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Smooth sailing seen in Council for top finance post nominee

Mayor Byron W. Brown's nominee for city finance commissioner faces apparent smooth sailing in the Common Council, and lawmakers could vote to confirm her as early as Dec. 26.

Brown introduced Janet Penksa to reporters Friday at a news conference. While some lawmakers said they don't know the former UB administrator who once sat on Erie County's control board, Council leaders praised her credentials.

Penksa spent five years as a top budget negotiator for Democrats in the Assembly. She currently works for Hinman Straub, an Albany lobbying firm that represents Buffalo.

Council President David A. Franczyk said he doesn't envision her nomination encountering resistance in the Council.

"She's obviously well-credentialed," he said. "She appears to be a top-shelf candidate."

Majority Leader Dominic J. Bonifacio Jr. added, "Her experience in Albany and Washington is going to be an asset to the city."

Richard A. Fontana of Lovejoy and Antoine M. Thompson of Masten said that while they still must review Penksa's nomination, they think she'll be confirmed. South Council member Michael P. Kearns said he hopes her experience will allow the city to reduce the amount of money it spends on outside lobbyists.

Bonifacio encouraged Penksa, a Buffalo resident for the past eight years, to meet individually with lawmakers prior to a yet-to-be-finalized confirmation hearing. Brown said he expects Penksa to start Jan. 2.

On Tuesday, the Council unanimously approved a plan to expand the powers of the finance chief's post, adding lobbying and policy-setting duties to the job title. The change also boosts the position's salary to $104,000, up from $83,000. The city control board must still approve the change. Penksa will succeed Donna J. Estrich, who has held the post on an interim basis since James B. Milroy resigned earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Brown's decision to appoint the first Hispanic in history to serve in a key management post in the Law Department won praise from leaders in the minority community. Brown announced that David Rodriguez, a Buffalo attorney in private practice, will become the senior deputy corporation counsel. The Law Department's second-in-command makes $73,192 a year.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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