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If Niagara Falls were a person, it would be a self-sabotaging synthesis of Charlie Brown and Lucy Van Pelt: a creature that subverts its own effort to kick the football. What other city has done so much to get in its own way?

It's doing it again. On the verge, finally, of merging the county's two tourism agencies, Mayor Irene Elia - the leader who was supposed to deliver Niagara Falls from the myopia that has driven it down - has called an audible.

The mayor served on the board that helped create the new countywide office and, after agreeing that the director of the new agency should have the right to choose his own staff, she has suddenly changed direction. She is saying either - take your pick - that the 14 employees of the Niagara Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau should have preference for jobs at the new agency, or that the new office is not sufficiently funded.

Either way, she is doing it after signing off on these matters as a member of the board that fashioned the new agency. Worse, she is doing so at the behest of the City Council, which has called on her not to sign the document, even though it has already approved it.

It's classic - the kind of head-shaking incompetence that has made Niagara Falls a decaying shell of a city. Of course the employees at the city agency want preference. Who wouldn't? It was up to the mayor to tell them, as gently as she wanted, that they couldn't have it. She had already agreed to a different and sensible proposal, one that guaranteed every current employee of either existing agency an interview for a position at the new agency.

As for funding, while it may fall short of the proposed $3 million a year, revenues will always be problematic, especially in a struggling region in an economically stressed state. It's not sufficient reason to backtrack on this project.

This is too important a matter to leave in this condition. Niagara Falls, one of the world's premier tourist attractions, is a failure in New York for many reasons, but one of them is the disjointed and ineffective way the city and county agencies have gone about developing the tourist base that ought to be a sure thing. If the mayor doesn't come to her senses, and quickly, someone else will have to step in. State Sen. George Maziarz would be a good choice.

Maziarz was instrumental in pushing the agencies to merge, and a good part of his persuasiveness had to do with the stick he carried: He was willing to deprive the Niagara Falls agency of its bed tax revenue and to redirect the county's I Love New York funding if the two agencies didn't merge into one. With the fast-track development of a Niagara Falls casino, he may have another one: the city's share of the slot-machine take.

It's a shame to have to treat a city and its administration like a misbehaving child, but until the scales fall from Elia's eyes, there may be no other choice. Niagara Falls remains the municipal equivalent of a juvenile in need of supervision. It is a danger to itself and to an entire region that depends to a large extent on the tourist economy that any city with a blessing such as Niagara should have as a matter of course.

Unless Elia morphs back into the tough, get-it-done kind of mayor she promised to be - and quickly - Maziarz should get ready to swing the stick.

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