Tonawanda News

September 14, 2013

GUEST VIEW: Council ignored public on Vets Park plan

By Roger Puchalski
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The ongoing saga of whether or not 16-plus acres of Veterans Park in the City of Tonawanda becomes a high-end housing development is no longer a battle of parkland versus development, it is a battle between intransigent city officials and the public. It is a fight between people who question whether or not the city is doing what is right and city leaders who scoff at those who dare question them.

At a recent Common Council meeting, for example, a resident asked about filling the seat left vacant by the departure of Heather Little. Council president Carl Zeisz said the council has no plan to replace her. He was quoted in the Tonawanda News as saying: “There is no appropriate way to choose who would replace her.”

Apparently the council president hasn’t read the city charter, which states: “Vacancies occurring in any elective office shall be filled by the common council at its next regular meeting, where practicable, after creation of the vacancy. The person appointed to fill the vacancy shall hold office pursuant to New York state law. In the case of a tie vote to fill a common council vacancy, the mayor shall cast the deciding vote.”

To me, that reads like a pretty specific way to replace Ms. Little. As the council knew this was coming the action should have taken place immediately. Now for one-quarter of a term, a portion of the city is without representation. If the council votes on the Veterans Park development in the near future, it will be done with one vacant seat and two lame ducks — Councilmen Tyler Kossow and Blake Boyle.

The City Charter apparently isn’t on the reading list of the council. The City Charter Sec. 2-181 states: “All goods and services will be secured by the use of written requests for proposals, written quotations, verbal quotations or any other method that ensures that goods will be purchased at the lowest price and that favoritism will be avoided ...” 

The RFP for the Little League Drive development specifically stated no condo status. Which is exactly what Natale Builder got. Did any other developer have a chance to put in a proposal under those conditions? No. Would there have been other proposals if that major condition was known? Yes. I talked with a couple and so did Councilwoman Little. Favoritism? Certainly. Did the city get the best deal? We will never know.

And then there are simple things like fairness. Is it right for people who can afford homes priced from $180,000 to $300,000 to get 100 percent police protection, 100 percent fire protection, 100 percent school services, 100 percent snow plowing, but only pay 60 percent of city, school and county property taxes? No. Is it fair that people who own a $70,000 or $80,000 home may struggle to pay 100 percent of their taxes? No, it’s not. Sure, the new homeowners won’t get trash pick up from the city and will have to fill their own potholes. But that’s not where 40 percent of our taxes go.

Residents shouldn’t feel bad about their treatment before the council, however. The city’s school board has received the same treatment. The Tonawanda school board has expressed an interest in a few acres of the Vets Park land. Will the council vote on that request before it signs a contract with Natale? Probably not. It will just ignore them like it ignored a request for an official public hearing (not an informational meeting where nothing is recorded) to explore all ideas.

In the meantime the council hires an outside lawyer — so far the tab is near $20,000 — to negotiate a contract with no significant concessions and sell land for less than its worth to a developer who will make millions. Why would anyone question the council?

Roger Puchalski is a City of Tonawanda resident.