Niagara Gazette

February 16, 2014

City council members meet with LaSalle residents to kick off monthly gatherings

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A group of city and county politicians spent their Saturday morning getting to know their neighbors.

The lawmakers held their first “Neighbor to Neighbor” meeting, an effort to better engage with the community, talking with more than 30 residents and city employees at the LaSalle branch of the Niagara Falls Public Library.

Council Chairman Charles Walker, who was a driving force behind the meeting series, said he felt the first outing was a success.

“In hearing some of the concerns that people have it gives us more of a vision when we’re trying to do things,” he said.

Walker was joined by his council colleagues Robert Anderson, Jr., Kristen Grandinetti, Glenn Choolokian and Andrew Touma, as well as County Legislator Mark Grozio.

The meetings will be held every other month in different neighborhoods throughout the city.

Walker said the idea is to get lawmakers out into the communities interacting with residents to give them a more complete understanding of the city and a more specific knowledge of the issues that are causing problems in particular neighborhoods.

“We don’t have districts, and so I don’t ride the streets of LaSalle every day,” Walker said. “I ride the street on the North End, and so I have a clearer picture of what’s happening over there as opposed to what’s happening out here.”

Walker said that Council Secretary Ryan Undercoffer will gather the information from the meeting — including responses to a survey distributed to attendees — into databases and organize it in a way that will help the council and Mayor Paul Dyster’s administration better understand the concerns of LaSalle residents.

“The council will give some of these concerns to the administration and ask them to address them,” Walker said.

Anderson said he thought the meeting went well, but suggested that it might be helpful to have Dyster or City Administrator Donna Owens at future meetings to directly address residents.

“We need to have someone that can definitely answer some of the questions that council does not control,” he said. “Because you leave so many (residents) frustrated.”

Two residents left the meeting visibly frustrated, but most stuck around for the entire hour-long meeting, many expressing their gratitude to the council for coming out on a weekend to hear their concerns.

Bill Muth, who has lived in LaSalle for all of his 64 years, thanked the panel several times while listing off a number of concerns in his neighborhood including snow removal issues and the condition of the city boat docks.

The retired building custodian for the school district said he is looking for the meetings to be more about action and less about simply discussing the issues.

“I hope somebody heard something,” Muth said.

Walker, addressing Muth as he listed his concerns to the panel, said that action is precisely the aim of the meeting series.

“That’s why we’re here,” Walker said. “We want to make city government more accountable.”

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257