A city councilman who has criticized spending at the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. wants the city to consider canceling its contract with the nonprofit organization if it fails to follow through on promises to tighten up its spending practices.
Councilman Sam Fruscione called the organization "cavalier" in its spending on travel and entertainment and said he plans to ask an attorney who works for the Council to review the contracts and state laws that created the organization.
Meanwhile, Mayor Paul A. Dyster, who represents the city on the NTCC board, criticized the board's chairman for failing to provide a written, line-by-line response explaining expenses flagged by private accountants who reviewed the agency's spending.
"I understand some of the concerns on the part of NTCC staff and the chairman about what information gets released about the competitive aspects of the program," Dyster said. "But again, from the perspective of an elected official, just given the nature of some of the expenditures, there has to be additional information provided. I think it's just common sense."
The city on Wednesday released a report by a private accounting firm, The Bonadio Group, hired to examine NTCC expense reports for 2008 and 2009. The report revealed details of spending for travel and entertainment that the nonprofit organization had previously refused to release.
Among the items in the report was that the NTCC mistakenly gave its chief executive, John Percy, a $25,000 annual bonus in 2008 that should have been $11,812 and that the publicly funded tourism marketing agency has spent liberally on dinners, hotels, air fare and cell phone service.
NTCC board members, who were given a draft copy of the report before it was released, met last week to discuss the NTCC's response. Dyster, who was on vacation when the meeting took place, did not attend.
On Thursday, Dyster released a three-page written statement calling the NTCC's response "inadequate."
"I do not want this episode to damage the tourism industry, the people who work in it, or the NTCC as an institution, and the NTCC must never allow itself to become politicized," Dyster wrote. "But as an elected official, I feel it is my duty under the circumstances to use my presence on the board to try to ensure greater accountability for the use of public funds."
NTCC Chairman Frank Strangio said Friday he had tried to reach out to the mayor but had not yet been able to reach him to address his concerns.
"We definitely want the mayor to be on board," Strangio said, "and his questions to be answered."
Strangio, who has defended the spending, said the NTCC board members are focused on improving the organization.
Percy and Strangio responded to questions from The Buffalo News about detailed spending items, but did not include written explanations in the NTCC's response to the city.
Several board members said the group discussed the report and measures that have been taken or are in the process of being taken to address financial oversight.
Niagara County Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, who represents Niagara County on the NTCC board, said the organization is focused on five or six items to better report and control its finances, including developing a policies and procedures manual that has never been in place before.