The recent developments surrounding the state's long secret contract with the Maid of the Mist Corp. and its owner James Glynn may spill over on the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission, if state Sen. George Maziarz has anything to say about it.
"There are some things that can't survive having some sunshine," he said. "The cases are similar, because they involve state agencies using their bi-national status with Canada as an excuse to break the state's laws regarding open meetings and public access to documents."
Last week, Maziarz submitted a legal brief on behalf of county Legislators Danny Sklarski and John Ceretto in their federal lawsuit against the Bridge Commission. The suit seeks to compel the commission to produce information relating to the resignation and severance package of former general manager Thomas Garlock, who left the organization in July 2008.
"As I have been saying for a year and a half, the public has a right to know what happened," Maziarz said. "In this day and age, the Bridge Commission must open its books and be accountable to the people of Western New York."
Maziarz has previously requested the information relating to Garlock's departure from the Bridge Commission. Although the New York State Committee on Open Government has determined that the Bridge Commission is subject to the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), each request was rebuffed.
"The Bridge Commission continues to defy the law by withholding this information," he said. "What are they trying to hide?"
Sources with knowledge of Garlock's abrupt departure said he received a large settlement that included lifetime health benefits at public expense.
In his legal brief, Maziarz stated, "Everyone but the Commission seems to understand that the days of backroom negotiations and secret deals are over. ... If the Commission can resist disclosure of such basic and readily available information, then it will never deem itself subject to oversight for any aspect of its operations by the toll-paying public and their elected representatives."
In the Maid of the Mist case, FOIL requests for the tour boat pact made by the Niagara Falls Reporter and other media outlets were similarly rebuffed. It wasn't until Reporter columnist Frank Parlato obtained copies of both the New York and Ontario contracts with the Maid of the Mist that the gory details first became public.
In New York, readers were astounded to learn that the complex mathematical formula contained in the contract actually resulted in the tour boat company being paid by the state, while those on the Ontario side of the river were appalled by the paltry returns they were seeing.
That led to the Ontario Parliament rescinding its contract, and demanding it be put out for public bidding. New York state is expected to follow suit, and for the first time in 38 years, the Maid of the Mist Corp. may lose the iron grip it has had on the region's premier tourist attraction.
Representatives from other companies -- like Ripleys and Alcatraz Media -- have told the Reporter they'll definitely be bidding on the contract, saying they could provide better service and a far better return for the people of Ontario and New York.