Kimberley Minkel and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority would both benefit if she developed better political instincts, but any notion that she should be the target of an effort to remove her is without merit. She has done enough good work as the authority’s executive director to put to rest such talk.
Yet it’s out there. It’s the kind of overheated talk that a few oversights have been known to provoke, but that vastly exaggerates the nature of the provocation.
Which is not to say that Minkel doesn’t bring notable weaknesses to her work. They come down to a failure to communicate.
Her job, after all, is a political one – not overtly political in the way of a spokesman for an elected official, but political nonetheless insofar as her board is appointed largely by the New York governor and the NFTA’s operations rely to a great extent on government funding.
That, inevitably, requires a sensitivity to politics. The less effectively anyone in a position such as Minkel’s is able to function in that environment, the less effective she will be. It may be unfortunate, but it’s a fact, nonetheless.
Two examples regarding the Buffalo Niagara International Airport outline the problem that some have with Minkel. A $65 million renovation project at the airport could have drawn more funding, people close to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo say, had there been an effort to coordinate with his office. Clearly, it would also have worked to Cuomo’s political advantage to have been able to further help the region.
More recently, the NFTA’s hamfisted effort to impose comparatively high airport fees on ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft backfired. It made the NFTA look inept and undermined Cuomo’s success in pushing for the legalization of the services in areas of the state outside of New York City.
Minkel’s defense is that she is laser-focused on serving the public that patronizes the NFTA and, indeed, she has accomplished much in her seven years as executive director. She has settled most union contracts, draws high customer service ratings at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, has overseen dramatic growth of Niagara Falls International Airport, and sold Outer Harbor property to the benefit of Western New Yorkers. She is also pushing plans to extend the Metro Rail line.
But the job requires more than that. Most people in her kind of position understand that government can be a help in achieving goals and that, at least, they need to keep elected officials in the loop. And not embarrass them. Yet, in addition to the governor’s office, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and State Sen. Timothy Kennedy, D-Buffalo, note that communication with the NFTA is virtually non-existent.
That’s a problem that will inevitably limit the NFTA’s effectiveness in serving the public that Minkel says is her focus.
It’s not a crime that Minkel isn’t adept at the political aspects of her job. But it is a liability that she doesn’t recognize her weaknesses and act to account for them.
That’s part of the job, too.