Niagara Gazette

Local News

February 19, 2013

CITY SPENDING: Travel, food costs mount for mayor, council

(Continued)

Niagara Gazette —

Dyster considers attending conferences in places like Washington, D.C. and Albany worthwhile expenditures because he said they allow him and Owens to interact with high-ranking government officials at the state and federal levels.

He suggests that the city was not as well represented at such events under previous administrations, which he believes put Niagara Falls at a disadvantage.

“I could stay in city hall all day but I think that’s a one-way ticket to Palookaville,” Dyster said. “I told the people I was going to change it and I did.”

When it comes to the council’s dining habits, Choolokian argues that lawmakers’ taxpayer-funded meals are earned, noting that council members put in many hours for what amounts to part-time compensation.

Since the spending freeze, four of five council members have continued to attend the meals, including Choolokian, Sam Fruscione, Robert Anderson Jr. and Charles Walker. Two city attorneys and a Falls lawyer hired by the council as a consultant offering legal advice also frequently attend the sessions. Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti stopped attending the meetings once the freeze was imposed.

Choolokian and other council members noted that they did cut their local meetings budget — the budget line used to pay for the meals — by $2,000 during the budget amendment process last year, leaving $4,500 in the line for 2013.

“It doesn’t matter to me if we get or not, but we’re underpaid for what we do,” Choolokian said.

Choolokian — who joined Anderson and Fruscione in voting to cut city funds to the Niagara Falls Block Club Council, the Niagara Beautification Commission and the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center earlier this month — said he doesn’t see why the long-standing tradition of dining out between sessions should end.

“This is how it’s been for 50 or 60 years,” Choolokian said. “I don’t make the rules.”

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