In big, bold, stop-the-press-size font the headline at the top of today's front page of the Daily News reads: Mall merchants vote to sue city. Sure, that may be accurate, but that "vote" came about two months ago. Hardly worth the quart of ink used to splash it across today's paper as if it were commandment number eleven... just announced. That being said, reporter Joanne Beck does a fine job in the article of clearing up a few ambiguities about the raging debate over the mall, its sign, its merchants and the city's fed-uppness with all of the above—all the while raising a few more questions in the process.
Beck spoke with Mitchell Chess, Charlie Mallow and Jason Molino in the article. Chess and Mallow have made frequent contributions to The Batavian on the topic this week, and most of what they say to Beck was already reported first-hand by them here. As for the city manager, Beck must have the sweet touch, because I can't get him to return any of my messages—I've left several with him and his office this week.
Here are a few highlights from her conversations:
"The merchants have sued twice before and they won," (said Chess). "We're going to win. We decided to sue after the last meeting. We're trying to take the high ground here. Every time we try to do that, (City Council President Charlie Mallow) comes in with ... broad, general statements without any basis. We've told our attorey it has to be filed before the next council meeting."
Mallow is then quoted later in the article as saying that "he felt the group was going to sue all along," and he no longer plans to shop at the mall. "Anyone who sues the city is suing me personally, and suing my neighbor and my kids," he tells Beck.
As for the controversy over the mall sign, Chess tells Beck that, in fact, the mall did own the original sign, and the city had promised—though never in writing—to replace it. Further, he says, the city already set aside $20,000 in the budget to do just that.
Given that fact, Chess wants to know why the purchase has now become an issue for council's vote.
City Manager Jason Molino said the matter would not have had to go to vote. But a request made by Councilman Bob Bialkowski for a mall update during last month's meeting seemed to resurrect the sign as a question instead of a done deal.
Those who have kept with our coverage of this issue know that we're pretty clear in thinking that Bialkowski should recuse himself from the upcoming vote on that sign, and yesterday's editorial in the Daily News said the same. Nevertheless, I can't understand the logic here. Why does Bialkowski's request for a "mall update" equate to a resurrection of "the sign as a question instead of a done deal"? Maybe the problem is simply in the wording, I don't know.
Beck then tackles the claim made in one of Mallow's letters to the editor that said the mall merchants "want the taxpayers to put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the mall and then for the city to sell it to them for $1." Chess counters that, claiming that the idea didn't originated with the mall merchants, rather it was raised by the city in negotiations.
Molino couldn't confirm or deny that, he said, since the conversation was likely a few years ago.
Who can confirm or deny it? We're trying to find out.