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MAY 19 - MAY 26, 2015

Engineering Department Overtime Blues Sound Off Key to Trained Ears

By Frank Parlato

May 19, 2015

He's all upset about $13,000 in overtime for a union worker in the engineering department.

The Dyster administration is purportedly upset that union employees in the city's engineering department got a whopping $13,467.88 in overtime from January 1 to April 24 this year.

And a public undressing was called for.

During a recent council meeting, City Controller Maria Brown called it "irresponsible" for any department, engineering included, to operate at a deficit.

As an aside, how does she feel about a whole city - or a nation - that operates on a deficit?

But Brown at least had a sensible recommendation which was that the Dyster administration transfer some of the revenue currently budgeted for paying the outside engineering consultants Clark Patterson Lee a little less in order to offset the overtime engineering costs.

That could not have pleased Dyster who has not had a licensed city engineer for more than half of his seven and one half years in office.

There has been no certified licensed city engineer at city hall for more than two years now.

This of course is the reason why there is more overtime in the engineering department - without a department head, they have more duties to perform.

Dyster in rebuttal to Brown said his engineering consultants, Clark Patterson Lee, have done remarkable and invaluable work.

But nobody is complaining about their costs going through the roof.

It is little known, and Dyster doesn't care to share this, but the city pays Clark Patterson Lee a base fee of $95,000 per year for what is called "regular weekly support visits" which entitles the city to about 20 hours of engineering work per week, split up between one or more engineers, each billing between $90 and $100 per hour.

This support is said to be needed because the city does not have a certified engineer.

In addition Clark Patterson Lee provide at an additional cost an "on-call services phase" which allows the city to utilize the consultant firm for unlimited additional hours.

While Dyster criticizes his understaffed engineering department for $13, 467.88 in overtime, during the same period, Clark Patterson Lee picked up $35,000 in fees for their regular weekly support and, considering all the on call services phase that Dyster has now deployed the company to do - thanks to the water freezing problem that justified hiring the company to do a citywide digital analysis of all water lines - there will be in the neighborhood, we estimate, of perhaps an additional $100,000 to Clark Patterson Lee - all necessitated by the lack of a city engineer.

But Dyster is worried about $13, 467.88.

This is clearly optics - the embarrassing of underlings while obfuscating the reality - it is a dodge - a ruse - a pretense - that the overtime is a problem when it is a drop in the bucket compared to the outside engineering costs Dyster has mushroomed for his chosen consultants.

The last certified city engineer, Jeffrey Skurka ran afoul of Dyster when Skurka noticed OSHA violations on the Lewiston Road reconstruction project.

He found men working in eight foot deep trenches with unsupported walls that were in danger of collapsing.

Skurka complained to Dyster whose response was to order Skurka not to go on the jobsite since work had to get done before winter.

Skurka contacted OSHA who shut the job down and fined the contractor for creating a situation likely to cause death.

And Dyster fired Skurka.

And hired Clark Patterson Lee as an outside engineer.

Dyster claims he cannot find a certified engineer to lead the department who can meet the city residency requirements.

Throughout the history of Niagara Falls every mayor before Dyster was able to find an engineer.

At nearly $100,000 that was offered to lure Skurka, there must be engineers who live in the city or would move here to land this job. But for Dyster.

Would you risk your license or your reputation working for him?

Consider: Dyster hired and fired four engineers - Robert Curtis, Ali Marzban, Thomas Radomski and Skurka - for somewhat dubious reasons.

No engineer now with any reputation would be foolish enough to work for Dyster - for when Dyster would want to cut a corner or have an engineer sign off to approve payments to an outside consultant (which was the real reason Radomski was fired and not for residency. Residency was the optics to remove him. Everyone at city hall knows that as high as 30 percent of the police force in this city are illegally living outside the city and several department heads live outside the city. No it wasn't residency.)

What Radomski failed to do was to sign off for inconsistent work by the outside consultants.

No Dyster cannot find an engineer because an engineer's name would be mud by the time a mayor fires you.

But Dyster claims he has advertised for a replacement for Skurka, without success. Where?

The search for an engineer, he told the Gazette, is challenging in an election year since an engineer who may be interested is faced with the prospect of Dyster losing the election and of a new mayor not reappointing him.

One would think that if engineers are so hard to find - the new mayor might want to keep him.

But when Dyster was first elected and began his first term in 2008, the first thing he did was fire City Engineer Robert Curtis who was making $68,000 at the time.

Normally you would keep the engineer in place until you found a replacement.

It was puzzling also since the city was undertaking the construction of the largest public works project in the city for at least a decade the $46 million courthouse - and no engineer to supervise.

So the courthouse was built without a city engineer.

After waiting several months, and about 100 change orders later, Dyster hired an outside engineering consultant - LiRo Engineering - whose project manager was David Jaros - for $14,000 a month - to monitor the courthouse construction.

After the courthouse was completed - with millions in cost overruns - approved by LiRO, Dyster then hired three engineers in succession and fired them.

The last was Skurka, fired two years ago, just as Dyster was getting ready to build the train station. Soon after firing Skurka, Dyster hired a new outside engineering consultant - Clark Patterson Lee.

But they really weren't so new since David Jaros, formerly of LiRo, just happened to be with

Clark Patterson Lee now - and the money has been rolling in ever since - hundreds of thousands of dollars rolling in to outside consultants.

But Dyster is worried about $13,000 in overtime?

With tears, one can imagine, rolling down his crocodilian eyes, Dyster told the Gazette that, try as he might, he just can't find a city engineer to work here though he dearly wants one.
"What this demonstrates is why it is you need to have a city engineer," Dyster said, with unintended honesty. "It is an unfortunate set of circumstances."

Yes it is. It really is.





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Publisher and Editor in Chief: Frank Parlato
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