Chairman Edward V. Regan on Wednesday announced his resignation from the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority, owing his departure to a battle with appendicitis and saying the next leader should probably be a county resident.
Regan said that for substantive matters -- analyzing the county's financial situation, reading reports, talking with county officials -- he was able to work from his office in New York City, where the former state comptroller and Erie County executive teaches college courses.
But then there are the "side issues," as he terms the adversities that require the leader of the state control board to be in the Buffalo area.
"You need someone on the ground responding to the criticisms and angles and that sort of thing," he said. "You've got to be there."
While the Fiscal Stability Authority and its consultant quickly helped county officials determine the size of the 2005 deficit and suggested dozens of ways to save money, Regan and the board's leaders often had to defend their decisions about their panel's internal affairs.
The authority, for example, spends $30,000 a year renting commercial office space when rooms are vacant in the Rath County Office Building. Its consultant, the PFM Group, charged taxpayers an average $40,000 a week for its expertise from Aug. 1 to Dec. 31, then left Erie County when its $860,000 allotment was exhausted.
The authority, which remains in advisory status, spent almost as much in its first five months as Buffalo's hard control board spends on itself in a year.
The Erie County authority has budgeted $1.8 million for 2006, with all but $400,000 provided by local taxpayers as needed, and the rest flowing from a state grant.
Some control board members have said that for that much money, the panel needs to give taxpayers more of a benefit.
"I wish him well," said Sheila K. Kee, a former county budget director who as a control board member argued that the panel needed to set a better example. "And I do think that Ned contributed to some very good things that happened. It hasn't been all smooth, but we did get a four-year
plan, and we did get a forecast of where the county is at, and we did get a report from a consultant with recommendations which, if fully implemented, can avoid a tax increase.
"But we are at a different point now in our history. As we move forward, we have to be a board that is willing to ask the tough questions and be persistent enough to get the answers. The board now has to be very, very different."
She agreed with Regan that Gov. George E. Pataki should appoint someone from the county. Pataki is hospitalized in Manhattan, recovering from complications from appendicitis surgery. So there were questions about how fast he will fill the vacancy.
Regan last summer leapt into the job, speaking to community groups and promising a new day for taxpayers during frequent trips from New York City to Buffalo. But he sometimes grew short when asked to address the way the panel handled its internal matters. It appeared doubtful that he would finish his six-year term.
In his resignation letter dated Wednesday, and in an interview with The Buffalo News, Regan said that after his appendicitis in December, he began talking with Pataki's staff about leaving.
In the letter, he said he appreciated the opportunity to serve the county he left in 1978 to become state comptroller.
"I thank you, governor, not only for the opportunity to serve the citizens of Erie County after such a long hiatus, but also for the support you have given to insuring future good health for this community," he wrote.
Regan also thanked the citizens "for welcoming me back home even for this short period of time, and I encourage them to never give up hope for this wonderful community."
Pataki late Wednesday thanked Regan for his work.
"Ned Regan is a committed public servant who has dedicated himself to improving state and local government," the governor said in a statement. "And on behalf of all New Yorkers, I thank him for his outstanding service."
Unless Pataki were to appoint a new chairman by 2 p.m. today, Vice Chairman P. David Campbell would gavel today's meeting to a start. On the agenda:
Discussions about hiring a second staff member for the new Office of Management and Productivity and hearing its progress.
Reviewing financial reports.
Discussing whether to relocate the authority's offices to free space in a county building.
"I respect Ned's decision," said control board member Kenneth C. Kruly, a former county budget director. "He is a gentleman, and I wish him well. From the control board's point of view, we need to move on."