Niagara Falls city officials attempted to address concerns this week in the wake of an expose in The Reporter on the creation of a radioactive waste dump on North Avenue here. Approximately 100 tons of radioactive soils was excavated during the construction of the city’s new train station and dumped at the North Ave site which sits about 75 yards from the new train station.
How dangerous were the materials stored at the dump?
A tall, padlocked chain link fence was built around it, festooned with warning signs.
“DANGER HARD HATS, SAFETY GLASSES, SAFETY SHOES REQUIRED IN THIS AREA AT ALL TIMES,” one states.
Another advises, “IN CASE OF EMERGENCY CALL 911 FIRE RESCUE POLICE.”
A third sign warns of the presence of “RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL” and reads: “Caution Radioactive Materials Area.”
Last week, The Reporter visited the site and found that the gate of the fence had fallen down, and that large holes and tears appeared in the plastic safety sheeting used to cover the radioactive waste. In some sections, the plastic sheeting had blown off and the area was soaked with groundwater.
The fence was repaired after the story was published, and Thomas J. DeSantis, the city’s acting director of planning, environmental and economic development, responded to media and public inquiries downplaying the safety issue.
“It’s not contaminating anything, the levels are so low that they don’t cause a health threat,” said DeSantis. “It’s safe to anybody walking by.”
DeSantis told the Buffalo News and the Niagara Gazette that the 100 tons of radioactive waste has been at that location for “about two months.”
While the accuracy of his comments about the safety of the site is not known, his statement as to the length of time the radioactive pile has been there is inaccurate.
The Reporter is in possession of a series of dated aerial images that show the lot was green and had no evidence of waste dumping as of June 2014. However by June 5, 2015, the present radioactive pile is clearly visible in the aerial picture.
That means the radioactive pile was placed there at least thirteen months ago and not, as assserted by DeSantis, two months ago.
Despite the broken down fence and the tattered condition of the plastic safety sheeting, DeSantis took umbrage at the word “abandoned” in The Reporter’s story.
“It was never abandoned and it was never a threat,” he said. “There is a licensed contractor on-site to determine when they contact any contaminated materials, those materials are then segregated out and then later shipped off-site.”
The contactor DeSantis was referring to is Great Lakes Environmental, a subcontractor on the train station project.
While it uncertain what DeSantis’ credentials are to discuss the relative hazard or safety of the radioactive materials that were excavated, Great Lakes environmental technicians were the ones who thought it prudent to erect the fence, post the radioactive warning signs and cover the material with protective plastic sheeting.
“We dig it up and then we segregate it,” said DeSantis. He said the dirt doesn’t go to Modern Landfill, but rather a permitted landfill out of state.
A couple of questions arise.
Why would the city’s own environmental contractor, Great Lakes Environmental, go to such lengths to segregate the material and post warning signs if, as DeSantis maintains, it’s not dangerous?
And if the 100 tons of radioactive material stored on North Avenue for the past year is safe, why does it have to be shipped out of state for disposal?
In print and television interviews this week, DeSantis did not produce any documents to back up what he was saying. Great Lakes Environmental must have filed paperwork such as a truck manifest, DEC response documentation and applicable documentation required by the EPA in order to remove radioactive material from a construction site. Where is it?
DeSantis told the Gazette that the radioactive warning signs that had been posted by the city’s environmental contractor were “unnecessary,” and that he’d ordered them to be taken down.
Radioactive warning signs are required to be posted at radioactive piles by federal law.
The lack of a city engineer to oversee a project the magnitude of the $44 million train station construction is almost inconceivable. Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster fired former city engineer Jeffrey Skurka in 2013 after Skurka spoke publicly about safety hazards at the Lewiston Road reconstruction project, where radioactive waste was a major problem.
Skurka has since sued the city.
Without access to the environmental reports, it is difficult to say what sort of radioactive waste the city dumped on North Avenue. Sites in Niagara Falls have been tested and shown to contain uranium, radium and thorium. Records show that plutonium – which was found in Lewiston – one of the most toxic substances known to man – was also handled in Niagara Falls.
DeSantis said he is certain that there is no health threat, even if trace amounts of dangerous radioactive minerals from nuclear waste is present.
“The relevant fact isn’t what the exact isotope name is, what is relevant is that it has a low level of radiation, that’s clear,” he said.
Contrary to what DeSantis says about safety, the Beir -VII report by the National Academy of Sciences in 2005 states that there “is no safe dose of radiation no matter how small.”
Whether a large or small dose of radiation is being emitted from the site, what’s clear is that we have nothing but DeSantis’s word on the public safety issue.
However a year or more of rain, snow, wind and official neglect have possibly scattered whatever toxic substances that were there to the four winds, potentially infiltrating the air and perhaps the drinking water as well.
City Council Chairman Andrew Touma told concerned members of the public at Monday’s Council meeting that he had also asked questions of city officials about the radioactive material.
“The spoils pile is not abandoned or open to public access,” said Touma, who noted the broken fence had been repaired. “The general excavation is complete and this last pile is scheduled for removal to an out-of-state facility within the next two weeks.”
In an interview with Time Warner Cable, DeSantis accused The Reporter of “fear mongering.” He said the removal of the radioactive material was not prompted by the The Reporter story, but was previously scheduled in accordance with guidelines for the construction process.
Would the fence have been fixed, would arrangements have been made to remove the 100 tons of radioactive waste had The Reporter not shined a light on it last week?
More importantly, did Mayor Paul Dyster and DeSantis – who dismissed questions of need and cost and common sense in their rush to build their new train station – likewise dismiss concern for the health and safety of the people of Niagara Falls?
By Matt Ricchiazzi & Lou Ricciuti
Last week, The Reporter broke a story about a suspected toxic dumpsite at 915 North Avenue in the City of Niagara Falls. The site has signs posted around it warning that it is radioactive; the 100-ton pile within the site appeared abandoned and with broken fencing making it open to public access.
Aerial images accessible through Google Earth indicates the 100 tons of material was placed at the site during the construction of the new $44 million Niagara Falls Train Station spearheaded by Mayor Paul Dyster and located about 75 yards away.
These aerial images contradict assertions made by Thomas J. Desantis, who heads the Dyster Administration’s planning, environmental, and economic development departments.
Earlier this week DeSantis told the public that the pile has only been located on the site for “a couple of months.” A Google Earth image taken on June 5, 2015 – about 13 months ago – clearly shows the presence of the pile.
The pile of waste, with radioactive warning signs around it, is covered with sheet-plastic, easily visible in satellite images. Up until the publication of our story last week, that covering was blown off in places and ripped in others, secured only by sandbags sitting atop the plastic sheet, potentially allowing the materials underneath – apparently dirt and rock – possibly mixed with radioactive materials – to be carried away by rain and blown by winds into open windows of the densely populated neighborhood.
Desantis has told the public and local media the city plans to remove the spoils pile shortly.
No mention of potential radioactive contamination at the train station site has ever before been publicly disclosed prior to The Reporter’s publication last week.
In a phone call with Mayor Paul Dyster on Wednesday, Dyster explained the materials were temporarily located at 915 North Avenue with the expectation that more hazardous materials would be found at the train station site. It made more sense, he said, to aggregate materials at 915 North Ave. before they are shipped to an out of state site for safe disposal, saving on remediation costs.
Dyster also told The Reporter he was confident the spoils pile presented no serious public safety threat and that he personally has held the materials in his hand.
Despite officials maintaining the spoils pile presents no danger, no in-state landfill will accept this classification of radioactive waste and it will be removed to an out of state facility.
Remediation of the lot may also be necessary after the present spoils pile is removed, largely because of ground water runoff.
Why did City officials choose to dump radioactive material here?
When disposing of radioactive materials it is standard practice to relocate contaminants to an already contaminated site – rather than to additionally contaminate an uncontaminated area: this is the difference between a brownfield and greenfield.
This raises the question of why the city would relocate this material to 915 North Avenue unless the site was already known to be contaminated – something that had never been previously disclosed.
A satellite image taken on October 5, 2011, during the reconstruction of Lewiston Road, does indicate that the site was used to house rolling construction dumpsters. Use of the site to house construction dumpsters suggests that 915 North Ave was not believed to be contaminated prior to the location of the spoils pile on the site.
According to the Niagara Falls City Assessor’s website, there was a chain of purchases and sales connected with this lot, which measures 96 feet by 85 feet over the last few decades.
The City of Niagara Falls acquired 915 North Ave., in 2002, for what is listed as $1.67 million from Tarsem Bawja, a Toronto Real Estate agent with the Sutton Group of Toronto.
Bawja bought the parcel for only $300 in 1997.
When contacted by The Reporter, Bawja admitted he bought the property but did not sell it to the city.
“The city took it back (through tax foreclosure),” Bajwa said.
By James Hufnagel
True to form, and doing exactly what we predicted he would do in our March 31 issue, Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week approved the diversion of millions of gallons of Great Lakes water to the small city of Waukesha, Wisconsin, a few miles west of Milwaukee. Cuomo discounted the express opposition of dozens of environmental groups, regional newspaper editorial boards and various politicians of his own party in giving the green light to the unprecedented water withdrawal.
Briefly, Waukesha (pronounced “War-cah-choo”) was ordered nearly two decades ago by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take measures to reduce radium levels in its rapidly depleting wells, on which it had been relying for several decades to facilitate unrestrained suburban sprawl. After half-hearted attempts at water conservation programs, and despite the opinions of some experts who contended that the radium contaminant could be adequately filtered out, the city found it expedient to seek permission to construct a pipeline to Lake Michigan as a solution to its water woes.
In order to accomplish that, it was necessary for Waukesha to capitalize on a loophole in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact. Enacted by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008, a key provision of the compact is that no municipality located geographically outside of the Great Lakes basin is allowed to draw on its water.
However, while the city limits of Waukesha lie 1.5 miles outside the watershed boundary, a technicality in the statute allows for towns, villages and cities of counties that straddle the boundary to be eligible to apply for a special exemption to help themselves to the abundant and seemingly boundless natural freshwater resource, and that’s precisely what Waukesha did.
As nominal modifications to the initial application, the total amount of water Waukesha will be allowed to withdraw was scaled down from 10.1 million gallons to an average of 8.2 million gallons a day, and the proposed service area, which included the surrounding town and a small number of associated districts, was effectively halved, in furtherance of a fig-leaf “compromise” designed to give political cover to Cuomo and the other seven Great Lakes governors including Ohio’s John Kasich, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Indiana’s Mike Pence and Minnesota’s Mark Dayton, all of which have, at one time or another, expressed aspirations for the US presidency which a veto on the Waukesha request, affecting swing state Wisconsin, might have complicated.
The existential danger to the rule of the Great Lakes compact, the natural resource it is supposed to protect and the viability of an economy in the many billions of dollars that supports a vast population across the region, including Western New York, is that this vote established the primacy of political rather than natural criteria in determining how to allocate Great Lakes water assets, which will now prove scarcer and more precious in future years.
The city of Waukesha lies entirely outside of the Great Lakes. If Waukesha has a right to tap into the Great Lakes based entirely on political considerations, what would ultimately restrict others from doing so? It’s a slippery slope from the kitchen taps of Waukesha, to the golf courses of Arizona, corn fields of Nebraska, frack wells of Colorado, fountains of Las Vegas and raging wildfires of California.
Seem farfetched? With the US population on track to reach a half billion by 2100, don’t be too sure. Factor in the tens of millions of individuals displaced by climate change across the globe migrating to western democracies, making the present exodus from the mid-east to Europe, with the attendant social upheaval, look like a tea party. Cuomo and his pals cracked the door to the Great Lakes. The exigencies of coming decades may force it open like a battering ram.
Although the original scheme was to supply similarly water-stressed municipalities near Waukesha through their distribution system, “the city will be less likely to expand its borders through annexations and the communities originally included in the service area won’t have the safety net of turning to Waukesha if there is a problem with their water supplies,” according to the Milwaukee Business News, “…(b)ut leaders for the city and the other communities say they don’t expect a reduced service area to hurt development moving forward.”
“I still see us having really good development potential,” reassured Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly.
Indeed, the growth paradigm is alive and well in Waukesha. Having outstripped its own resources, it can now bravely sprawl forward, thanks to the rights to Great Lakes water secured for it by Cuomo et al.
By Jim Ostrowsk
There’s an old saying in libertarian circles: the GOP is the stupid party. The release of the House Committee report on Benghazi this week is the latest evidence in favor of this thesis. Since terrorists attacked a diplomatic compound and a CIA annex on September 11, 2012, Republicans have used the incident to engage in one their favorite sports, bashing Hillary.
There’s a reason why the GOP has survived this long as a major party in spite of its lack of tangible accomplishments for decades. The party ostensibly is supposed to serve as a counterweight to the Democrats, the party of progressivism with its ideology of endless government expansion into all areas of life. However, the GOP has failed to do so and even grows the government whenever it can, for example, during the last Bush Administration. Having failed to roll back major progressive programs installed by the Democrats in the last 100 years, and implicitly and in practice sharing the Democrats’ preference for big government, how do the Republicans market this pointless me-tooism to the rank and file?
As I explained in my book on progressivism:
“Highly paid and talented GOP consultants have brilliantly risen to the challenge. There must be something that keeps the troops anteing up their votes and legwork and contributions to the mendacious Republican machine that talks smaller government but never delivers. There is. Here is how the scam works. The GOP whips up a personal hatred of prominent Democrats as a red herring to distract their own rank and file away from their lengthy record of failure. . . . Hillary was right. There is a vast, right-wing conspiracy to whip up hatred of Democratic icons like Bill and Hillary and Barack and Michelle primarily for their personal peccadilloes. So long as you hate Obama personally, you won’t be focusing on the GOP’s pathetic record of never shrinking government. Who cares if the GOP-controlled House continues to vote to fund progressive big government? What’s really important is that rascal Obama golfs too much and Michelle takes too many vacations. The nerve!”
And so Benghazi has been used to bash Hillary primarily for her negligent supervision over security for the diplomatic compound and her alleged lies about the attack being a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Muslim video. What the GOP must avoid at all costs apparently, is any deeper or more substantive critique of Hillary and her progressive/big government approach to foreign policy. Why? Because the GOP favors the very same approach. As the stupid party, the usual role of the GOP is to take over some war started by the Democrats and, attack the Democrats for not being forceful (progressive) enough. See, for example, the Vietnam War. Whether in domestic policy or foreign policy, the stupid party is always trying to make failed progressive Democratic programs and wars work better.
Thus, with Libya, the GOP attacks the Democrats for not putting enough resources into the war and not having made provisions for staying around longer after Gaddafi was deposed. They say the same about Iraq and are still heard to complain that the problem with Vietnam was that, after dropping more bombs than were dropped in World War II, spending hundreds of billions of dollars and after a million people died, insufficient force was used. The stupid party indeed.
What do libertarians call the Democrats? The evil party. Are Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton responsible for the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi? Of course they are. These two plotted, planned and executed an illegal invasion of a country, causing murder, mayhem and chaos of the kind that occurred on September 11, 2012. The stupid party can’t even see a war crime when it is right in front of their faces.
Jim Ostrowski is a trial and appellate lawyer in Buffalo, NY. He is CEO of Libertymovement.org and author of several books including Progressivism: A Primer on the Idea Destroying America.
French cement maker Lafarge, which has several Western New York locations including Buffalo and Niagara Falls, entered into deals with armed groups in Syria, including the Islamic State, to protect its business interests in the country, according to the French daily newspaper Le Monde.
According to Le Monde in a story published earlier this month, Lafarge paid taxes to the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in 2013-2014 to continue its cement operations in Syria.
Lafarge, identified as the world’s largest building materials company, supplies construction materials including cement, aggregates and concrete for residential, commercial, and public works properties.
The Le Monde story, which is making international headlines and was brought to our attention by a local web surfer, said Lafarge paid terrorists to allow workers at its cement plant to arrive and leave the factory. The plant was shut down in 2014 after Daesh militants had advance toward it, according to published reports.
The French newspaper reported that it had seen letters sent by Lafarge managers in Syria which revealed “arrangements that Lafarge made with the terror group to continue production until September 19, 2014.” There are reports that the abandoned cement plant in Syria is now a base for Western special forces.
The company has said its priority has “always been ensuring the safety and security of its staff,” and purchased the Syrian site in 2007 before beginning operations there in 2011.
We contacted the Lafarge facility on Ohio St. in Buffalo, and asked for comment on the newspaper reports of Lafarge doing business with terrorists, but a spokesman said he would have no comment but said he would refer our request to higher authority. As of press time, we had received no response.
There are at least several listings for Lafarge concrete in the Buffalo area: Pineview Dr. and Northpointe Pkwy. in Buffalo; River Rd. in Tonawanda; Hinman Rd. in Lockport; and New Rd. in Niagara Falls. There may be more facilities.
A French court is now reportedly deciding whether Lafarge’s funding of Daesh terrorists in Syria was an emergency or whether it could be seen as activity aimed at financing a terrorist organization which is punishable by law.
A visibly agitated Niagara Falls City Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti watched helplessly this week as her colleagues tabled her controversial anti-cat legislation for the third time, despite what she claimed were draconian efforts on her part to make the proposed law more acceptable.
Grandinetti wants to criminalize the act of feeding a stray cat, something most right minded people think of as a humanitarian gesture. It would also subject owners of cats that dig in neighbors’ gardens or rifle through carbage cans to criminal prosecution. She has tried and failed repeatedly since April to gain approval for her measure.
When first introduced, Grandinetti’s law stirred public outcry and, according to her, resulted in threats of violence against her.
Grandinetti filed a police report over harassing messages that encouraged her to “drown your children” and “kill yourself,” delivered both through Facebook and to her personal email account.
The violent remarks directed at Grandinetti were delivered by individuals digitally, and it is uncertain who the distributor, or distributors, of the messages were. According to the report filed with the Niagara Falls Police Department, Grandinetti claimed “aggravated harassment.”
“I would like to see you drugged and (urinated) on,” one message said.
“Do us a favor and kill yourself,” read another.
One of the more moderate critics was Amy Lewis, director of the SPCA of Niagara. In her submission to her Council colleagues this week, Grandinetti claimed to have worked closely with Lewis on the amended version, and that Lewis had signed off on the result.
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
In her own letter to the Council, Lewis said she objected to the definition of those who take care of cats as “owners” in Grandinetti’s legislation.
“Community cat caretakers are not owners. They take care of TNVR and cats that were allowed to stray and breed by other city residents,” Lewis wrote.
Councilman Ken Tompkins, who raised $2,500 earlier this month to support a fundraising effort to trap, neuter, vaccinate and release (TNVR) stray and feral cats, said he wants to see the element of criminalization taken out of Grandinetti’s proposed ordinance.
“Why are we making this a criminal matter? This is a civil matter. A neighbor’s cat dug up your rose bush? If he won’t pay sue him in small claims court and get your fifty bucks.”
Earlier this month, when her law was shot down for the second time by the Council, Grandinetti shook her head in disbelief.
“I don’t understand the hesitation,” Grandinetti said in a fit of pique. “We went over all the language… We reached out to the community… We have spent three weeks, (Corporation Counsel Craig) Johnson and I, on getting this together, and I just don’t understand the hesitation.”
Prior to this week’s Council meeting, Grandinetti said that if her feline unfriendly law failed to pass, she wouldn’t bring it up again. Whether that is true or not remains to be seen.
The growing problem of convicted and registered sex offenders from around the state and around the country being dumped by the New York State Division of Parole into communities on the Niagara Frontier is being handled in drastically different ways by local officials in those communities, whose primary duty is to the health and safety of the people living there.
Last week, the Lackawanna City Council moved to publish the names, addresses and photographs of the 13 registered sex offenders living there on the city’s official website.
A June 9 Artvoice expose concerning the dispersal of seven registered sex offenders from two group homes in West Seneca has prompted quick action on the part of elected representatives in Buffalo, where two of the offenders were relocated.
Senator Tim Kennedy of Buffalo, Erie County Legislator Peter Savage and Delaware District Councilman Joel Feroleto put in a formal request asking state Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott to investigate whether New York violated the terms of a conditional permit issued by the city in dumping the offenders in Buffalo.
After reading of the relocation in Artvoice, area residents became outraged that Level 2 sex offenders Russel Bennelthum and James Loder, were moved from a group home in West Seneca and into a facility run by Community Services of the Developmentally Disabled on Rosemary Avenue.
These frustrations are all too familiar; the West Seneca community expressed similar concerns for years when seven sex offenders, including Bennelthum and Loder, were placed in two group homes on Leydecker Road. Neighbors there made it clear that these offenders were not welcome, particularly because the homes they were placed in were steps away from a local park and playground.
On Rosemary Avenue, the scene is similar; a school for kids with learning, social and emotional needs sits less than a mile from where the sex offenders now reside.
“As a Senator and more importantly as a father, I find the relocation of these sex offenders to this quiet Buffalo neighborhood deeply troubling. One of these offenders was convicted of crimes against two young boys, and yet he has been placed in a facility that is within walking distance of three schools,” said Kennedy. “It is disturbing that New York continues to house these offenders with some of our most vulnerable residents, and in close proximity to local schools no less.”
In their letter, Kennedy, Savage and Feroleto note that when the Office for Persons with Developmental Disabilities facility on Rosemary Avenue opened, the permit granted by the city required the location to be used as temporary housing for developmentally disabled persons, meaning residents were limited to 90- 135 day stays. Any resident staying for a longer period of time, or a person who is not classified with a developmental disability, would appear to be in violation of the conditional permit.
“The relocation of two Level 2 sex offenders to this strong North Buffalo residential neighborhood, in close proximity to a school, playground, and child day care is completely unacceptable,” said Savage. “I share in the outrage expressed by neighborhood residents and call upon New York State to immediately reverse this terribly ill-advised decision.”
Kennedy, Savage and Feroleto also ask the state to investigate whether New York followed proper guidelines for notifying authorities and residents when relocating the two sex offenders. Some neighbors complained that they were unaware that these offenders were moved within close proximity to their children’s schools and day care.
Kennedy is currently a co-sponsor of legislation that would prohibit sex offenders from being placed in residences operated by the Office of Mental Health or the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. This legislation passed the Senate this year, but failed to make it to the floor of the Assembly.
“We are gravely concerned that the relocation of these sex offenders did not follow proper notification requirements to local law enforcement and to the community,” the lawmakers stated in the letter. “Additionally, we are alarmed that this facility may now be in violation of the operating permit granted by the City of Buffalo. We respectfully request your full attention into the process behind placing sex offenders in this facility.
“(I)t is the state’s duty to notify the proper channels, especially in light of the potential harm sex offenders present to the community. A dangerous precedent is being set if notification procedures were not followed,” they added.
In West Seneca, quick action by the town Council and state Assemblyman Michael Kearns led to the eviction of the seven sex offenders.
And in Lackawanna, the city Council last week passed a measure to post the names, addresses, criminal records and photographs of registered sex offenders living there on the city’s official website.
While officials in West Seneca, Lackawanna and now Buffalo have taken a very proactive stance regarding the state’s policy of dumping sexual predators on the unsuspecting public, Niagara Falls officials have taken a different approach. There, Mayor Paul Dyster has said, “They’ve got to live somewhere.”
Consequently, Niagara Falls has the highest concentration of registered sex offenders of any city in New York.
The international tourist destination is currently home to 177 registered sex offenders, one for every 285 residents.
By Councilman Kenny Tompkins
This week, for the second time in two months, the Niagara Falls City Council voted NO (3 to 2) to a request to add an elevated position to the city’s Purchasing department. The department’s director, Johnny Destino, has put forth this request twice, citing the need to fill a vacancy as well the need to make the department more efficient by creating an administrative assistant role with “added responsibilities.” Mr. Destino has claimed that his department is “falling apart” without this role.
I am in full agreement that the vote against this position was the right move both times. I would like to elaborate on this as I see it as part of my responsibilities as an elected official to ask questions and watch how our tax dollars are being spent. This is especially in light of the recent assessment plans and our city’s dire financial situation.
Mr. Destino has proposed this position, which is at a higher grade than the original clerk position, as a savings of $128. However, as much of a savings as this seems on the surface, it’s not a savings at all in reality. Let’s step back and look at the full picture.
First, the position that Mr. Destino is looking to fill at this higher level is a clerk’s position that has been vacant for 120 days. During this time, Mr. Destino has had ample opportunity to fill this role with one of the three top scoring civil service candidates. If the department where in such desperate need of support, why has this role remained vacant?
Second, there is another, higher position from which the person currently in that role is retiring at the end of this year. Mr. Destino has stated that he plans to fill that position as well. However, by his own admission, the person currently in that role has been off for 50 of the last 100 days. In essence, this has become a part time role.
What Mr. Destino is proposing is now to have two higher level, full time roles. Again, he is citing this as a savings. But let’s look at the realities. The clerk position he is filling was a salary that reflects 15 years of raises to reach that level. A new person hired as a clerk would make considerably less. Therefore, elevating that role and starting a new person at nearly the same salary as someone who worked in the department for 15 years is not a true savings. The new role will be starting entry level at an advanced rate, i.e. subject overtime to higher raises and higher pension.
In other words, there is no savings, immediate or future.
While Mr. Destino promotes these two high level positions (as opposed to a clerk position and a higher level staffer) as a benefit to the city, he has not yet provided any specifics that could justify this reorganization. For example:
• What truly are the Purchasing department’s needs and how are they being met or not being met under the current department organization?
• What are the measurable expectations and responsibilities for the current staff compared to those under the new organization?
• How will this reorganization add to the department’s efficiencies and save money in the city hall budget over time?
• What is the average productivity of the Purchasing department’s staff currently (i.e. how much are they accomplishing on a given day compared to the actual department needs)?
• To what extent is the current team been overextended (i.e. have they assumed a greater workload than they can realistically handle in an eight-hour day)?
• Is the department operating at peak efficiency or are there opportunities to streamline processes and be more efficient without adding additional staff, especially someone in a higher position?
I understand that Mr. Destino wants to ensure that the Purchasing department under his purview is operating to the best of its abilities. However, being an operations manager myself with ample purchasing experience and understanding of RFPs, I can think of a number of ways in which he could streamline this department and save the city significant money, without creating an additional high level position.
For starters, he could consider opportunities to share services and purchasing with the Niagara Falls City School District. There are a lot of redundancies with both entities in terms of purchasing needs (paper, equipment). I see these as an opportunity ripe for volume discounts as well as cost savings.
Also, and while this is not necessarily under Mr. Destino’s auspices, this city’s antiquated technology is costing us probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions, more a year due to inefficient operations in all departments, including purchasing. One thing I plan to exam closer is how we can take advantage of updated technologies, such as business software platforms, enterprise resource planning systems (ERPs), in order to streamline processes and improve efficiencies and accuracy. From what I have learned from several residents, bringing our information technology into the 21st century is likely to be a small investment compared to the money that is currently flying out the door.
There are solutions to making city hall a more efficient operation. Continually throwing more money at issues or adding more elevated positions without tangible outcomes does not solve the problem. This purchasing position is an example. I am not holding Mr. Destino to a higher standard than I would any other director with such a request. It is the job of every member of council to ask these questions and demand accountability from department heads. With our fiscal situation, we need to work smarter, not spend more.
The residents of this city should not accept anything less for their government.
While Portage Road, Main Street and even sections of Pine Avenue look as though they’d been shelled by unfriendly artillery, and city crews working feverishly to erect “ROUGH ROAD” signs to warn motorists of the potentially dangerous driving conditions on these major arteries, residents on little traveled side streets have for the most part resigned themselves to the reality that whatever paving problems exist in front of their houses are of low priority.
Most residents anyway.
Niagara Falls City Council Chairman Andrew Touma, cousin of Mayor Paul Dyster’s campaign manager Craig Touma, lives on College Terrace, a block long street going nowhere, really, with eight or 10 homes lining it.
This month, city crews worked overtime to repave it, along with a one block section of Madison Street that links College Terrace to College Avenue and the rest of the world.
Madison Street itself is only two blocks long, but only the portion leading to Touma’s street benefitted from repaving. Residents told the Niagara Falls Reporter that there was no difference in the condition of the paving between one block of Madison Street and the other.
The condition of the city’s main thoroughfares has been a boon to auto repair shops, which have done an excellent business in replacing shock absorbers, ball joints and even repairing snapped axles. It’s made things more difficult for city cops on the beat, however.
“It’s hard to tell whether the person’s driving drunk or just swerving to avoid the potholes,” one officer told the Reporter.
Dyster has never particularly cared about street paving, being more interested in staging rock concerts and beer blasts and building his gigantic train station. Earlier in his administration, a 44-year-old husband and father of two, Kevin Johnson, tragically died when his bicycle fell into a pothole here.
We don’t know whether Council Chairman Touma rides a bicycle or not, but the brand new paving in front of his house means that, if he does, and he sticks very close to home, he’ll never have to worry about meeting the same fate as Johnson.
Speaking of unsightly- since the new garbage plan where the recycle bins are larger than the refuse bins – people all over the city have sought out alleys and abandoned spots to get rid of the trash the city used to pick up.
This unsightly mess is in the alley behind Lasalle near 13th and has been sitting there for weeks. We wonder if anyone will ever pick it up?