Mayor Byron W. Brown's recruitment of a top-flight finance and policy expert to fill a critical role in Buffalo's fiscal recovery deserves both Common Council and control board support. The hiring of Janet Penksa would be more than a solid boost for city budgeting and planning; it would be a bargain.
Penksa has commanded twice the salary this post pays, even with the $21,000 boost Brown wants the city control board to approve. Her reason for leaving private-sector management salary levels for a challenging job in a cash-strapped city is one familiar to a lot of Western New Yorkers who are still here or recently returned -- it's home, and a good place to raise her daughter.
She is highly qualified for the job. A former associate vice president at the University at Buffalo and an original member of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority, she knows the area and its problems intimately. As a key member of Buffalo's lobbying firm in Albany since she left the county control board in 2005, she is especially attuned to Buffalo's fiscal needs.
And beyond even that, she began her career by working her way up state government fiscal and budget positions, finishing that climb in 1998 in what many see as the top non-political post in Albany, secretary to the Assembly's Ways and Means Committee. In that post, she helped develop not only huge and complex state budgets, but the policies that shaped and implemented them.
That expertise already has paid off for Buffalo in a big way. As the city's key lobbyist last year alone, Penksa had a hand in bringing more than $700 million to Buffalo for a wide range of projects and initiatives. She carried out a city strategy of gaining some help for operating expenses but seeking aid primarily to rebuild the community. She was highly successful in identifying sources of money, and making the arguments to win that funding.
In seeking to bump the finance commissioner's salary from $83,000 to $104,000, Brown is trying to capitalize on Penksa's strengths by adding policy responsibilities to the job description. For that reason alone, the control board should recognize this investment in the future. The salary hike could be justified anyway; Buffalo ranks 68th in big-city salaries, and recruitment of quality managers is difficult.
Penksa is such a manager, and her mayoral appointment also deserves Common Council confirmation. Brown continues to assemble a quality management team, and she is a valuable addition to that effort. Seize the bargain.