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Stopped at the bridge Niagara Falls crossing commissioners decide to hide reasons and costs

Maybe they should call it the Niagara Falls Drawbridge Commission.

When the people of New York and Ontario ask a perfectly legitimate question about how their millions of dollars a year in tolls are spent, or misspent, the trolls in charge of the three crucial bridges that span U.S.-Canada river crossings in Niagara County have a tendency to pull up their drawbridge and lower the gate.

Boiling oil poured from the ramparts may be next.

This despite the fact that the New York State official in charge of open records has clearly opined, based on a stark act of Congress, that the dealings of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission are indeed open to public perusal under the terms of the New York Freedom of Information Act.

State Sen. George Maziarz, who cannot be the only one to wonder, has asked the members of the bridge commission for the circumstances -- and costs -- of the departure of their former executive director, Thomas E. Garlock.

With no official word on the subject, people concerned about the operation of the Rainbow Bridge, Whirlpool Rapids Bridge and Lewiston-Queenston Bridge have been left to wonder whether Garlock quit in July or was fired, why he left, and whether or not he walked away with a substantial severance package rumored, Maziarz said, to be worth several years' salary and health benefits for life.

Instead of answering the questions, which would have been right, or politely declining to answer, which would have been merely wrong, commission members have gone out of their way to nastily deny that the matter is any of anyone's business, which is disgraceful.

Maziarz's first inquiry was rejected with a crude handwritten note from commissioner Thomas G. Pryce dismissing a public official's public request for public information as "crap."

Pryce also accused Maziarz of "playing dumb," saying he knows the information he is seeking and just wants to play to the election-year mob by being seen trying to drag it out of them. If so, the commissioner could call the senator's bluff by just answering his questions.

Even if the letter of the law could be parsed to deny people easy access to all of the commission's affairs, the spirit of the law could not be so tortured.

The bridge commission is a creation of two governments, with members appointed by the governor of one and the premier of the other. It also oversees a function that is as important to the economic and cultural life of the area as any other public function.

It is the people's business, it is their duty, to oversee commission operations and to satisfy themselves that its affairs are being run in a way that maximizes efficiency, minimizes cost and ensures safe and sane stewardship for three key links in the region's transportation chain.

If the members of the commission don't see it that way, it should be high on the list for Gov. David A. Paterson and Premier Dalton McGuinty to appoint some new ones.

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