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What direction does the city go?

This is the time for reflection and promise, and most importantly the time to let our voices be heard about the issues facing us here in the city of Dunkirk. Do we retain the status quo or vote change? Do we believe what we are hearing from the candidates, or do we challenge what is being said? There are some critical issues facing our city, not the least of which includes the NRG property, a privately owned piece of property. Let me be clear on this issue.

The property and plant known as NRG in the city of Dunkirk is privately owned. The owners of the property pay the city $135,000 annually in taxes. The current administration has partnered with the county, state, and the federal government (thanks to a grant received as a result of a competent director of planning and development) to look for options for repurposing the property. However, the decision as to what to do with the property is solely the responsibility of the owners – and the city, county, state or even the federal government cannot inflict their will on these owners.

So, when we hear the rhetoric about how important this property is to the city, it is only as important as the revenue the city receives each year – it is privately owned. Further, should the repurposing efforts be acceptable, there is currently a lack of personnel to handle the necessary activities required; that being a director of development. The paperwork alone for repurposing this property, should it be feasible and allowable by the private owners, would be extremely time-consuming requiring extensive time and energy – there is no such person in city hall at this time.

Just as the final decision as to what happens to the NRG property is not solely up to the city or its elected leaders, neither is the extension of the break wall that now exists from the NRG property and across the harbor.

The break wall is the responsibility of the Army Corps of Engineers; it is not however, on their current radar for expansion. The mayor and his previous planning directors have been in communication with our state and federal agencies in this regard and have been told that if we want to extend it, they will certainly approve it. However, again this project, in addition to costing millions of dollars on the city’s part, will require competent hands-on management by a qualified and experienced development director; and as of this past week, we don’t have said director.

These development issues, as well as other ongoing and future projects, require an experienced, hands-on and competent individual who is charged with the daily, short-term and long-term planning and development process management. Over the last two years the city has lost two highly qualified planning and development directors as well as an experienced candidate who withdrew his application after learning of the highly charged political climate of our city.

Economic development for our city, (which means jobs, growth, increased tax base resulting in reduced taxes for our residents) is of paramount importance. The current development projects that have been completed and are ongoing are the result of the actions of this mayor and his administration prior to 2020.

Political infighting and personal grudges have brought the city to a standstill. The recent statement published in the OBSERVER made by one of the candidates as his argument for election to the council was that he was experienced in the area of “hiring and firing employees.” Let me be clear, the staffing of city employees is clearly stated in the charter as that of the mayor. The members of the city council make up the legislative branch of our city government – they are not administrators of the daily operations of the city, nor are they the “hiring and firing” authorities. If this were to be the case it would require a charter change. It is that mindset of this candidate that has prevailed over the past two years.

The city of Dunkirk is not the village of Fredonia, and I don’t believe any of us want to be. There is a city charter which delineates duties and responsibilities as well as members of the mayor’s cabinet, it is our governing document.

When our elected legislators take it upon themselves to go around the charter guidelines and interfere with the daily operations of the city and its employees, (to include self-involvement in the hiring and firing process) we, the residents and voters are the ones who pay the price for these petty differences and personal prejudices.

Further evidence of this action taken by the council in 2020 is that our human resources department is understaffed and in need of a competent and professional director; the city is out of compliance with regard to required state and federal employee training programs. Members of our legislative branch need to legislate, and the mayor and his cabinet members need to work within the city’s guidelines as stated in the charter.

So, do we stay with the status quo or do we choose change? Vote!

Vicki Westling is a city of Dunkirk resident.

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