There is plenty of blame to go around after the release of an audit by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office in regard to the city of Dunkirk's questionable spending of $1 million in federal funds over a more than four-year period.
On Tuesday, DiNapoli's office publicly released one of the worst-kept secrets to come out of City Hall. Officials - past and present - knew the hammer was coming. It gives Dunkirk another black eye in terms of how it operates - and it demonstrates how city officials ignored what was happening with the Dunkirk Local Development Corp. for far too long.
A standard answer from elected leaders in recent years was that council did not have any control over the DLDC. But if that is the case, then why is the DLDC housed in city buildings? Why is it a Dunkirk entity where the mayor is the chief executive officer? And, why do those employed to DLDC positions answer to council members?
Council members did have a responsibility.
Those city officials, we might add, were warned more than once about troubles ahead. They never heeded those signals, however, as they were too busy taking credit for false progress.
Consider these comments from longtime Dunkirk watchdog Phil Julian on Aug. 15, 2010, in a commentary to the OBSERVER: "Let's consider the recent spending pattern in the city. One million dollars for the Boardwalk, $1.8 million for the Crocker Sprague building, $50,000 for the Flickinger building (previously sold for $1), $173,000 for the Memorial Park project (including $43,500 in overtime expense), and $762,000 for the Bertges and Stefan properties. Yes, we know that some of the investment came from state and county sources but we also know that when you find yourself getting deeper into a hole the first thing to do is 'stop digging' but city leaders just keep spending. Let's also be clear about one thing. Money from the state and county is public money. It's tax dollars coming from you and me."
In case you have missed it - and city leaders have ignored it - there is not a lot of private investment taking place. Get rid of DLDC purchases and efforts from federal and state dollars, and you are stuck with a Dunkirk that has made about as much progress in the last 10 years as the hamster that runs on a wheel daily in its cage.
What has become bigger during that time, however, is city government.
As population decreased over the past half-century, the reach of the city leaders - through its budget, employees, agencies and departments - has grown. When government gets bigger, its accountability lessens since it is relied on by so many who live here to make things happen.
Those land purchases - and buildings - in the audit were a dose of hope. Not enough people in Dunkirk during that time cared about how it happened or how money the city had access to was spent. They just knew it was optimism.
The process, however, enabled government even more as residents spoke up less and asked fewer questions. Ultimately, this damaging cycle discouraged what was once a more transparent process leading to a depressed economy.
That is exactly where we stand in Dunkirk - and the rest of Western New York.