By EAST AURORA EDITOR (3/16/2008 6:06:04 PM)
This article is not an endorsement for any candidate, rather it is intended to bring transparency to your village government. It is clear that because of the political favoritism, political pressure, and lack of communication on the part of our leaders, our village has wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past 4 years. Our budget is now $7,000,000 which is over $2,000,000 greater than it was when our current mayor took office. This is even though we no longer have to support the sewer, the building department, the courts, or the code enforcement officer. Expenditures for salaried workers in the village has virtually doubled instead of been reduced through promised consolidation. The fact is our budget should have gone down over that same period of time. Instead, East Aurora is being sold to the highest bidder. That is the highest bidder to our elected official's campaign coffers.
In The Beginning
Six years ago, an ambitious new trustee decided to run for mayor of East Aurora and took on twenty year incumbent John Pagliaccio. David J. DiPietro won that election and it was the end of one era and the start of another. It was also became what was to be a dramatic shift in village elections.
The High Cost of Running in East Aurora
No longer would someone with good ideas and a couple of coffee fundraisers be able to have a realistic chance to become mayor. As an example, DiPietro spent $16,000 last year and over $21,000 this year to date. Few candidates can compete with that type of political machine. So far his opponent Clark Crook has spent only a little over $1,000 according to filings with the village office. Before DiPietro, the mayor race would typically cost a candidate a couple of thousand dollars.
The hidden cost of running
The Village Trustee races have remained affordable for most who want to run, however very few candidates are coming forward. This is reflected in the past two trustee races. Last year there were only three candidates for three seats. This year there are only four candidates for three seats. This coincides with the introduction of anonymous mailings full of lies or half truths attacking not only opponent positions, but their families as well. Not many are willing to risk being slandered like that. This is the second straight year that an anonymous mailing has been sent out from the DiPietro side attacking the mayoral opponent.
It is extremely disappointing that our current mayor is building fences, not bridges. He has made a habit of using polarizing issues like the Southside School and library as well as the Ice rink to his political advantage instead of trying to foster open and congenial communication between the two sides. In our opinion that is a mayoral duty and a critical part of the office. He realizes that the more division he can create in the community, the less likely people will think about all of the issues surrounding the village.
Ask someone who feels strongly about any of these issues. My guess is that they are so strong in their opinion one way or another, that they would never even consider the opposite viewpoint. If you're for the rink, you will vote for someone who says they support the rink. If you are against the Southside purchase, you will vote for someone who doesn't want it either. Leaders should be able to bring two sides together to communicate their thoughts openly as well as look for that common ground which is so critical for compromise.
Crook seems to understand this and the thing that he has promoted over and over about during this campaign is his commitment to bring the debate out of village hall and into the community where we can talk neighbor to neighbor instead of the three minutes allotted during village board meetings. In essence, he seems to want to bring cooperation and compromise to government and to the community. Sounds like a novel idea.
The first few years in office for DiPietro were tame in this area compared to today. Ever since DiPietro has decided to further his political career and run for the State Assembly, things changed. He now has made decisions based on what will further his political career instead of trying to look after our best interests. Look no further than in the area of political favoritism. After winning the last election along with his trustee running mates, basically capturing the majority on the village board, DiPietro removed everyone from appointed positions with his own people, people who are loyal to him and would be willing to help him get elected in the future.
Campaign Contributions - $2,000 investment can bring you $200,000 return
In what has to be one of the most egregious acts of putting politics ahead of the citizens of the village, look no further than the recent police contract that was negotiated with the Police Benevolent Association for the East Aurora Police Department.
Because of the lack of open and reasonable dialog between the mayor and the Police, we ended up spending close to $200,000 ($189,000) in attorney fees to negotiate and arbitrate a three year deal with the police. Let me put this into some context for you.
We requested (FOIL'd) the latest costs for police contract negotiation fees paid for outside legal help for all municipalities in Western New York outside of the city of Buffalo. Here is just a sample, however you will see that the largest amount spent outside of East Aurora was Orchard Park, which was a whopping $6,635. All others were free, that is they used internal employees like the town clerk or attorney. In East Aurora, for the 20 years prior to the DiPietro era, Pagliaccio's administration always did it in house and paid nothing to a third party.
|Village of East Aurora
||Sargent & Collins (Third Party) |
||Associated Labor Consultants (Third Party)|
||Salaried Clerk (In House)|
|Village of Hamburg
||Salaried Clerk (In House)|
||Uses Country Sheriff|
||Salaried Attorney (In House)|
|Village of Leroy
||Salaried Clerk (In House)|
Now for the most disappointing part, and the part that you as a taxpayer should be the most concerned about. Sargent & Collins has given two individual contributions of $1,000 to the campaign coffer of Mayor DiPietro. One through the law firm of Sargent & Collins (see here), and one from Nick Sargent himself just before the last mayoral election. This was a complete waste of close to $200,000 and all we got out of it was a three year deal that will expire shortly, and one that could have been negotiated neighbor to neghbor with just some open dialog just as it has been done throughout our entire history.
Now to make this matter completely odd, Sargent and Collins specializes in Personal Injury and Real Estate matters. (Visit their site) What kind of message does this send to potential vendors of the village? It will go to the highest bidder, not the highest bidder for services, but the highest bidder to the mayor's campaign fund.
Clough Harbor - $1,900 investment can return $60,000
During a village board meeting DiPietro hinted at things to come when he decided to award a contrac not to the lowest bidder, but to a contributor. "Mayor DiPietro made a motion to accept the engineering quote from Clough Harbor for the Olean Street drainage issue because it was more detailed than the lowest bid (TVGA $750.00)" ... From Village Board Meeting Minutes 11/28/2006.
Clough Harbor is also a significant campaign donor to the Mayor. The above passage was for a smaller amount and didn't get any press. However more recently, Clough Harbor donated $1,900 to the mayor's campaign with the latest donation being $1,000 in December. Note that DiPietro is "Friends of DiPietro" as well as "Brighter Future PAC" which is also strange. Here was their reward.
A grant for approximately $60,000 was made available to the village to perform an intermodal study as part of a Quality Community Grant. A team of five was formed to request proposals for the grant and they received and studied them all. There were two members from the Pedestrian Bicycle Board (PBB), Kim LaMarche, Matt Hoeh, Libby Weberg, a village trustee and Peggy Cooke who works for the Town of Aurora.
The group studied all proposals and came up with a ranking which would lead to a final recommendation to the village board. The group ranked Clark Patterson Lee first, Bergman and Associates second and Clough Harbor third. I spoke to members of the committee and the only reason Clough Harbor was even considered was at the request of Matt Hoeh who said he had worked with them in the past. Their proposal was considered by most as "boiler plate" and it seemed little effort was made on the proposal. Moreover they were not willing to work with the comittee during the process.
At the next village board meeting, John Newton, member of the PBB, explained in detail how they analyzed every proposal in detail and how they came to their recommendation. Later, Weberg made a motion for the board to approve Clark Patterson for the $60,000 project. She received no second (trustees Mercurio and Biggs were not present for the meeting). Deputy Mayor Pat McDonnell make a motion to approve Clough Harbor (the third place finisher) and the motion was approved with McDonnell, Morrale and Scheer voting for it. More often than not McDonnell, Scheer and Morrale vote as a block.
At a recent work session, you can see the mayor staunchly defending his campaign contributors although they spent almost the entire amount of a contract to help the village with the SEQRA process for the Riley Street location for the Ice Rink but never submitted any of the items that they promised in the contract. (See video of that exchange here)
So the message is loud and clear. If you want to do business with the village of East Aurora, be prepared to pay. Pay the mayor, that is.
Let's be clear. There is nothing illegal about getting campaign contributions from companies and then later give those companies large contracts with the Village. And it certainly was not illegal for Joel Giambra to do the same thing three years ago.
Main Street Reconstruction
There is no single more important issue right now then Main Street Reconstruction. Several Main Street businesses have recenly closed and the bleeding is expected to continue. Yes, Main Street is on life support. This was a perfect opportunity for the mayor to step up and communicate with local businesses and work on a plan to help keep them afloat during this difficult time. Instead, we are now just weeks away from shovels hitting the ground and our mayor has "placed a call" to his friend John Mills and everything will be fine. We have heard that before. Again, this is simply a well timed announcement that will do little to help the businesses. The right thing for the mayor to do would be to work directly with the business owners and come up with a comprehensive plan to help them somehow cope with the negative effect the construction will have to their business.
When DiPietro was elected last year, he removed anyone from an appointed position who he didn't consider "friendly" to his campaign or his policies. Included in this was removing Libby Weberg as the village board liason to the Reconstruction Task Force. DiPietro appointed himself to this position. Weberg had been going to every single meeting and was an active participant in the process, and communicated their progress with the rest of the board regularly. Even after she was removed from the liason role she continued to attend all of the meetings. DiPietro, even after appointing himself as the village liason, never attended these meetings. As the liason to the board responsible for communicating the progress and issues, you would probably want to be at the actual meetings.
Stay informed, stay positive, and don't let issues like the rink and the library divide our village. Build bridges, not fences.
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