Lawsuits Involving Tax Dollars Should Not Be Kept Secret
by Paul Wolf - posted 6:13 pm, August 1, 2014
Several years ago DiPizio Construction was hired by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC)to complete $20 million dollars of work at Canalside in downtown Buffalo. DiPizio Construction was fired in July 2013 for work not being completed on time, “deficient work” and failure to perform the work “in a good and workmanlike manner”. DiPizio disputes the basis for ending their contract and filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court. DiPizio claimed that delays in completing the job on time were caused by the state. DiPizio alleges in their lawsuit which is an interesting read, that ECHDC officials did not want them to receive the $20 million contract as another contractor was preferred. Dipizio claims that ECHDC officials spoke with them about withdrawing their low bid and when the company refused to do so ECHDC made things difficult for them and terminated their contract for bogus reasons.
Supreme Court Justice Timothy Walker rendered a decision agreeing with DiPizio that delays were caused by Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation. The Court ruling also determined that there were not any issues as far as the quality of DiPizio’s work. Taxpayers have paid $350,000 as of October 30, 2013 to cover the cost of Erie Canal Harbor Corp.’s attorneys. The meter is still running as far as taxpayer costs for legal fees.
DiPizio Construction has also filed a defamation lawsuit alleging that the improper termination of their contract has hurt the firm’s good reputation. The lawsuit has been filed against Sam Hoyt the regional president of the state Empire Development Corporation, Thomas Dee President of ECHDC and Mark Smith the Director of Construction for ECHDC individually and not as state officials. Hoyt, Dee and Smith filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which was denied. Although the trio are being sued individually, taxpayers are paying for their legal fees to defend the defamation lawsuit.
As part of their lawsuit DiPizio has conducted depositions of Hoyt, Dee and Smith. At the videotaped depositions Hoyt and Dee answered questions under oath regarding their actions. As reported by Channel 4 News, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation has obtained a temporary restraining order to keep the video depositions secret. A further hearing is scheduled for Tuesday August 5, 2014.
Lawsuits involving tax dollars should not be kept secret. The public has an absolute right to know the sworn testimony of public officials regarding a publicly funded project. Hopefully Supreme Court Justice Timothy Walker will rule in favor of the public having the right to see the videotaped depositions of Hoyt, Dee and Smith, especially since the public is also paying for their legal fees!
A transcript of Sam Hoyt’s court testimony in the contract termination lawsuit, which is interesting can be viewed here. It is always interesting to see people in political positions explain how decisions are made and who has authority to make decisions. Former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra’s name comes up as well. It seems that Giambra is involved in many projects behind the scenes.
Just as this transcript is available for the public to see, the videotaped depositions of the defamation lawsuit should be made available to the public as well.