July 23, 2008

Cloud Over Niagara Falls Bridge Commission

Tom Prohaska has the story today about Tom Garlock leaving as general manager of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission. This is a story we heard late Monday but details have been very sketchy. Prohaska's article is also short on details as no one seems willing to talk.

Here's what some insiders have told us but we haven't been able to confirm. Garlock's contract was up and he asked for a big raise and did so rather arrogantly. The board balked and decided to replace him even though Tom wanted to negotiate down.

Supposedly, Tom said he was going public with a host of information about that could be embarrassing to the organization.

So, while the board didn't change its mind on Garlock, it did offer a tidy little severance package. The number we've heard is a quarter of a million dollars plus lifetime health insurance.

OK, you can pick your jaw up off the floor. Yes, a government agency may have just given away a quarter of a million of the public's money and a lifetime of benny's to its outgoing general manager.

Ladies and gentlemen, if this information is indeed confirmed....and given how coy Norma Higgs, the vice chairwoman of the Commission was being in the Prohaska article makes you suspect they want to keep this quiet...watch all hell break loose in the Comptroller's Office and the Attorney General's Office.


Anonymous said...

I would retire tomorrow if I knew I had health insurance for the rest of my life paid for by the bridge commission. I hope for Tom Garlock's sake, that is just a rumor. If not, his legacy will be that of a two-bit crook.

Anonymous said...

That's pretty sick. Chalk up some more debt for NYS

fawn leibowitz said...

This is indicative of the lack of oversight with regards to these commissions and authorities. Haven't all of the current Amercian commissioners been appointed based upon the recommendation of Francine Del Monte? If they did indeed give this type of severance package, they all need to be relieved of their duties immediately.

Frank DeGeorge said...

Let's not try to pin this on Francine DelMonte. She may have recommended people, but their actions on their own and they are responsible to the governor. I believe we need to get all the facts on this before we start the lynch mob.

Now, having said that, a severance package of this type from a government agency is a complete insult and calls into question the oversight of the agency and quite frankly whether or not they are still needed.

Larry S said...

Norma Higgs, Patrick Brown
Thomas Pryce & Diane Vitello are the American Commisioners according to the bridge commission website. A virtual who's who of Niagara County Democratic pols. It says that they're appointed by the Guv. No doubt with a recommendation from Del Monte.

Frank DeGeorge said...

Larry and others, why are you hung up on DelMonte? Fine, she recommended some people, that's the way it works.

But shouldn't these people then be judged on the merits of their actions as opposed to who appointed them?

And again, I stress that if they indeed did give out this huge bonus package,Governor Paterson should immediately replace the American commissioners.

Anonymous said...

With the exception of that moron Rivera, the Dems are pretty smart: they play the victim and talk about the Republican "machine" and get people to buy into it, but the reality is that the DEMS are the "machine" and they are rolling over this county with their new found patronage mill provided by our new Governor. Where the hell is our local media on this issue?

eadie said...

1) What does the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission actually do?

2) Who are they accountable to?

3) Where does all that toll money go?

4) Why are they giving our money away?

Anonymous said...

Q. "What does the NFBC actually do?"

A. They are charged with the maintenance and operation of the Rainbow, Lewiston-Queenston, and Whirlpool bridges.

Q. "Who are they accountable to?"

Short Answer. No one.

Long Answer. Because it is considered an international commission (4 canadian commissioners, and 4 American commissioners) it is not subject to New York State or US laws (Freedom of information, Open meeting laws, etc.) that a normal public authority would be subject to. The NYS Comptroller's Office has absolutely no oversight power. In fact a few years ago the NFBC "allowed" the Comptroller's Office to come in and start to perform an audit after some public outcry. When the audit got to intrusive for NFBC management they kicked the auditors out.

Q. "Where does all the toll money go?"

A. The NFBC is supposed to be a self sustaining organization that takes no tax money (although a toll could certainly be considered a tax, and operates and maintains the bridges solely on revenue collected from commuters. However, just get off of the Lewiston 190 exit and take a look at the mamoth structure that they call an office, and you tell me if you think they ae spending toll money wisely.

Q. "Why are they giving our money away?"

A. This is nothing new. The NFBC has been handing out money to differnet civic and government organizations for years (Beautification projects, money to ocal municipalities to join the Buffalo Niagara Partnership), all while they ahve consistently raised toll rates at the bridge crossings. If their task is solely to operate and maintain the three bridges, what business do they have handing out money to any other organizations? This has been a cess pool for a long time. People are always focusing on the Thruway Authority, meanwhile this organization has been allowed to operate in the shadows.

eadie said...

Thank you to the last anonymous poster for bringing providing clarity. Your answers actually make the Garlock giveaway look even worse as this is not just one bad incident but rather an institutional problem.

And if they are sitting on so much money, use it to improve the infrastructure at the crossings to move people and goods faster rather than build yourself a Taj Mahal headquarters.

Turk 182 said...

I read Prohaska's article this morning and didn't think much more about it until I read this blog. Then I went back and reread the article and whooooo, this Higgs lady is trying purposely to avoid providing any information at all to the public. We don't know if he was fired or resigned, we don't the reason for whatever the decision was and we don't know about any good buy gifts. And this is a public institution!!!!

I hope Prohaska asks the tough follow up questiion becuase I smell a rat.

Anonymous said...

The terms of Mr. Garlock's contract (including a severence package) were part of negotiations that took place several years ago with a completely different board of commissioners.

Anonymous said...

Hobbes, once again I'd love to know how you get your hands on this info that the mainstream media can't get. And much of your stuff seems to come from Dems as well as GOPs. Keep it coming....I can't wait til the rest of the facts come out on this.

Anonymous said...

Anon regarding Garlock's contract. It's my understanding his contract had expired so there was no need for a severance.

Anonymous said...

Then why did they give him two years salary? Obviously to shut him up.

Anonymous said...

i want to know why the working employees of the nfbc have to go without a raise for 8 plus years, while garlock gets a golden parachute.what is going on there. it's always the worker that gets pissed on.

Anonymous said...

that makes the last 2 gm's left like this, INVESTIGATE, INVESTIGATE ! it's the poor travelin publics money who pays for such mismanagement & have a right to know.

Anonymous said...

Investigate, Investigate?

Who will perform the investigation? I agree with your basic premise, that this commission desperately needs oversight, and agressive oversight. However, there is currently NO agency that has any oversight authority. They (government or any other agencies) cannot even legally require a basic financial audit!! The commission meets in secret because they are not subject to open meeting laws.

I challenge any blogger to attempt to ask for any basic financial information (budget, annual financial report) through a FOIL request, and see what answer you will get.

If anyone attempts to make a FOIL request, even for the most basic information, you will receive a letter from the General Manager denying your request on the basis that the Commission is not subject to the Freedom of Information Laws.

Honestly, Hobbes, I think the subject of the NFBC is worth a follow up post. Do me a favor and try to file a FOIL request for their budget, and do a follow up post to let everyone know the response you get.

The NFBC has to be among the top ten most secretive and slimy quasi government organizations across North America.

This must be changed. How can an organization charged with the maintenance and operation of our public infrastructure not be subject to any type of reporting requirements?

Anonymous said...

TURK 182 Said:

"This Higgs lady is purposely trying to avoid providing any information at all to the public".


This is not surprising at all. This is not Norma Higgs's first go around with the Bridge Commission. She was a Cuomo appointee back in the 90's, and she also is the chair of the Niagara Beautification committee.

See if you can find some articles about the NFBC paying for $35,000 worth of beautification projects at the Niagara Falls School District (they paid for a bunch of flowers).

You should be able to find something since the NFBC handed out this money for something totally unrealted to their purpose, and at the same time raising their toll rates.

Do you think Mrs. Higgs might have had something to do with the NFBC handing out this money?

I also wonder what qualifications Mrs. Higgs has that would deem her appropriate to serve on a commission that oversees three international bridges.

Maybe she's actually a bridge engineer in her time away from the Niagara Falls Beautification committee.