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MAR 17 - MAR 24, 2015

Only in North Tonawanda: 'We are Kept in the Dark'

By Sweeney Payne

March 17, 2015

Sunday, March 15 began "Sunshine Week," a news-media-led event focusing on American citizens' right to open government and ready access to public records. Open government begins with public officials, whether elected or appointed, consciously committing to it. In a Buffalo News editorial on Sunday, that paper wrote, "To a great extent, the public's ability to review the actions of government relies on the character of the men and women occupying those offices." The editors of the region's daily newspaper continued, "The ground rules of democracy—the very definition of democracy—demand that the public have easy access to public meetings and public records."

We respect our fellow citizens who have differing opinions than we do. We respect their right to express their opinions. Our concerns in this column, however, are not directed toward our fellow citizens nor toward Democrats or Republicans or any other party. They are aimed at non-transparent elected and appointed officials in NT.

We are still waiting for answers to our previously expressed concerns FROM THE ELECTED AND APPOINTED OFFICIALS to whom they were directed. Unless our elected and appointed officials listen to us – to ALL of us, not just those who agree with them, they cannot properly represent the citizens of NT. They are supposed to be accountable to all of us and become transparent in all of their decisions and actions so that all of us know what is going on and why.

Lockport's method, under their Charter as we recently heard their current Mayor explain at a televised Council meeting, of filling a vacancy for Mayor appears to be better than North Tonawanda's. Their charter makes it automatic that the President of their Council becomes Mayor in such a case. That way a person legally voted into office becomes Mayor instead of the cronyism method used in North Tonawanda which has resulted in our currently having a 2/5 appointed Council, an appointed Mayor, and an appointed Clerk-Treasurer at the same time. Charter revisions are needed to avoid this happening over and over again, with the controlling party keeping those it can control in office and creating "incumbents" to make it easier for them to be elected in the future.

On February 27 an opinion piece in the Niagara Gazette bemoaned the timing of Lewiston board meetings. We in NT also bemoan Common Council meeting starting times changed from the long time 7 p.m. to earlier times in the last decade. The earlier starting time is not for the convenience of citizens. It is for the convenience of the officials who prefer that not many citizens actually attend their meetings.

Per the Open Meetings Law, "It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that the public business be performed in an open and public manner and that citizens be fully aware of and able to observe the performance of public officials and attend and listen to the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy."

A Buffalo News article on March 8, included the following, "A Democratic resolution to change the public speaking format at meetings was sent to committee. Minority Leader Dennis p. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, predicted before last week's session that the Republican majority probably would kill the proposal there. The resolution would move public speaking about issues not on the night's agenda back near the start of the meeting. In 2009, the Republican majority passed a measure moving such comments to the end of the meeting, meaning that anyone who wanted to address the Legislature on a general topic had to sit through the Legislature's typical two-hour plus meeting to do so. Public speaking in the final time slot has dwindled, and the former cadre of "gadflies" that used to attend Legislature meetings no longer does so."

A gadfly is someone who annoys people by being very critical or a person who persistently annoys or provokes others with criticism, schemes, ideas, demands, requests, etc. We in NT identify with those citizens of Niagara County also denied their rights to express their opinions to those who are supposed to represent them. In NT, the meeting time was also changed from the long time 7 p.m. starting time to 6 or 6:30, and sometimes 6:15 and occasionally other times to also make it inconvenient for most residents to come to meetings.

We are kept in the dark about details probably covering up collusion between City officials and certain special interests using our City as if it were their own sandbox full of toys meant to increase their wealth and to insure income levels for many far in excess of the median income level in NT. All cloaked in secrecy. This lack of transparency has to stop!





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