Niagara Gazette —
Dyster said he and Owens have limited their trips to winter-only meetings for the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the New York Conference of Mayors, but believes discontinuing conference travel altogether would put the city in more financial peril.
Though the city is facing difficult financial times, Dyster said opportunities for the city to bring in more revenue through grants and improve its financial standing could be missed if the trips were brought to an end.
“That would be shortsighted and foolish,” Dyster said.
The chairman said he supports Dyster’s travel to targeted events, but with the budget crunch he doesn’t feel as though Owens should be accompanying the mayor on the trips.
“With the hole that we’re in I think we should be bringing in the reigns,” Choolokian said. “I don’t think she should go.”
Dyster said that Owens helps him get the maximum value out of the trips by attending sessions when he has a conflict and doubling the city’s ability to network.
“You need some kind of staff if you’re going to accomplish something at these conferences,” Dyster said.
In addition, Owens has valuable connections through her previous employment with bigger cities such as Baltimore, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., Dyster said.
Owens said on top of networking at the events she also helps coordinate meetings with key officials for Dyster at the conferences.
She said that most cities — large and small — have multiple people at the conferences.
“(The mayors) know that they can’t be in all places at all times,” Owens said.
Owens said while the city needs to be strategic about how it spends money, staying “in a vacuum” in Niagara Falls does nothing to help the city grow and return to economic prosperity.
“Especially when you are having tough financial times you need to network harder and find other resources harder to replace what you may be losing in a deficit situation,” Owens said.
City Spending series The Niagara Gazette is taking an in-depth look at the spending habits of top city officials. Wednesday's story will focus on expenditures charged to the city by Mayor Paul Dyster and City Administrator Donna Owens during recent trips to attend state and national conferences.