New council members are encouraged to take path toward transparency, efficiency, accountability

 

scott

Ezra Scott

tompkins

Kenny Thompkins

 

We have little doubt that as you read this column forces within the administration of Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster are working to influence and enlist the full cooperation of new council members, Ezra Scott and Kenny Tompkins.
As political newcomers the two men are potential allies for those in the administration who wish to convert the council into fully supporting all the initiatives of the mayor and to preserving a city hall status quo.

A status quo that has, arguably, done damage to the taxpayer through the: casino revenue spending, consultant gravy train, project change orders, repeating deficit, expanding debt, and steadfast non transparency.

We have no reason to doubt that Scott and Tompkins have nothing but the best of intentions for the city and we’re writing this column in good faith. Good faith that the gentlemen are truly as sincere and straightforward as they showed themselves to be during the recent council election.

To that end we’re presenting a list of steps that should be taken in order to improve the transparency, accountability and efficiency of city government. We sincerely recommend that the new council members save this column and refer to it throughout their four-year term.  We also humbly recommend that they steer clear of any city hall forces that will work to frustrate their attempts to repair the wayward spending habits of the present administration.

Here are our recommendations:

  1. Post the city budget online in real time. Many governments have done this and we’ve repeatedly called for this measure to be taken.
  2. Thoroughly review the city debt with an eye to how it was accumulated and how it has been restructured across the past eight years.
  3. Pull back the curtain on the FOIL process by posting online: the individuals controlling the FOIL process, the blank FOIL form, summary of state FOIL law, a pledge to fast track all FOILs.
  4. Immediately write a casino revenue Spending Policy and Annual Spending Plan. The two documents are different but inseparable.
  5. Study the NYS Comptroller’s June 2013 audit of city finances.  Don’t hesitate to contact the NYS Comptroller’s office to ask questions. Don’t rely entirely on city hall for answers to your questions.
  6. Make the online city budget more user friendly. Its present form defies navigation.
  7. Request a detailed report as to the condition (and estimated cost for repairs) of Sal Maglie Stadium. Make no moves on RFP’s until the information is provided.
  8. Request a detailed audit/report of the Isaiah 61 program including all expenditures, fire hall renovation, salaries, structures rehabilitated, reuse store etc.
  9. Demand answers to two budgetary questions: why was the 2016 budget passed in secrecy and what were those seven budget amendments to the 2016 budget?
  10. Post all contractual and bidding information live online: beginning with the call(s) for any particular bid up to the bid opening up to the bid award up to the step-by-step of the job as it progresses including all invoices and change orders up to the closeout of the contract, job, or project.
  11. Post live on line all contracts/agreements with any and all consultants. Consulting work is understood to include legal, engineering, Human Resources and any and all other consulting services.
  12. End the perpetual riddle of the city charter once and for all. It’s an un-agreed upon, virtually toothless document that the city administration has ignored when convenient and with no legal repercussions.

The entire purpose of a city council is not to be an ally of the mayor, but an independent body which assesses each and every step a mayor takes.

A council must never be the lackey of a mayor but rather a watchdog of the executive branch of city government.

This may require getting answers independently and perchance opposing the mayor, or setting him aright if he goes afield and even if it seem unpopular. Sometimes the council must delay an initiative in order to study it properly. They must not succumb to an artificial sense of urgency. This is taxpayers’ money you have been entrusted to steward.

It is your legal duty – and not the mayor’s – to spend public money wisely.


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