Category: Press

Changing Our Vision of Local Government

Establishing effectiveness and efficiency in local government is an extremely challenging task for any mayor. Many barriers arise that prevent the simple implementation of the policies and programs the mayor desires. One of the most difficult challenges for any mayor is convincing the city council that a particular policy or program will produce the anticipated outcomes. That will certainly be true for my concept of collaborative government.

Speeches, pronouncements, and even articles on the Opinions Page are one thing and official action on the part of a mayor is something else. While during their campaigns political candidates for mayor have tended to promise change, it is a fairly accurate observation to say that the administrations of most mayors are marked more by continuity than change.

A mayor must not project uncertainty as to the direction he wants to pursue once he takes office, but must be realistic as to how quickly he can launch the city on this journey. The mayor must understand the resistance he may face from the city council and career civil servants as he attempts to implement the policies and programs of a new administration. With regard to any perceived “stonewalling” from within the government, the mayor must effectively communicate his resolve to be the one who establishes the direction that will be taken.

There will be plenty of opportunities for people to observe and criticize the divide between the proposed policies and programs of the new administration and the actions taken by the mayor to achieve them. Clarity on the part of the mayor is the essential ingredient in dissolving resistance to his leadership. The old cliché of “say what you mean and mean what you say” is most appropriate in this regard. People who know me are well aware that I hold true to this concept.

I believe that enlisting the support of the first-ring suburbs of Niagara Falls…is the key to a more efficient system of governance.

I fully understand that my platform of collaborative government runs counter to the instincts of the typical candidate for local government. I believe that enlisting the support of the first-ring suburbs of Niagara Falls into an alliance of local governments dedicated to the development of the most cost-effective ways to deliver basic municipal services is the key to a more efficient system of governance. The typical “go-it-alone” style of governing must be seen for the failures it has caused. Collaboration with, not competition against, these suburban governments will be the hallmark of the Restaino administration. I know that governmental effectiveness cannot occur simply because the mayor orders it to happen. For collaborative government to be accepted, I will have to demonstrate that there are real cost-efficiencies to be enjoyed equally by all municipalities participating in the process.

As I previously mentioned in an article published in July, the delivery of general governmental services (e.g. purchasing, information technology, code enforcement, records management, etc.) expends over 8 percent of the 2019 budget for the City of Niagara Falls. I am convinced that a collaborative approach to the delivery of governmental services by a larger group of municipalities could actually result in a permanent cost reduction of about $5 million for our city. Savings for the other municipalities would be proportionate to the average annual expenditures dedicated to such similar services in their communities.

I am convinced that a collaborative approach…could actually result in a permanent cost reduction of about $5 million.

Planning, economic development, and tourism promotion are three other areas that can realize cost savings through a collaborative approach to the delivery of these municipal services. Extending the stay of the typical tourist family is something that cannot be accomplished exclusively within the boundaries of Niagara Falls. Instead, the promotion of water-related tourism should involve input from every Niagara County community that borders on the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. The future expansion of the Discover Niagara Shuttle into central Niagara County is just one example of the effectiveness of the collaborative approach to governance.

The delivery of basic sanitation services throughout the western portion of Niagara County is another area where cost-efficiencies can be achieved. If Niagara Falls and its first-ring suburbs were to form a collaborative alliance in order to negotiate with waste disposal firms for the lowest cost for this service, what could be the potential annual savings for each community? How would waste disposal companies react when faced with a Request for Proposals offered by a consortium of at least four neighboring municipalities?

Please permit me the opportunity to state the obvious. In its 2019 city budget, deducting the transfer of approximately $10.4 million of casino revenue and $1.9 million of revenue from the Tourism Fund, the current administration proposes to spend almost $91.3 million for operating expenses and then off-setting this with only $79 million in recurring revenue. From what source will this administration secure $12.3 million in order to “balance” the budget for fiscal year 2020? This is not an issue that a “go-it-alone” mayor can effectively solve.

It’s time to stop repeating the same mistakes; it’s time to commit to new thinking in government. That’s real change and not more of the same.

Opinion: Standing Room Only

bob restaino for mayor of niagara falls

by Matt Cole

Read the original article here on Niagara Falls Reporter >

 

I’m 5th generation Niagara Falls. My family has lived here since the city incorporated in the 1800s. But, my work and travels in life have taken me far and wide. I have never been anywhere in the world, in any language, where people did not immediately know Niagara Falls.

When a deeper conversation does develop though – about our once great city – the question is always the same. Always.

“How could that happen? How is that possible?”

That a city with one of the greatest natural resources on Earth, on a major international border, with over 7 million tourists per year, could loose half of its population, become virtually unsafe to live in, financially insolvent, and teetering on the brink of bankruptcy?

How could that happen?

How is that possible?

The short answer – my default – is that a small group of people have profited for decades off of the demise of a city.

The outgoing Administrations did not alone create this problem. But, they damn sure didn’t do anything to fix it either. They came into office 12 years ago with nearly a $7 million a year surplus. I’m not talking about casino money either. I’m talking about the money the city makes conducting its day to day affairs.

Every.

Single.

Penny. Has been squandered. And, we are instead handing the next Administration a multi-million dollar per year deficit.

“The outgoing Administrations did not alone create this problem. But, they damn sure didn’t do anything to fix it either.

We are handing them a sinking ship.

It’s one hell of a mess.

So, what do we do?

One of the people I look up to the most tells me on a regular basis that “everything happens for a reason”. My response is always the same,

“I don’t know. I just don’t know.”

I’ve been involved in a number of political campaigns. A fact that drives my poor mother completely insane.

Every political season I see the same thing. A bunch of rats – usually with their pockets full – scurrying from a sinking ship.

Red vs blue, black vs white, one religion vs the other… and they’re all just polishing the brass on the Titanic.

The city is dying. We got here because – for decades – corrupt people used the resources of this city purely to secure and maintain their own power. And, while that was happening, good men did nothing.

This is not the doom and gloom you think it is though. This time there is hope.

One guy in this picture isn’t like the others. Truth be told, he’s in this boat on accident. He wasn’t even supposed to be here, right now. Or was he?

Maybe everything happens for a reason.

For 6 months, he has been saying the same thing and shouting it from the rooftops.

Stop. Fighting. Each other.

The ship is sinking.

It doesn’t matter what side you’re on.

It is going to take all of us, from all parties, from all colors, from all faiths, from all neighborhoods and nearby towns to save this city.

These are not my words, I’m just a guy with a pen.

These are the words of Bob Restaino.

I have listened while he has delivered this same message in both black and white communities, in both affluent and poor neighborhoods, to immigrant families and those that have been here 5 generations. His message has not changed.

Unity. We will get out of this mess together. And, I believe he is the one to lead the way.

I’ve been to two of his events, as a guest. Both times they were at the two biggest halls in the city. Both times they were packed wall to wall. Standing room only.

So, I spent time with him and his team to find out why this is.

Unity. We will get out of this mess together.”

The long of the short is he’s a really smart guy. Smart enough to figure us a way out of this mess. But, that’s not the thing of it.

The thing of it is this. The loyalty I’ve seen him receive from the people around him -young and old- is like nothing I’ve experienced before in the political process. Every time I’ve seen the guy, he’s had an army of people with him and they’re all there -by choice- working for free.

Why? What inspires that kind of loyalty?

The more I’ve gotten to know him, the more I have realize this message of unity is real. He’s never wavered on it. Never changed his tune to fit the group he was talking to.

I pushed his team several times to let me buy him lunch to get me some one on one time for my article. In my experience politicians never turn down a free meal. Every time the answer was the same, “he’s out walking door to door”.

Not one to be turned away easily, I finally said “Fine. I’ll work for him for free for the day. I’ll walk with Bob.”

However, this was not the quick ‘show your face in the neighborhood’ that I had expected. Honestly, I’m 20 years younger than him and I went home that night absolutely exhausted, while he went off to another meeting.

I’ve been around plenty of politicians that can really talk. This might be the first time, however, that I walked with one who can really listen. At every door, to every resident, in every neighborhood. He listened.

I’ll say again, his message of unity is real. But I found that being the smartest guy in the room was not the reason for the overwhelming loyalty from his army.

It’s because he’s the hardest working guy in the room. I found that out the hard way.

One – now retired – employee of his perhaps put it best “Working for Bob Restaino is not a free ride. You’ll be expected to work. But, you can plan on him being the first one in and the last one out. He could very well become the greatest Mayor this city has ever had.”

After 30 years of neglect, that’s exactly what this city needs.

Election Day is November 5th. Unity.

Restoring Trust in Government

restoring trust in government, robert restaino

Restoring Trust in Government

As I continue to present my platform of collaborative government, I will focus on the necessary elements of this concept that are critical for its success. In my last article, I explained why a genuine sense of “community” was the first element necessary to be developed in a collaborative approach to government. As mayor, I pledge to end the “go-it-alone” and “us-against-them” style of governing that has traditionally characterized past administrations.

The next critical element necessary for the success of a process of collaborative governing is “trust.” When trust in city government breaks down, the administration’s supporters run for cover; employee morale disintegrates; investors look elsewhere for their projects; but, most importantly, residents lose their civic resolve. I think it’s fair to say that the lack of trust in City Hall has resulted in a level of citizen resentment and cynicism that discourages civic involvement.

Trust must be earned, but it can be lost very easily. When trust is lost it takes a very long time to earn it back. Reckless use of both capital and human resources is one way local government destroys trust among the various constituencies essential for its support and success. Trust in City Hall will be regained when residents, employees, the business community, and other public officials are convinced the mayor is really listening to their concerns and is making a sincere effort to effectively address those issues most important to them.

Building trust in city government is a straightforward process. Simply stated a mayor must be perceived as someone who is trustworthy.

Building trust requires two-way communication with all stakeholders who expect leadership from the mayor’s office. Two-way communication requires the mayor to honestly listen to recommendations for modifications in policies and programs, and for the mayor to disclose all of the factors that will impact his decisions. Anything less reinforces distrust.

To facilitate two-way communication, it is essential for the mayor to have a wide range of personal and professional experiences. As a life-long resident of Niagara Falls I have had those critical experiences that have well prepared me for a leadership role in government. As a member of the Board of Education I have been focused on developing policies and programs that are intended to provide educational advancement for our children and, hopefully, result in their becoming productive citizens. As an attorney in private practice for over 30 years I know how to listen to a person’s concerns for justice and help fashion a resolution to conflict.

Building trust in city government is a straightforward process. Simply stated a mayor must be perceived as someone who is trustworthy. The mayor must demonstrate by his actions that he will do exactly what he promised to do. The mayor must be viewed as someone who shares the traditional values of his “community” and who will protect them regardless of the personal consequences for him. Basically, the mayor must demonstrate that he knows what is right and that he will act accordingly.

Assuming risk is the nature of true leadership. A mayor will never be able to convince a private developer to risk investing in this city if that mayor hasn’t demonstrated himself to be a person who does things for the right reasons. A public official who makes promises and then constantly insists that those promises were fulfilled, but has a documented voting record that proves otherwise will not earn anyone’s trust.

The residents of Niagara Falls deserve a mayor who has demonstrated the political will to address problems head on and with the conviction to do what is necessary to resolve the issue.

The residents of Niagara Falls deserve a mayor with the conviction to do what is necessary to resolve the issue.

A Restaino administration will build trust in local government through transparency and responsiveness. Constructive criticism will be addressed rationally and with civility. When challenges arise, my administration will respond quickly and directly providing a factual basis for the particular response. It’s not enough for city government to be transparent in how it spends taxpayer dollars. To establish trust, my administration will disclose the financial impact of its spending of public funds.

To establish trust in my proposal for collaborative government it will be necessary for me to provide evidence of the real cost-effectiveness of shared services to town public officials and the leaders of county government. Instead of always turning inward to address the challenges of governing I will ask town and county decision makers to join with me in constructing a regional approach to the delivery of basic services.

No matter what reforms my administration would attempt to undertake, renewing trust in the effectiveness of city government will be impossible without demonstrating a strong sense of purpose that Niagara Falls intends to work for progress in our city, and throughout Niagara County. It will require disciplined leadership and demonstrating that collaborative government will produce tangible benefits for this city and our suburban neighbors. The Restaino administration will do a better job of showing that smart government begins in City Hall.

Continue the Struggle or Throw in the Towel?

One persistent question that is often debated by the under-40 year old generation in many communities just like Niagara Falls is simply:  “Is it time to move?” Conventional wisdom seems to imply that if the jobs are more plentiful and the quality of life more appealing somewhere else then the answer is to leave. Last summer President Trump even endorsed this strategy when he stated that economics would dictate that Americans were “going to have to start moving” from the nation’s struggling cities and places like Upstate New York. President Trump emphasized this last July, when he said: “I’m going to explain you can leave. It’s okay,”

In the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s chemical, carbon, and paper manufacturing provided living wage jobs for the adult population of Niagara Falls.  Even though in a state of decline, the aircraft industry dominated by Bell Aircraft was still providing great jobs. Tourism was a seasonal endeavor for those who desired to be self-employed. However, due to the development of new technologies, the increasing cost of operating very old production facilities, and severe recessions the economic stability of Niagara Falls collapsed.

What was the strategy developed by City Hall to deal with this economic decline?  What was usually offered to entice the companies to stay? Property tax abatements, I.D.A. loans, and the promise of more low-cost hydro-power provided a temporary fix, but the inevitable still occurred. The strategy coming from City Hall was shortsighted and a reliance on what had always worked in the past. Rather than looking for ways to save the “old” industries, City Hall should have challenged itself to find ways to bring new jobs based on new technologies to Niagara Falls. Rather than looking to save one company that formerly employed hundreds of people, City Hall should have been offering inducements to five or six companies that employed 50 people each.

Where was the economic development strategy that capitalized on the cross-border commerce existing between the Province of Ontario and the State of New York, commercial activity estimated at over $30 billion annually! Where was the planning that focused on capturing some of the logistics firms that supported this cross-border economic activity? Where was the collaboration with government leaders in Erie County designed to lure some of the health care related firms that would “spin-off” from Buffalo’s enormous medical campus? This lack of vision has led to 1 out of 4 of our city residents living at or below the federal poverty level and 46% of our children under 6 years of age living in poverty, with no ability in the current administration to focus on expanding our local economy.

Over 30 years ago, the leaders at City Hall developed a waterfront revitalization plan that recommended the removal of the Robert Moses Parkway as the principal way of opening up the vistas of the Niagara Gorge and creating a new dynamic for the tourism industry. As was the case with so many planning studies for Niagara Falls, this one found its place on a shelf and the case for removal was barely made. Where was the advocacy from City Hall with the governor and state legislature? Where was the political will to advance competing arguments to the continued maintenance of this ill-conceived roadway? Instead the local leadership was bought off with a form of gambling that denied this community a real share of the financial gain from that enterprise.

My candidacy for mayor is based on the notion that the political and social capital exerted by Niagara Falls, its immediate suburbs, and Niagara County can be a force that transforms the economy of the western portion of our county first; then advancing that growth throughout the county. Yes, removing the parkway is finally underway, but the collaborative effort of Niagara Falls and its neighbors will be what is needed to make sure that the development of environmental tourism is done right. And the leader of this advocacy must be the mayor of Niagara Falls.

So when the millions of tourists who annually visit the Falls are finished walking around the state park, the opportunity for these people to access the gorge must be in place.  The development of the infrastructure to get these visitors safely and efficiently in and out of the gorge will be the responsibility of a variety of state government entities. And the individual making sure that everything is in place for this new economy will be the mayor of Niagara Falls.  The mayor will be the one to clearly explain the concept of where this city is headed.

My first job as mayor will be to rebuild the trust that must exist between the people of Niagara Falls and City Hall.  Trust is the essential ingredient that makes communities thrive and convince people it’s worth getting involved in civic life.  When communities thrive socially and culturally, then the economy follows. Developers will risk investing in a city because they know its leadership is focused and won’t change the rules of the game during the course of the project or to suit preferred parties, persons or groups.

It all comes down to the central question of my campaign:  “Who is best prepared to govern?”

Our School District Efforts to Combat Poverty

education issues niagara falls ny, robert restaino

As we close out the 2018 – 2019 school year, I have been reflecting on all of the programs the Niagara Falls City School District (NFCSD) has to give our students every opportunity to succeed and lead productive lives once their school days are over. Many of our pupils whose families are struggling financially need the helping hand and guidance we provide.

The poverty statistics for our school-aged children are alarming. Overall, 41% of students enrolled in the Niagara Falls City School District live at or below the poverty line. Fifty-five percent of our elementary students, 38.5% of our prep school students and 39.3% of our high school students are living in financially challenged households. It’s an uphill battle to break the cycle and lift these youths out of poverty.

We don’t shy away from that battle. We start with our youngest pupils – three-year-olds in pre-Kindergarten – and grow programs for them. In February we expanded our PreK 3 program at Niagara Street, Kalfas and GJ Mann elementary schools. Children from disadvantaged families are given first preference for enrollment to help them gain necessary school readiness skills they may not be exposed to in daily life. NFCSD preschool classes significantly decrease the achievement gap that can leave low-income children at a disadvantage.

The Reading Recovery Program is producing extraordinary results for our first graders who are having difficulty learning to read and write. Reading Recovery is provided for the lowest achieving students, English as a second language children, children with low language skills, poor motor coordination, or those lacking maturity and readiness skills. There are no exceptions – all students displaying these traits will become part of Reading Recovery. The program’s success has been exceptional. Students who could barely write letters leave the program writing full words and full sentences. An early start to success in education means an improved opportunity for these children to escape the cycle of poverty.

As our students mature, the District introduces programs to fight the poverty battle by training prep school students to work in the “real world.” The District’s very popular F-Bites program is run by Niagara Falls native Bobby Anderson who was a contestant on the TV show “Hell’s Kitchen.” He instills a strong work ethic in program participants as they learn culinary techniques that could lead to future employment. An astonishing 85% of participants who have graduated from F-Bites are employed or enrolled in higher education.

High school seniors will benefit from the District’s proposed Career and Technical Education (CTE) project-based learning experience. CTE provides internships and externships for hands on learning in the “real world” to create career and college ready students. CTE provides coursework and on-the-job training to develop skills that can lead to successful and lucrative jobs that do not require a college education. Participants who grew up in financially challenged households are prepared to work and they stand an excellent chance of climbing out of poverty.

We are not pleased with the number of NFCSD students who live in poverty. What we must do is take action. The programs mentioned here represent just a few of the creative solutions the District is developing to produce students who become contributing members of their families and society. Poverty is a problem we all need to address, whenever you can volunteer for a program, lend a helping hand and become part of our fight against poverty.

The Root of the Problem

Restaino for Mayor Niagara County

In recent days our city has experienced an increase in criminal activity all throughout the city. City Hall politicians have rushed to suggest all sorts of solutions just so they can be part of the story. None of the comments have taken account of the dismal financial situation of the city and how that situation contributes to the problem and can block or prevent viable solutions.

Rather than engage in the same nonsense, I chose to speak with law enforcement professionals, the men and women trained in the tactics and techniques necessary to fight the current crime issue. Not surprisingly, I found that these professionals are prepared and have a plan.

I chose to speak with law enforcement professionals. Not surprisingly, these professionals are prepared and have a plan.

While it’s one thing to say crime statistics show a decrease in city crime, it is quite another to ignore the fact that, at this moment, the sense of safety in the city is challenged. Nevertheless, as I said before and will repeat, Niagara Falls is not the crime capital of the world – even if some City Hall politicians want to disagree or criticize me.

This week the city will announce the new 311 system for Niagara Falls, this will allow residents to find out about services, make a complaint or report other city issues. While this is a worthwhile endeavor it will not address the current problem, as some have suggested.

In addition, it fails to address the fact that our city work force, across all departments, has been reduced due to a failure to practice fiscal responsibility and foster growth in our economy. This fiscal neglect has given rise to many of the problems we face today.

As all of the City hall politicians are trying to grab a headline at the expense of the city, they are all ignoring the more difficult problem, one that is both profound and pervasive in our city, a problem that is at the core of so much that impacts Niagara Falls. With 1 out of 4 people in the city living at or below the poverty level and with 55% of our children 5 years of age and under living in poverty we simply cannot allow the failure to grow the economy to continue.

The problem of poverty in our city impacts so much of our current difficulties and yet no one wants to address attacking poverty. That is why throughout my campaign I have repeatedly called for the need to expand our business opportunities and job creation. This requires cooperative efforts, as I have said, with the County of Niagara and our neighboring towns. What we don’t need are more obstacles and schemes to make it harder to do business in Niagara Falls.

Until we can deliver jobs and business growth we will continue to struggle.

While it is true that our law enforcement personnel are faced with a current spike in criminal activity that they need to address for the sake of all of us, and I am confident they will do so. But let’s remember that until we can deliver jobs and business growth we will continue to struggle.

It is easy to fall victim to the “industry of poverty” after all it doesn’t take any effort and it certainly doesn’t challenge City Hall politicians.

If we really want to save and rebuild our city, so we can keep our city safe, fix our roads and protect our neighborhoods then we need to focus on growing our economy and increasing job opportunities.

As I have said, Niagara Falls hasn’t failed, it just has not been given a chance to succeed, join me in the effort and let’s work together to make Niagara Falls a city in which we can all be proud.

Development is Critical to the Future of Niagara Falls

Author: Bob Restaino

Development is Critical to the Future of Niagara Falls

Following are Bob’s complete thoughts on the issue of development in this election.

Our city has a history of focusing ALL of its resources on only one economic development area. Decades ago the city concentrated on the heavy industrial base that had grown along Buffalo Avenue and failed to put any emphasis on tourism development, as a consequence we lost valuable time in that competitive market.

Now in an effort to “make up time” great energy and focus is on trying to build up tourism development; however, truly lacking a comprehensive approach to building the family tourist experience. Sometime ago there was great excitement with the state announcement of “Wonder Falls”, and nearly five years later we are still waiting for any sign of delivery on the attraction.

Yet other opportunities brought forward by private businesses have been discarded because we were told that “having more items one major attraction won’t work.” Perhaps someone should tell that to Orlando, Florida or even our Canadian neighbors to name a few areas.

While we need to continue our efforts to bring attractions to our downtown tourist area, we can’t neglect other business development that can deliver employment with wages that can allow families to afford to purchase a home and help stabilize neighborhoods. A recent report revealed the following about Niagara Falls:

  • 22% of Niagara falls residents live on incomes below the poverty level;
  • The population of Niagara Falls has declined 9% while the population living in poverty has increased 2%;
  • 56% of all jobs in Niagara Falls are classified as sales, service or clerical and unemployment in Niagara Falls is consistently higher than the Western New York average.

With all that our area has to offer these statistics cannot and should not be acceptable! Today’s industries – technology, health care and logistics, to name a few, need to be prioritized and aggressively sought to locate here. Niagara Falls has all that these industries need to locate in our city but we need to go after these opportunities and not wait for business to find us.

We cannot and should not settle for the explanation that Niagara Falls is not good enough, big enough or any other excuse that diminishes the value of Niagara Falls.

We cannot and should not settle for the explanation that Niagara Falls is not good enough, big enough or any other excuse that diminishes the value of Niagara Falls.

Our commitment to business growth, which is an integral part of establishing financial stability, will require City Hall to breakdown and remove barriers to business development. Reasonable, consistent requirements applied uniformly and designed to encourage business development will change the impression that Niagara Falls is a “tough place to do business.”

Penalties and fees are not long term revenue sources and have a negative impact on the image of the community as a place to bring your business. To be sure we need to emphasize that development is safe and reasonable; and enforcement in this regard is necessary, but it must be done by those who have the necessary skills, training, and/or licensing to speak to business developers in the first instance not harass them once they are here.

A regional approach to business development can expand the opportunities for Niagara Falls and lead to economic growth and a more stable fiscal climate for our city. Niagara Falls, historically, has been a city strategically located for cross border business development, which has not changed.

Furthermore, with an expanding bi-national economy with nearly 3 million people living within a 2 hour drive of Niagara Falls/Town of Niagara and bilateral trade between New York State and Canada estimated at over $30 billion per year, our city needs to create opportunities that take advantage of the assets we possess. Today’s industries (healthcare, life sciences, technology, transportation service/logistics) are the greatest cross border economic opportunities available and, by acting regionally, Niagara Falls can elevate itself as a market for these new emerging business opportunities and the jobs they create.

Currently there are over 700 Canadian-owned companies operating in New York State and the number continues to grow year after year. These companies are currently responsible for nearly 73,000 jobs throughout New York State.

It just seems obvious that Niagara Falls, in conjunction with its neighboring communities, should aggressively pursue these opportunities as part of a broader economic strategy.

Niagara Falls will always be a place synonymous with tourist entertainment – from daredevils in barrels to wire walkers. Nevertheless, with a quarter of the city living at or below the federal poverty level we need to provide employment opportunities that can lift people out of poverty. As mayor I will be committed to this economic development growth.

Niagara Falls has always had so much to offer. Working with our neighboring communities to expand the economic opportunities for all of us is just a better way to grow our local economy, provide jobs, giving people hope for the future, and bringing stability to our city finances. I know we can work together to make Niagara Falls better.

Collaborative Government and the Future of Niagara Falls

Author: Bob Restaino

Collaborative Government and the Future of Niagara Falls

Following are Bob’s complete thoughts on the issue of collaborative government in this election.

In recent years we have all watched as government officials, at every level of government, fail to collaborate with one another because of political affiliations or vendettas. Niagara Falls has seen its share of City Hall officials that fail to work with governmental partners and neighboring towns to the detriment of city taxpayers.

For too long we have seen city officials ignore opportunities to collaborate with other levels of government because of petty political differences between elected officials or because of City Hall’s desire to maintain control over a project from start to finish. For too long now Niagara Falls has cut itself off from the rest of the county, and City Hall has placed the burden on all of us to support its antiquated view of how local government should function.

For decades, Niagara Falls has separated itself from its neighbors either unable or unwilling to cooperate in projects because of political bickering — and now pushing the city to the brink of fiscal disaster.

As your mayor, I can assure you that this petty political nonsense will not interfere with decisions our city will need to bring back fiscal stability.

As your mayor, I can assure you that this petty political nonsense will not interfere with decisions our city will need to bring back fiscal stability.

We live in an extremely competitive economic environment and it is terribly short sighted to neglect opportunities to maximize our resources through collaborative engagement with Niagara County, the Niagara Falls School District, the Niagara Falls Housing Authority, the Niagara Falls Water Board and the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission.

Earlier in 2018, a fellow member of the Niagara Falls School Board asked that we convene a joint session of the School Board and the City Council to discuss the issues of mutual importance to both. At that meeting I requested our administrative staff, under the direction of our School Superintendent, to work with their respective counterparts in City Hall to find areas where we could work together in service delivery to city taxpayers and I requested monthly updates on our progress. Unfortunately, to date no progress has been made, despite the fact that school district personnel have presented possible alternatives.

Also while the school district has provided funding for additional safety officers to be stationed in our schools, adding to the level of city law enforcement, that isn’t a cost saving cooperative government project but rather a purchase of services by one city government entity from another. With a bit of ingenuity and trust we can make changes to the way we deliver services in our city while helping to avoid duplication of effort and expense.

Regions that are expanding and developing have learned the lesson that working together we can achieve more than simply “going it alone.” By advancing opportunities to work collaboratively with these governmental agencies, we can provide cost effective government.

Working with our neighboring communities, we can establish meaningful opportunities for development and job creation for the greater Niagara Falls region. By cooperating with our neighboring localities and governmental partners, Niagara Falls can lead the growth of Western Niagara County.

To achieve this goal, we will need to commit ourselves to rejecting the old days of political division and recognize that there isn’t a Republican answer or a Democrat answer, there is only the right answer for Niagara Falls.

This will require a mayor who can put the partisanship “on the shelf” for the benefit of the residents of Niagara Falls. A mayor that has proven a willingness to work with and for all individuals regardless of political party. In my private practice and public service, I have measured my commitment not by political affiliation of the person or group but rather by what is right or by the good that it will bring to the community.

I can assure you as the mayor of Niagara Falls, I will continue to assess efforts to improve our community on those same terms and work toward bringing growth and prosperity to our City. So many of the challenges the city faces today, are a product of government that elevates politics over progress.

In order to bring the change we need it’s important to focus on a better way to govern.Working together with our neighboring communities and government partners we can set a new course for Niagara Falls, I know that I am committed to that task and ready to bring a brighter future to our city.

City Hall Budgeting – A New Version of the “Gambler’s Ruin”

Author: Bob Restaino

City Hall Budgeting – A New Version of the “Gambler’s Ruin”

Following are Bob’s complete thoughts on the issue of budget in this election.

In the random process of wins and losses, the longer a person gambles, the greater the chance of going broke. Also, starting out with limited resources almost guarantees that gambling will result in financial ruin.

Consequently, for anyone in the current administration at City Hall to suggest that the city’s financial woes are the sole result of the loss of the local share of casino revenue is simply ludicrous.

Over the past several years, Niagara Falls has suffered from poor financial management, which has brought us to the desperate situation so prominent in the 2019 budget deliberations. Since 2008, City Hall has used over $90 million in casino funds and $25 million in reserves to pay for basic city services. From 2012 to 2017 expenses have exceeded budgeted revenues in 5 out of 6 years (the only year that was not the case was the settlement of the first State-Seneca dispute).

The City’s recurring deficit has resulted in the downgrading of our bond rating, and independent audits have exposed serious deficiencies in the ability of City Hall to manage resources effectively and efficiently.

As auditors identify fiscal mismanagement within certain departments, City Hall continues to care little for how such departmental behavior impacts us all. Each year we face a budget crisis with threats of draconian cuts to services, tax increases or poorly explained fees for services: Services for which we also pay taxes.

During my time on the Niagara Falls School Board, I have pushed for new sources of revenue to be used for the improvement and repair of our buildings and properties; revenue sources that do not tax residents. Working with the other board members, I have been successful in bringing this idea to reality.

As I worked collaboratively with other board members, the Niagara Falls School District has been successful in strengthening its financial position and earning an upgrade in the school district bond rating.

The school district exists in the same financial environment as city government and the school district has been able to achieve this stability; so it can be done.

The school district exists in the same financial environment as city government and the school district has been able to achieve this stability; so it can be done.

There is a better way to administer government and I have participated, with my fellow board members, in showing our community a better way.

As mayor, management of the budget would begin on my first day in office and every day of my term. It isn’t prudent to avoid a review of the city budget until the time comes to discuss the budget for the next year, and it is even less effective to do it without involving the other elected officials in the process. These are not election year ideas.

In 2014, I presented some ideas for better fiscal/budget management such as, monthly city budget reviews and council committees to bring all of the elected officials into the process earlier to develop a solid financial plan for our city government. This would require an honest discussion among all of the elected officials to determine the best fiscal course; something that does not seem to currently happen in City Hall.

Whether it’s petty politics, lack of respect for others opinions or just plain incompetence, Niagara Falls cannot withstand any further mismanagement and wasteful spending. There are many missed opportunities to direct federal, state and local revenues to benefit our community and not just for those projects that provide political advantages.

In my time working with the NYS Office of the Medicaid Inspector General (OMIG), I was charged with finding wasteful and fraudulent spending practices by Medicaid service providers. During my service at OMIG I uncovered over $3 million in waste and fraud. I was able to do it then, and I will bring that effort to City Hall.

For once, Niagara Falls should have leadership that understands the value of balancing revenues and expenses. I have not been a full-time political appointee for my entire work career. In fact, I have maintained my professional law practice in Niagara Falls since 1986, and I know how important it is to maximize revenue and control expenses. I recognize that it is important to pay attention to this every day in order to have a profitable business.

Are there future policy implications from these past years of budgeting that “gambled” on the continuation of casino dollars? Should we just throw up our hands and let our city fail?

I recognize that in the future the city faces some hard choices. I have had to confront hard choices in the past and have been successful in getting through it. I can promise you that as mayor of our city I will be committed to listening to all segments of our community. It’s what I have been trained to do. Together I know we can find the brighter future we all are hoping for Niagara Falls.

Transparency and the Future of Niagara Falls

Author: Bob Restaino

Transparency and the Future of Niagara Falls

Following are Bob’s complete thoughts on the issue of transparency in this election.

Today we hear so many people talking about “transparency,” whether in government, business or other institutions. It seems that everyone either claims that they have it, or that more of it is necessary.

We live in a world today where there are very few secrets; technology, social media and the 24 hour “news” cycles have put that to rest. But is transparency just talking about things openly or is it being honest about the things we openly talk about? Transparency presumes candor, clarity, openness, honesty and accountability.

Do these qualities reflect the culture of City Hall or are we dealing with the “spin” of a story or worse, less than full disclosure?

Just look at the recent history of the current administration in the presentation of the garbage tote program or more recently, the garbage user fee. In both instances, there was a failure to be clear and straightforward with the public. Either through ignorance or fear, City Hall did not provide full disclosure to the public which lead to mistrust and a disregard for the concerns of the public.

In order to have true transparency City Hall needs a mayor who is not afraid to engage in a free flow of information with the City Council, department heads, city employees and, especially, the residents of the city.

When this openness is valued and encouraged by the mayor, demonstrating the mayor’s belief in the value of public opinion, department heads will become willing to rethink the most basic assumptions on how their departments should operate. When constructive dissent is valued by the mayor a more effective level of decision making is the reward.

Currently there is a cohesive group of “insiders” in this administration who act with a sense of entitlement and superiority since they “know” something that everyone else doesn’t. This culture has been institutionalized as a privilege of rank within City Hall.

While the group pays lip service to public participation in programming and budgeting, a sense of entitlement convinces this group to believe that their decisions are flawless. They govern believing that they can do no wrong and the public should be happy to blindly follow their “enlightened decisions.” This City Hall ethos has put us in the precarious financial situation we face and is as far from transparent as one could get.

Critical to true transparency and a good civic relationship are clarity and straightforward communication about what’s really going on in City Hall. How was it that last fall the NYS Comptroller designated Niagara Falls as one of only three NYS cities to receive his highest crisis designation of “significant fiscal stress” and yet members of this administration tell us that we are enjoying great progress and wonderful success?

Being honest and accountable are indispensable to transparency. Our city needs a mayor who is prepared to face the challenges that lie ahead; having an open conversation with the public; and ready to confront situations which may come with some personal cost. I understand this experience and have endured and overcome the consequences. As mayor I am prepared to meet the fiscal challenges that confront the City, but not alone or with a group of “insiders” who will not speak truth to power.

Within our community, I believe there is a real need to restore the public’s trust in and respect for city government. The public wants to believe that the decisions made at City Hall are not based on a secret agenda that reflect a particular special interest, but, rather, the decision being proposed is in the best interest of the entire community.

Do you feel that the recent proposal to enact a garbage user fee was developed with the opportunity for department heads to voice an opposing point of view? Was there an opportunity for public input prior to the policy being put in front of the City Council?

I believe the organizational culture currently prevailing within City Hall is characterized by denial and self-deception. Some have criticized the current administration as being too reactive rather than proactive. I believe the tendency at City Hall has been to wait for Albany to provide our city with its latest “bail out.” My vision as mayor would be to construct a collaborative system of government founded on strong working relationships with our first-ring suburbs, Niagara County, and area business groups so that Niagara Falls can demonstrate to Albany that it has the talent to solve its own problems

Restoring the public’s trust and respect for city government will not be easy. It will take an honest, candid conversation with government officials, public employees, business people, labor leaders and city residents. It will take listening to new ideas, re-evaluating current systems and accepting constructive critique. It will take opening communication with all levels of government and with our Native American neighbors. If we can do this we can get Niagara Falls back on track. If we can do this we will truly achieve transparency in City Hall.

I think we can, and as mayor I would be committed to the task, and with your help reset city government for a successful future.