Niagara Gazette

June 24, 2013

GUEST VIEW: Grant issue is part of larger problem in city

By Robert Anderson Jr.
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — I would like to respectfully use this space to respond to Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti’s Niagara Gazette guest view of June 6, titled “Irresponsible ignorance from city council majority.”

In the column Grandinetti tried very hard to make the mayor look good and to make the council look guilty of endangering $6 million in grant money.

The truth is that while the council refused to support Dyster’s request to rehire a consultant/grant writer we didn’t simply decline to sign the consultant’s contract we restated what was decided in the 2013 budget: The council removed the consultant/grant writer from the 2013 budget in November. During budget passage we asked the administration and department heads to do more with less by preparing their own grants. Police, fire, community development, library, Management Information Services and other departments got the message and we appreciate their cooperation.

Grandinetti failed to explain that the mayor sent his request for rehiring the consultant/grant writer to the council on short notice, with no meaningful support material and with not so much as a routine phone call to the council chairman. But the mayor did choose to make his case for the consultant/grant writer by going to the media prior to the council meeting.

What the mayor did offer as justification for hiring the consultant is what Grandinetti indirectly referred to — a catalog of grants that were somehow now suddenly in danger of being lost. That list contained old grants, current grants, pending grants and possible grants with many requiring city cash matches. That catalog totaled $6 million. So, the argument was “if you don’t rehire the consultant for $15,000 the city will lose $6 million.” A simple argument that is simply untrue.

Let’s look at five of the grants: Jayne Park in the amount of $290,000. This is the grant that no one in the Cayuga Island neighborhood wants because it will absolutely destroy property values. Curiously, the mayor, city planner and consultant/grant writer are in favor of this grant; Blueway Trail in the amount of $246,650. This would build canoe launches in LaSalle, it’s been on the books for years and has gone no where; Centennial Circle in the amount of $335,000. This would put a “sculpture” in the traffic circle downtown and it’s been on hold for years; Customhouse Restoration in the amount of $257,336. The Customhouse Underground Railroad Interpretive Center is behind schedule, has failed to open and one of the contractors is suing the city for unpaid invoices; Parks Inventory in the amount of $265,000. The city is currently paying a consultant to count the swings, monkey bars and trees in our city parks. I guess we couldn’t do it ourselves.

All of the above is the tip of an iceberg that needs closer inspection to see how taxpayer dollars are spent. Many of these grants are passing through the Planning Department. Which raises the question: If other city departments are writing their own grants, why does the Planning Department need its own consultant/grant writer?

I want to close by noting the overall negative tone of Grandinetti’s column. A few words she used: false, irresponsible, patronage, negativity, lie, blame, smoke and mirrors, embarrassment, pet projects, and costly error.

And if that wasn’t enough she criticized both the council and Sen. George Maziarz for communicating across the aisle of party politics. Isn’t less party politics and more cooperation what we need – from Washington to Albany to local government – to get things done?

But to tell the truth, the tone of the guest view doesn’t sound quite like the councilwoman I know. I believe there are individuals encouraging her to go down this negative path, a path that isn’t going to help the city she lives in or the council she serves on.

It’s strange — actually it’s sad — that Grandinetti’s remarks appeared the day after the New York State Comptroller released a devastating report detailing our city’s finances.

If ever there was a time for all of us — the council, residents and mayor — to work together that time is now.

Robert Anderson Jr. is a member of the Niagara Falls City Council.