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With double nod to business, Collins transition begins

Christopher C. Collins wasted little time Wednesday in bringing a business perspective to Erie County government.

Collins, in his first act as county executive-elect, named two prominent businessmen Philip C. Ackerman of National Fuel Gas Corp. and Philip M. Corwin of the Talking Phone Book -- as co-chairmen of his transition team.

The two executives will oversee the recruitment of department heads and top aides in the new Collins administration and help set the agenda for the Clarence Republican's first year in office.

"This is an exciting opportunity to help chart a new course for Erie County," Ackerman said in a statement. "The taxpayers of our community voted overwhelmingly for change last week, and this transition committee will work very hard to make sure Chris Collins can bring about that change."

Ackerman, chairman and chief executive officer of National Fuel Gas, led the Republican effort to recruit a candidate for county executive earlier this year, an initiative that resulted in the party picking Collins.

Corwin, Collins' neighbor and golfing buddy, is vice president and chief financial officer of the Talking Phone Book, a unit of the Hearst publishing empire.

Both men are known to have the ear of the new county executive. Ackerman contributed $20,000 to the Collins campaign, and Corwin gave about $17,000.

"I support Chris' vision for how county government should be run, and this transition process is vital to helping Chris accomplish the priorities he outlined in his campaign," Corwin said. "I am volunteering because as a father of three young children, I want to make sure my kids can have a future here in Erie County."

As co-chairmen, Ackerman and Corwin will oversee the work of a core transition committee and 13 to 17 subcommittees. One of their primary tasks will be the recruitment of a deputy county executive who will serve as chief operating officer and Collins' right hand.

"I promised taxpayers that I would run county government like a business, and selecting Phil Ackerman and Phil Corwin to head my transition efforts will allow me to lay the groundwork to do just that," he said. "I know these two men want only the best for our community and are volunteering their time and talents to help me accomplish my vision for a brighter future in Erie County."

In an unrelated development, County Executive Joel A. Giambra named a temporary successor to former Commissioner of Emergency Services Kevin J. Comerford, who left to become director of security and safety management at Erie County Medical Center.

Giambra named Deputy Commissioner Gregory W. Skibitsky to the post. Skibitsky, a 28-year veteran of county government, will serve until Collins takes office and puts a commissioner of his own in place.

e-mail: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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