Few things are more important to making the mayor's third term a success than finding an outstanding deputy to help him run the city. That's why it was disappointing to see Mayor Anthony Masiello reject a business community offer to partially fund the position of a city manager.
We share the mayor's reservations about potential conflicts of interest. Imagine if a manager's decision - regardless of its merit - benefited a private enterprise that helped fund his salary. Any credibility the office had would be gone.
But that would not have been the case with this proposal. As it was structured, the plan called for several individuals and organizations to contribute money to a pool controlled by a civic foundation, which would have kept the donors anonymous. The foundation then would award the city a grant to supplement the $60,000 to $70,000 the mayor's executive staff budget could afford. The mayor and his deputy would not know who contributed, thus alleviating potential conflicts of interest.
Masiello entered City Hall after a career as a legislator. He needs someone with experience as an executive who can run a large enterprise on a day-to-day basis. He won't get the quality candidate he needs for $60,000 to $70,000 a year.
And quality is what he will need in that position. As the number two person to the mayor, the city manager or deputy mayor or whatever title goes with the job would, in effect, run the day-to-day operations of the city. That would free up the mayor for larger policy issues.
The problem is that given the city's seemingly perennial fiscal crisis, finding the money to attract a quality candidate becomes a problem. We believe the importance of such a position would justify the expenditure of city funds for a salary close to the mayor's $105,000. But if the mayor's staff budget can't handle that figure, private money in a blind fund administered by a local civic foundation, say the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, offers a reasonable alternative.
Foundations do not have a bottom-line mission like businesses. Their charge is to contribute to the betterment of the city. That removes many of the conflicts that could arise from a business subsidy. Fire walls could be built into an agreement that would prevent a foundation from inappropriately interfering in public policy.
This page did not support a similar idea when it was floated in 1995. But at that time, the business community had actually conducted the search and identified candidates for the job, thereby creating a link between the deputy and private interests. In addition, there was no proposal to use a third party - like a civic foundation - to provide a buffer between public and private interests.
Buffalo is in the middle of a transition. Voters have already told city leaders they want change. The approval of the Common Council's downsizing is the most visible manifestation of the voters' demand that government here changes the way it does business.
That call for change applies to the mayor, as well. But the mayor has too few experts he can call upon to help him solve the multiple problems of a struggling city. If he can't add more expertise with city funds alone, he ought to look to foundations for the financial help he needs.