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Mayor Anthony M. Masiello has said "thanks, but no thanks" to a business community offer to help fund an executive staff position that would serve as City Hall's top problem solver and "chief operating officer."

A coalition of business interests and individuals had proposed supplementing the salary of a mayoral chief of staff to attract a quality municipal manager. But Masiello said he fears potential conflicts of interest. He also vows to fill the post with his own recruit in a move that could signal other changes in his executive staff.

"I have come to the conclusion it is problematic and difficult to do," Masiello said, "so I am moving on with my own selection process."

Masiello's rejection of the offer marks the second time in his mayoral tenure that the business community has offered to augment his executive staff. The then-Greater Buffalo Partnership and others extended a similar proposal in 1995 but were turned down, even though sources familiar with the process said the mayor interviewed candidates and was close to offering the post to a Maine woman.

This time the idea was to offer a salary close to the mayor's $105,000 annual compensation to attract an assistant for Masiello, who business sources say is "overwhelmed" by problems facing the city and has too few staff experts to address them.

The plan called for several individuals and organizations to contribute the money to a pool controlled by an entity such as the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. The foundation would then award the city a grant to supplement the $60,000 to $70,000 the mayor's executive staff budget could afford, according to the sources.

Gail Johnstone, president of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, said she was aware of the discussions, but emphasized her group had not agreed to any official role in the process.

The move most likely would have required Common Council approval, the sources said, because an amendment to the city's salary ordinances would be necessary.

"Although that's the way this gift would be done, there would be no (business community) influence," said one source who asked not to be identified. "It would simply supplement the salary of the person the mayor chose."

The same idea has been raised in conjunction with the simultaneous search for a new head of the city's Office of Strategic Planning. That post is also viewed in many quarters as a key appointment facing the mayor. He has appointed a top-level panel of 12 community leaders to conduct the search.

Sources say the Buffalo Niagara Partnership and others in the community resurrected the idea following the departure of several top mayoral assistants in recent months. The proposal also stemmed from pressure in several quarters on the mayor to make "wholesale changes" in his staff at a time when the city faces some of the most daunting economic challenges in its history.

"There's money there if he wants it," said one of those involved. "We could get somebody pretty good for a supplement of between $30,000 and $50,000."

The chief of staff position was formerly occupied by Vincent J. LoVallo, who left in June to become director of technical operations at the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority. Masiello said he expects to fill the post in the "near future."


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