BY MIKE HUDSON
It’s politics as usual at the City Hall of Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster.
That’s the charge of Rick Smith, who has served on the city Planning Board for the past nine years, six as its chairman. Smith ran for city Council in November on a platform critical of the Dyster administration.
He was particularly critical of the way nearly $200 million in casino revenue had been spent here.
“There are many, many things that need to be fixed in our town,” Smith wrote in a Niagara Falls Reporter op-ed that appeared in August. “The biggest of the issues are the way casino funds are spent, the garbage totes and the frozen water pipes. I feel we need a separate budget for the casino funds and they should be allocated for the most important items that need to be fixed in the city.”
Last week, his name failed to appear on a list of Planning Board appointments.
“I believe it’s all political,” Smith said. “I’ve never missed a meeting in nine years. I ran for city council and I didn’t back Dyster — with my record, what else could it be?”
City Council Chairman Andrew Touma – whose cousin, Craig Touma, has served as Dyster’s campaign manager, said politics had nothing to do with the decision to oust Smith.
“That wasn’t a consideration,” Touma said. “The mayor is not involved in the appointment of the committees, it’s purely the council members and we came to a consensus together.”
After serving in the US Army from 1966-1969, Smith returned to Niagara Falls and went to work for Niagara Mohawk. He worked there from 1969 until 1996, when he had to retire due to back surgeries. Since then, he has been involved with the block club movement, the Planning Board and other areas of community service.
Today, he walks with a cane and suffers from mesothelioma, an aggressive form of lung cancer that has been linked to asbestos exposure.
The Dyster administration has gotten into trouble before in matters involving age discrimination, and should Smith decide to pursue legal action he might just have a case.
Remarks by Council members about wanting “fresh blood” and the importance of “turnover” to cover up purely political personnel decisions benefit no one, particularly a dedicated public servant like Smith.
This article was originally published in The Niagara Falls Reporter.