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MAYOR PRESSED ON TOP FIRE JOB
CONTROL BOARD CHIEF CALLS FOR OUTSIDER

The head of the state control board is losing patience with Mayor Anthony M. Masiello's search for a new fire commissioner, a nationwide effort that is several months behind schedule.

Thomas E. Baker also is urging the mayor to hire an outsider to institute changes in the Fire Department. In recent weeks, Masiello has sent signals that lead some to believe that he is seriously considering one or more long-tenured department veterans for the fire commissioner's post.

Baker, chairman of the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority, said he was becoming increasingly worried about delays in naming a new commissioner. Restructuring the Fire Department, he noted, is one of the largest elements in the city's four-year fiscal recovery plan.

"Every time I talk to the mayor, I raise that issue," Baker said. "He says he's still contemplating his alternatives."

The person appointed to the $102,000-a-year job will oversee a plan to cut 135 firefighters through attrition and some likely layoffs, close additional fire companies, build five firehouses and make changes in emergency medical services.

When Fire Commissioner Calvin G. Worthy stepped down last December in protest of planned layoffs, the Masiello administration had hoped to name a successor by spring. Deputy Commissioner Michael L. D'Orazio has been acting as department head.

Baker previously stated that whoever gets the job must be willing to make sweeping changes, but he always followed his remark by saying that city employees should not be disqualified. In an interview following Wednesday's control board meeting, he seemed to modify that stand.

"That person needs to be a change-agent type of person, and I think that would be very difficult to do from within," Baker said. "Calvin Worthy is an example. When it got down to very difficult issues that had to be dealt with, Mr. Worthy opted to retire."

Masiello had little to say about the search, except to reiterate that he was taking "all the time" he needs to bring "the best leadership" to the Fire Department. He said he expects to send a nomination to the Common Council this summer. Assuming no further delays, confirmation hearings probably would be held in September.

The mayor repeatedly has disputed claims that the longer-than-expected search for a commissioner has sidetracked the restructuring. Officials, for example, note that plans are moving forward to build several new firehouses in more centralized locations.

Masiello would not discuss speculation that his shortlist of finalists is down to one out-of-town applicant and one or two department veterans.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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