We at Niagara Times have never attempted to portray this site as some hard-hitting news source, just a site to stimulate some discussion, good or bad, right or wrong, on various topics of interest. We are periodically able to break a news story which the mainstream media then picks up and runs with, and we're okay with that. We've also from time to time been critical of various local media outlets for what appears to be their willingness to "create" news as opposed to searching for and reporting the news. That being said, we are astonished by what appears, at least on the surface, to be the lack of acknowledgement of a glaring problem.
Making barely a blip on the media radar recently has been a story related to the tentative awarding of a New York State Thruway Authority contract to Niagara Majestic Tours, a Niagara Falls-based company that offers travel arrangement, tour and non-tour transportation services.
With the awarding of the contract, Majestic Tours will staff the Angola and Clarence information centers. It will be the first time in roughly three decades that a private company will staff the centers. Majestic will also be in charge of selling hotel stays and tour packages on commission to tourists who stop at the public information booths.
The award has raised some concerns among the hospitality industry because a private company beat out both the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. and the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau, public entities that would be less likely to steer business to certain customers, as a private company may.
However, as problematic as these aspects may be, the heart is the issue lies in the fact that the President & CEO of Niagara Majestic Tours is Doreen O'Connor. What seems to have slipped through the media cracks is the fact that Doreen O'Connor is married to Sean O'Connor, a Niagara County Legislator, and an employee of Majestic Tours. According to the Department of State Division of Corporation Entity Information website, the business is listed out of the same address as the O'Connor home.
Sure, someone is going to make the argument that it's her company and he just works for her, and the business just happens to be run out of their home. But we have a county legislator with strong ties to a business entity that is competing against a county agency, and the wife of a county legislator, who as we all know is getting taxpayer-funded lifetime health insurance from the same county, competing against a county agency.
Now, we are not begrudging anyone the opportunity to make a living. But these awards were made based off of a bid process. Would a county legislator be in a position to know what a county agency is going to bid, then outbid that agency?
Maybe everything is legitimate, but it simply looks bad. We'd encourage the Thruway Authority to take a second look at this award to confirm that no inside information was used to obtain the award and to examine Mr. O'Connor's role in Majestic Tours. Otherwise, it looks questionable at best.