Hats off to federal Judge Richard Arcara, who said last week that the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission has no right to keep to keep its financial records secret.
"I just asked, what's the big secret about asking for the severance package?" Arcara said. "We like openness here."
So do we.
The Bridge Commission supports itself in high style by collecting millions of dollars in tolls from Americans on American soil. Yet it has argued for years that its revenues and expenditures are governed by some crazy Canadian law known as the Privacy Act.
"Any information that is relevant (to the public) is published on the commission Web site," said Bridge Commission mouthpiece Kevin Kearney.
Try visiting the Web site. You'll find ads touting the advantages of an EZ Pass, ads touting the low-priced liquor available at the duty-free stores on both sides of the border, and a scant few paragraphs dealing with the bridges and what marvelous things they are.
Overall, it's pretty much like Bridge Commission Chairperson Norma Higgs' column in the Niagara Gazette.
New York state and the United States government poured millions of dollars into those bridges. That the Bridge Commission feels itself to be above any other publicly funded institution when it comes to money matters is absurd.
"I don't understand the secrecy of this. I'm baffled by it," Arcara said.
Over the years, we've found that agencies that conduct their business in secret have something to hide. The public has no idea, for example, about how many millions were sunk into that Taj Mahal of a headquarters they built up Lewiston way some years back.
And the public has no idea about how much went toward providing a golden parachute for the commission's former executive director Tom Garlock more recently.
It took a lawsuit backed by Niagara County Legislators Danny Sklarski and John Ceretto even to get this far. The complaint was given additional gravitas when state Sen. George Maziarz signed on a few weeks ago.
Let us hope that Judge Arcara -- who has shown the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job in other Niagara Falls cases -- rules that he does have jurisdiction in this matter and jails for contempt of court those recalcitrant members of the Bridge Commission who think otherwise.
|Niagara Falls Reporter
|Jaunary 26, 2010