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NT grad's military experiences profiled

Air Force Airman David J. Moir, a 2007 graduate of North Tonawanda High School, was the subject of a feature story published today on the website of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing.

Read the story here.

--Aaron Besecker

Questions remain in Pasquantino case

   We here at The Buffalo News have been puzzled by the decision of the Niagara Falls School Board to allow Jeffrey B. Pasquantino to resign since it was made in January.

   As details continue to emerge about Pasquantino's double-dipping work days during several of his 28 years on the job, we believe that our early concerns -- and considerable reporting -- were warranted.

   Freelance writer Caitlin Murray was covering the district when the Pasquantino story broke, and was key in developing information that led to the first major story on the case last Sunday in The News.

   A private investigators' report was the basis of Pasquantino's departure. The School Board voted Jan. 14 to accept his resignation.

   But Murray quickly learned that the investigative report contained information damaging enough to suggest it should have cost the school district maintenance worker his job, and maybe more.

   We had several big questions.

   Why let a worker quit when it seemed clear there was ample evidence to fire him? Wouldn't firing Pasquantino send a much stronger message to him, other employees and the public?

   Pasquantino didn't operate in a vacuum. Where were his supervisors when he was clocked in, but off the job? Why didn't they catch him?

   Who else was aware of what was going on?

   Pasquantino was a union president who would have been in contact with district leaders. Was it possible he did any of his small contracting work during school hours at their homes?

   We immediately set about trying to get a copy of the PROBE investigative report, which by this time we knew also was in the hands of Niagara County District Attorney Michael J. Violante, of Niagara Falls. (Violante said in a one-sentence statement he ended his investigation when Pasquantino quit.)

   Murray continued to work her sources and tried to urge James A. Schiro, the city resident who commissioned the investigative report, to give us a copy. He would not, expressing concern that it could negatively impact the job of a family member who works in the district.

   So News Niagara Reporter Aaron Besecker filed requests with the school district and the DA's office under the federal Freedom of Information Law seeking a copy of the report.

   The school district and DA's office refused the first request, but Besecker filed appeals. On April 13, the Niagara County Attorney's office provided us with a copy that blacked out most, but not all, of the addresses where Pasquantino was seen working.

   Using that report, we were able to determine that Cataract Elementary School Principal Maria Chille-Zafuto was among those who had work done on her house. Besecker visited the school in the days before last weekend's story, and Chille-Zafuto told her at least a dozen other school officials had work done, too.

   Besecker also has asked other top administrators during the last week and a half if Pasquantino did work on their properties. Former Superintendent Carmen A. Granto has told us yes, though he believes it all was on Pasquantino's days off or vacation time. Former President Robert J. Kazeangin Jr. and board member Don J. King are among those who have told us no.

   Excellent reporting by Besecker in the fall of 2008, following a scathing audit of district financing by the state comptroller's office, helped The News to break today's story on the Pasquantino matter. Under the FOI law, he gathered district payroll information for stories at that time.

   That story raises new questions about Pasquantino's salary and payments the district made to him during the same years when private investigators were following him, unbeknownst to Pasquantino or district officials.

   Caitlin Murray stopped freelancing for The News several weeks ago. We miss her, and are grateful for her work.

   Meanwhile, we will continue to dig for answers in the Pasquantino matter.

   And it seems there is a big question remaining for those in the law enforcement community.

   Did something illegal happen here, and, if it did, why hasn't more been done about it?

-- News Niagara Editor Scott Scanlon

Greenway projects in Buffalo, Niagara County endorsed

1812garden for web
Christopher Brown of Buffalo looks over a historical informational display during a ceremony on Sunday to dedicate the First U.S. War of 1812  Bicentennial Peace Garden, at 269 Dearborn St. in Buffalo. A new proposal for the neighborhood, which calls for a multi-purpose trail, has been endorsed by the Niagara River Greenway Commission. (Charles Lewis / Buffalo News)

Eight projects have received the endorsement of the Niagara River Greenway Commission, a move that opens the door to millions in available funding.

The commission tabled one project -- a proposed dog park in Lewiston -- when it met Tuesday.

Once a project is endorsed by the commission, the applicant can make a request to any of the several standing committees which control $9 million in annual funding specifically for Greenway projects.

The Greenway Commission authored a 2008 master plan for a series of interconnected parks, trails and green spaces along the Niagara River from Buffalo to Youngstown.

Here are the projects that were endorsed Tuesday, though the vote tallys of the commission were not immediately available:

War of 1812 Trail in Black Rock - Buffalo
The proposal calls for a the development of a multi-purpose trail highlighting spots of historic significance to the War of 1812 in Buffalo's Black Rock neighborhood. The project, which would include sites on Niagara, Amherst, Hamilton and Dearborn streets, has a total budget of $115,000, according to the organization's application. The project is a collaboration between the Black Rock Riverside Good Neighbor Planning Alliance, the Dearborn Street Community Association, the Northwest Buffalo Community Association and the City of Buffalo. Read the full proposal here.

Education and Interpretive Center at Joseph Davis State Park - Lewiston
A $195,000 project to improve avian habitat in the state park in Lewiston, as well as build interpretive facilities on the site. It is a collaboration between Audubon New York, the state parks office and the Buffalo Audubon Society. Click here to read the full proposal.

Comfort station at Fort Niagara State Park soccer field - Youngstown
The state parks office wants to build a new comfort station that is closer to the playing fields and that will be open year-round. The estimated cost for the project is $560,000, according to the agency's application. Here's the full proposal.

Comfort station at Four Mile Creek State Park - Porter
State parks officials want to replace an existing comfort station at a total estimated cost of $540,000, according to the agency's application. Read the full proposal here.

Kiwanis Park improvements - Lewiston
Town officials want to install a new safety surface on the ground, add a multi-use court, separate park equipment based on ages of users, and make the park compliant with the American's with Disabilities Act. Total estimated cost for the project for the park on Oxbow Lane is $240,275, according to the town's application. Read the full proposal here.

Sanborn streetscape improvements
Town of Lewiston officials want to build 5,700 linear feet of sidewalk on Saunders Settlement Road and Buffalo Street in Sanborn. The project's estimated cost is $323,799, according to the town's application. Click here for the full proposal.

Sanborn Area Historical Society expansion

The organization wants to build a 5,000-square-foot building that will include a museum and artifact display area, according to the group's application. The $260,000 project will make improvements for bus and emergency entrances, as well as make the complex compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Here's the full proposal.

Village of Lewiston Historic Piper Law Office

The village moved the historic building across Center Street into Academy Park last year. Officials are looking for $54,000 to renovate the building to open a welcome center. Read the full proposal here.

Here's the project that was tabled:

Town of Lewiston dog park
Town officials have proposed creating an off-leash dog park on 1.3 acres at the Lewiston Plateau. The total cost of the project would be $51,500, including costs for fencing, landscaping and amenities. There will be separate sections of the park for big and small dogs, according to the town's application. Annual maintenance will be paid for by the town. Click here to read the full proposal.

--Aaron Besecker

'A lot of work to do' in Niagara Falls

Christopher J. Schoepflin, president of USA Niagara Development Corp., the state's economic development agency in Niagara Falls, spoke last Thursday to The Buffalo News Editorial Board about a range of issues that touch on redevelopment of Niagara Falls.

News Publisher Stanford Lipsey, Editorial Page Editor Michael N. Vogel, Niagara Editor Scott Scanlon and Editorial Writer Dawn Bracely asked the questions.

Listen to an extended audio clip of the discussion here:

USA Niagara mostly has focused on the "low-hanging fruit" since it set up in Niagara Falls several years ago, Schoepflin said, pointing to one bigger recent project: the demolition of the Wintergarden and recently completed improvements along Old Falls Street, which now connects Niagara Falls State Park to the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel.

The next big project is the Niagara County Community College culinary institute.

Schoepflin said the state has invested roughly $100 million in Niagara Falls during the last decade but that the city easily could use $1 billion or more in new investment during the next couple of decades. He predicted it will be up to private investors from the region to bolster the city economy during the next several years as the national and world economy rebounds from the recession.

"We're at the end of the beginning of the process of turning it around," he said, "but we've still got a lot of work to do."

Former Lew-Port board member out of legal options

Stepien scott mug A former Lewiston-Porter School Board member has run out of options in his legal battle that stemmed from being removed from the board three years ago.

A federal judge today dismissed an appeal from Scott A. Stepien, who claimed his constitutional rights were violated when he was was taken off the board for failing to complete a financial oversight course.

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara tossed out the suit in an order issued after Scott A. Stepien failed to appear for arguments on Monday.

Stepien was appealing a decision issued in February by Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott, who ruled Stepien had failed to prove other board members and attorneys were acting outside their official roles when they removed him. Stepien was later reinstated to his board seat by the state Education Department.

Stepien objected to Scott's ruling in a March 22 letter to Arcara.

--Aaron Besecker