Niagara Gazette — The city council is ready to forgive the $25,000 bill that Nik Wallenda has yet to pay and they have told Mayor Paul Dyster to do the same.
The council passed a resolution by a vote of 4-1 directing the mayor to stop efforts to collect the debt from "Nik Wallenda or anyone else," that the city has presented to the aerialist for police and fire overtime related to the wire walk.
City council member Glenn Choolokian described the pursuit of the debt as "embarrassing" for the city.” He said that the city doesn't charge the promoters of other events — such as the Hard Rock concert series and last year's holiday market — for police overtime and that he doesn't see how the June 15 event was any different.
"This is no different from any other event if someone else had it," Choolokian said.
Working overtime surrounding events is routine for the police department, Choolokian said, and that the money used for the Wallenda event was part of the regular police and overtime budget.
"They have to provide traffic safety and whatever," he said. "That's their job."
Dyster continues to say that, as he understands it, the city is legally bound to collect the debt in the same way that it is legally bound to foreclose on the home of someone who has not paid their taxes.
"We often have to collect on things for the city of Niagara Falls that we don't want to," Dyster said.
The mayor said that he has never faced a situation where the council has compelled the executive branch to not collect on a debt and was unsure of the legal ramifications of such a resolution.
"Maybe it would be useful to get an opinion from the state comptroller's office," Dyster said. "It's a very unique situation."
In regards to the Hard Rock concert series Dyster said that the city is a co-sponsor of the event and the police overtime is part of that sponsorship.
"No one ever came to the city of Niagara Falls to ask us to be a sponsor," he said of the Wallenda walk.
Dyster hopes that the bad publicity stemming from the dispute — the New York Times and the Associated Press have followed up on the story — won't prevent Wallenda from having a relationship with the city. He hopes to talk with Wallenda directly some time soon, he said.
"I really enjoyed the time I spent with Nik Wallenda," Dyster said. "I think he's a warm and genuine person. I know he said some things that were not too flattering about me but I don't have a bad word to say about him."
Council member Kristen Grandinetti was the only member to vote no to the resolution. She thinks that to forgive the debt makes Niagara Falls look desperate.
"It says to people outside of the community that we are desperate, and that people can walk all over us," she said.
Further, Grandinetti said the city needs to continue to work toward implementing new ideas, such as community development's new housing incentive program, to make real strides in economic development. Too often the city has been looking for a silver bullet solution.
"We have to start uplifting what's already here in the community and doing it piece by piece, bit by bit," Grandinetti said.
Grandinetti pointed to some of the small steps forward that the city has been taking — the culinary center, the Rapids Theater — as the sort of incremental changes that will work to turn the city around, One event can't make Niagara Falls into a new place, she said.
"We've been waiting for that silver bullet for 40 years."