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JULY 28 - AUGUST 04, 2015

Dyster and Touma Produce Stage Play-Story Here

By Anna Howard

JULY 28, 2015

That's a good old man: Council Chairman Andrew Touma sets the stage for Mayor Paul Dyster.
He that wants money, means, and content is without three good friends.
(William Shakespeare)

When the council voted last week to participate in the NYS Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments program it was more than a simple vote of the city's legislative body: It was the third act in a cleverly written three act play that was drafted behind closed doors in city hall.

Act one was crafted by the mayor when he told the council that the city needed to participate in the state restructuring program in order to solve its financial problems.

This in spite of the fact that the state Comptroller audited Dyster's books two years ago and gave the mayor a list of steps the mayor and council needed to take in order to achieve budget solvency. The mayor and council majority ignored the Comptroller's recommendations.

Act two was written by council chairman Andrew Touma when he created the city financial advisory panel in January. The panel was put in place allegedly to advise the city on its finances and yet Touma never gave them the power to access all city financial records. In fact the resolution creating the panel actually denied the citizen volunteers access to "confidential" financial records. Why did the chairman create the city finance panel and then guarantee that they had no powers to do their job?

Hand-picked by Touma, a city school teacher, to sit on the finance panel were: Carmen Granto, Touma's former boss and the retired city school superintendent; Frank Soda, a retired city school teacher who was recently placed on the Niagara Falls Housing Authority board by Dyster; and, Russell Petrozzi, president of the city school board. Touma opted to load the finance panel with school district power players.

Act three brought the principal actors - Dyster, Touma, Granto - to center stage at last week's council meeting as Touma had Mr. Granto, chairman of the city finance panel, deliver a presentation outlining the condition of city finances. It just so happened that Touma had placed the state Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments resolution on Monday's agenda for a vote. Mr. Granto then advised the council to accept the state finance restructuring plan as recommended by Mayor Dyster. The council obligingly voted - 4 in favor and 1 opposed - to do a deal with the Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments as Dyster wanted.

With the mayor facing re-election and the city's disastrous financial condition hanging over his candidacy the mayor has now been set free...he won't have to answer questions regarding city finances during the campaign as he defers to the incoming restructuring board.

With chairman Touma charged with overseeing the 2015 city budget, along with the preparation of the 2016 budget, he's free to make any or no fiscal recommendations while claiming that he's awaiting the ultimate advice of the incoming state restructuring board.

As for Touma's city finance advisory panel, it can now disband in celebration of having performed its role perfectly during the Dyster-Touma three act budget stage play.

However, the Monday night show didn't play so well in Peoria...with figurative Peoria being public safety labor: fire and police. Fears are rampant in the public safety sector that Mayor Dyster now has the tool of a state Financial Restructuring Board in his hands and that he's going to use that tool to carve a new city-labor relationship, beginning with fire and police. The concerns of police and fire are well founded. With the financial restructuring plan now on track the mayor is in a perfect position to place full responsibility for the upcoming tough budget decisions squarely on the back of the state restructuring board.

The mayor has spent the city into a disastrous budgetary situation and he was enabled in his efforts by a rubber stamp council majority. And now the mayor and council have handed the budget ticking time bomb to the state.

Dyster and Touma wrote a clever fiscal stage play. Time will tell whether it's a comedy, a tragedy, or a foolish reality show.


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