (See related story). Dyster seemed as surprised as anyone else when an exclusive investigative article in the Niagara Falls Reporter revealed that not only was Marzban unlicensed to practice engineering in the state of New York, he wasn’t licensed to practice anywhere in North America! He was eventually fired, but not before illegally signing off on Dyster’s disastrous Lewiston Road project, an expensive boondoggle that went way over budget, took twice as long as projected to complete and eventually became the subject of lawsuits.

The “best and the brightest” indeed.

But none of Dyster’s appointments has been as costly as that of City Administrator Donna Owens, hired for $110,000 plus a benefits package worth another $40,000 annually. That is about double what her predecessors, Daniel Bristol, Bill Bradberry and Anthony Restaino made.

Her salary is higher than that of any public official on the Niagara Frontier, appointed or elected.

What exactly does she do? No one seems certain. Living in rented rooms at the Jefferson Apartments on Rainbow Boulevard, Owens as often as not only shows up at her City Hall office four days a week. She is rarely seen in public, and when she does make an appearance, it can be disastrous (See related story).

She is rumored to have a residence in the Atlanta, GA, area, where she worked previously, and City Hall sources say she absolutely loathes Niagara Falls.

Dyster has stood by her despite demands from business leaders that she resign and several attempts by the city Council to cut her salary.

“The best and the brightest”? Hardly. But Dyster has managed to raise the payroll at City Hall by more than $1 million during his tenure, so they’re definitely the most expensive.

The mayor’s record on hiring is not dissimilar to his approach to fiscal policy.



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