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Director of city's control board to resign Says politics play no role in decision

The only executive director Buffalo's control board has had in its four-year history will resign soon.

Dorothy A. Johnson told The Buffalo News Friday her departure date has not been set, but she plans to leave her $110,000 post in the "immediate future."

She was hired by the oversight panel only weeks after it was created by the state in 2003.

Johnson informed friends and associates of her decision in an e-mail Friday.

"August 2007 marks my fourth anniversary with the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority. I feel that now is the perfect time to pass the baton of leadership," she wrote.

Rumors have been swirling for months that Johnson might leave the control board. Some pointed to the fact four of the board's nine seats expired last month. Current members remain as holdover appointments. Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer must name three members and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli must appoint a fourth.

On top of that, County Executive Joel A. Giambra leaves the board when his term ends in December, and his replacement could very well be a Democrat.

These five votes, when combined with Mayor Byron W. Brown, already on the board, could represent a new majority.

But Johnson insisted that the changing political winds had no impact on her decision to leave.

She said her pending departure is spurred by her belief that she helped to accomplish some of the objectives set in 2003 when the city's fiscal outlook was bleak. Johnson said Buffalo has since built up its cash reserves and has made progress in stabilizing its finances.

The control board recently lifted a wage freeze that had been in place since April 2004, recognizing the city's improved fiscal health.

"Many of the goals have been reached, but that's not to say there aren't challenges ahead," said Johnson, who oversees six paid board staffers.

One looming challenge involves Brown's efforts to reach long-term contracts with city unions.

Over the years, Johnson has become a lightning rod for criticism by unions. Last August, about 400 city workers picketed outside her Allentown home. Even though, as executive director, she has never been a voting member of the oversight panel, union employees were furious over some of her positions and remarks.

One example they cited was a 2006 comment where Johnson appeared to poke fun at the fact that many police officers, firefighters and teachers received cosmetic surgery benefits. During a public meeting, she described it as a "lovely work force."

Prior to becoming the control board's executive director, Johnson worked in the state budget division in Albany for 14 years. Since her move to Buffalo, Johnson said she has "fallen in love with Western New York" and hopes to stay here for the rest of her career.

In her e-mail, she shared her resume with friends and asked them to think about opportunities they might deem appropriate for her in the private, public or not-for-profit sectors.

Control board Chairman Brian J. Lipke could not be reached to comment on Johnson's planned resignation. The board is expected to begin a search for a new executive director soon.

Meanwhile, the control board's monthly meeting scheduled for Wednesday has been canceled. In a written notice, Lipke said the session was called off due to "unavoidable scheduling conflicts." No new meeting date has been set.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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