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Penksa confirmed as finance chief; comptroller won't sue to halt move

Mayor Byron W. Brown's choice for finance chief won unanimous Common Council support Tuesday, the same day the city comptroller said he would not try to block the appointment in court.

Buffalo's control board also approved Brown's plan to create the newly expanded Cabinet post, a job that will pay $104,000 a year. Janet Penksa will become commissioner of administration, finance, policy and urban affairs Tuesday.

Comptroller Andrew A. SanFilippo, meanwhile, said Tuesday that he will not launch a court fight to block the hiring. SanFilippo said he thinks Penksa will be a valuable asset.

Still, he continued to maintain that Brown circumvented the charter by not getting the comptroller's approval to hire a finance chief at a salary $21,000 higher than what previous commissioners received. The mayor has said he doesn't believe he needed SanFilippo's signature because Penksa is filling a new job with expanded duties that include lobbying and policymaking.

Penksa, a former University at Buffalo administrator, was an original member of Erie County's control board. She once served as a top budget negotiator for Democrats in the Assembly. She currently works for Hinman Straub, an Albany lobbying firm that represents Buffalo. Penksa is credited with helping Buffalo obtain additional state aid for numerous programs.

Unlike most confirmation hearings, Council members did not question Penksa in a public meeting before Tuesday's vote. Penksa said she met individually with seven of the nine lawmakers, underscoring her desire to forge a strong "partnership" between the administration and the Council.

After her confirmation, Penksa vowed to "work as hard as possible" to lift a wage freeze the city's control board imposed 32 months ago. When a reporter later asked her whether she thinks a plan to give raises to city employees will be presented to the control board next year, she declined to predict a time.

Penksa told lawmakers she was confident Buffalo is "turning the corner," but she underscored the need to continue finding new ways to promote economic development. She also called on the state to develop a comprehensive blueprint to help cities like Buffalo expand their revenue bases.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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