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City Hall is adrift

The Common Council is complaining that Mayor Byron Brown still hasn't hired a new permanent corporation counsel to replace Alisa Lukasiewicz, who, fed up with Steve Casey, stepped down in May.

Gee, if there's anyone in town who needs a lawyer, you think it would be Byron Brown.

The problem goes a lot deeper than the administration's failure to hire a replacement for Lukasiewicz, however.

The city has 11 departments and six of them are now managed by acting commissioners. Some of the vacancies go back nearly two years.

The boss just got whacked in three of the six departments now operating with acting commissioners -- police, fire and economic development. Brown has promised national job searches, which means it's going to be spring at the earliest before the new hires are on the job.

Question: Why didn't Brown start the job searches months ago to avoid a lengthy gap?

I mean, does it makes sense for the city to go months and months without an economic development commissioner? If a company called City Hall today wanting to do business with the city, who would it talk to?

The delays in hiring commissioners for strategic planning, management information systems and the law department suggest we could be waiting well past the spring for Brown to hire people to run the police and fire departments, and oversee economic development.

Tim Wanamaker left his post as executive director of the the Office of Strategic Planning in March 2008. No replacement has been hired.

Robert Leach was fired as chief information officer, also in March 2008. Raj Mehta heads the department on an acting basis.

Lukasiewicz has been gone more than seven months and David Rodriguez continues to serve in an acting capacity. Folks in City Hall keep asking him if he's going to get the permanent appointment and he keeps saying he doesn't know.

What's the holdup in hiring replacements?

I don't know, but I can speculate.

It could be hard to find people to take the jobs. The pay isn't great, considering the responsibilities, and Brown and Deputy Mayor Steve Casey have run enough administrators out of the building that a lot of qualified candidates may have been scared off.

It also might be that Brown and Casey are failing to hire on purpose. It fits their MO of concentrating power on the second floor. I mean, what acting commissioner in their right mind is going to assert themselves? 

So, who are we left with?

Finance Commissioner Janet Penksa keeps getting more and more duties. Steve Stepniak heads up public works. Martin Kennedy is commissioner of taxation and finance. All three seem to be on solid ground.

The two remaining commissioners have been under fire. Tanya Perrin-Johnson, she of e-mail fame, could face an uphill fight getting Common Council approval to continue on as commissioner of community services. Karla Thomas has enhanced job security as commissioner of human resources, but suddenly finds herself as the new poster child of what's wrong with City Hall.

I'm not sharing too much information, am I?

City government is a sprawling operation that requires all hands on deck. Right now, Brown is playing with a half a deck -- at best. He's really down to just three commissioners he can count on.

It's no wonder why things are falling between the cracks. The signs of inefficiency, and worse, are everywhere.

The long delays approving contracts to human service providers.

The double payment of health insurance premiums.

The forever and a day it took to submit a plan for taking over the parks system and keeping the Olmsted Conservancy on the job.

The One Sunset scandal that has yet to move the mayor to reform the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. or even show up at meetings to fulfill his obligation as chairman.

Folks, this is no way to run a railroad, much less a city.

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