On September 7 2018, Rochester’s NBC affliate WHEC-TV aired a segment featuring the results of an investigation into the cost of the new Finger Lakes Welcome Center on Geneva’s lakefront. In the segment, NYS Exposed: Contracts expose costs of FLX Welcome Center; $1,014 for a 10” frame, FOIL requests by reporters revealed the surprisingly large price tags of some of the upgrades at the center, including over $6,000 for two rest room signs and $3,000 for two smaller “Community Room” signs.
WHEC has also filed more FOIL requests.
News10NBC has filed additional FOIL requests with the City of Geneva to review the remaining contracts which should include costs for the flooring (which has a map of the Finger Lakes region etched on it) the bar, the interior and exterior furniture, the waterfall, the interior chandeliers which are made out of glass bottles, the “I Love NY” signage and the exterior playground.
The Finger Lakes Welcome Center cost state taxpayers $5 million.
The general contractor for the project, Massa Construction, was paid more than $2.4 million by the city of Geneva for the Welcome Center project.
City’s Response To FOIL Request
In June 2018, a FOIL request was sent by Geneva Believer to the City of Geneva requesting specific information related to the bid process for all contracts awarded to Massa Construction since 2008.
The following documents related to the Finger Lakes Welcome Center were requested:
- All submitted bids, by all companies, including bid amounts and the exact dates those bids were received by the City of Geneva for the Welcome Center project.
- List of total payments from the City of Geneva to Massa Construction for the Welcome Center project.
- The budget amount on the original contract for the Welcome Center project.
The following documents related to the Finger Lakes Welcome Center were released by the city of Geneva:
2. List of total payments from the City of Geneva to Massa Construction for the Welcome Center.
The city stated that they were only able to “partially” provide the records related to the FOIL request because “some records could not be found after a diligent search.”
One year after a $2.4 million contract was awarded to Massa Construction, the City of Geneva said they could not find any documentation of the bid process or the amount of the final contract with Massa.
Even if they’re using the most basic record-keeping practices, the city should be able to produce documentation showing when each bid was received, the bid amounts, and the contract with the full amount budgeted for completion of the project, especially considering the bid process took place just over one year ago.
In an April 2018 piece in the Finger Lakes Times, city comptroller Adam Blowers provided the bid amounts and names of the companies who submitted bids for the Welcome Center contract, but two months later, the city was unable to find any documentation to support Blowers’ statements.
Finger Lakes Times Defends Massa/City Relationship
When the Finger Lakes Times Editorial Board makes a statement, it reflects the position of the newspaper. We expect an editorial board to provide us with factual information alongside the publication’s official point of view. There’s a level of legitimacy and importance attached when the hometown paper of record stands up and gives their informed opinion on controversial matters of government.
On June 3, less then two months after questions about Massa’s relationship with the city were addressed in the Finger Lakes Times, the paper published an editorial addressing the situation entitled “Let’s welcome the FLX Welcome Center.”
In the first sentence of the editorial, residents who question the seemingly unusual number of city contracts awarded to Massa Construction are characterized by the Editorial Board as a “contingent” who are “skeptical of just about anything local government does” who can be found on social media.
“There’s a certain contingent of people in any community that is skeptical of just about anything the local government does.
There are plenty of them in Geneva. Just look at any social media page.”
The Editorial Board goes on to refer to people who are asking questions about the Massa/City of Geneva relationship as “doubters” and “cynics” who should simply visit the Welcome Center to alleviate those concerns. The Editorial Board also unfairly implies that the residents who question the Massa/City of Geneva relationship actually believe that the Finger Lakes Welcome Center is a “bad thing.”
“And when it was learned that Geneva’s Massa Construction got the lucrative contract to transform the former city events and visitors center into the new welcome center, there were even more (doubters).
But we would suggest that those cynics take a walk or drive down to Lakefront Park to see for themselves if the new Finger Lakes Welcome Center is such a bad thing.”
The editorial board goes on to suggest that those people who are “grumbling” about Massa being awarded what seems to be an inordinate amount of lucrative city contracts should just go visit the welcome center and be thankful that local workers were used to build it.
“Further, for all the grumblings about Geneva-based Massa seemingly getting every contract around here, this company — along with several other contractors — did an amazing job. Don’t believe us? Again, we say drop into the welcome center when you get a chance. While Massa didn’t do the design, it fulfilled the vision.
Don’t forget, too, that $5 million was an investment in local workers — from the employees of Massa to many of the subcontractors.”
- Why is the Finger Lakes Times Editorial Board downplaying the growing concerns about the city’s relationship with Massa as something only a “contingent” of “skeptical” “cynics” and “doubters” are “grumbling” about “on social media?”
- Why is the Finger Lakes Times Editorial Board insisting that if those “doubters” would just visit the Welcome Center, they would no longer be concerned about the city’s relationship with Massa?
- If the Finger Lakes Times Editorial Board is in possession of all of the documentation related to the last decade of Massa’s winning bids that the City of Geneva says they don’t have, then the Finger Lakes Times should make those documents public.
- If the Finger Lakes Times Editorial Board doesn’t have the proof that every Massa contract and bid process has been legitmate, then they are being irresponsible by demeaning anyone who questions the city’s relationship with Massa, and by aggressively trying to move their readers’ attention away from any critical examination of the relationship.
- Is the Finger Lakes Times trying to gaslight its readers?
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s belief.
The Finger Lakes Times, like any newspaper, is the target of criticism for many different reasons, and that criticism is not always fair. Some readers think the paper is “too liberal,” and others think it’s “too conservative.” It’s difficult for any news source to make all their readers happy all the time.
However, when the local “newspaper of record” is overtly trying to shape the public narrative around questions of corruption or misconduct by being intentionally misleading, they have become an attack dog for the establishment rather than a watchdog of the establishment.
Bid Process Needs More Scrutiny
Geneva Believer has obtained additional documents related to the last ten years of city of Geneva contracts awarded to Massa Construction, and will be publishing more analysis of those FOILed documents in the coming weeks.
According to documents provided by the city, Massa Construction received payments from the city of Geneva totaling $4,447,408.33 between December 2010 and May 2018, an average of $494,156.48 per year. Half a million dollars a year is a staggering figure for one contractor to receive in a city of 13,000.
The taxpayers deserve more transparency from city officials, especially in light of a recent incident where a city councilor with extensive personal and professional ties to Massa risked his council seat by aggressively and openly lobbying on behalf of Massa for a largely unnecessary $750,000 city hall renovation contract that, eventually, was significantly modified after objections from the public and other councilors.