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Comerford named to head permits, inspections

The man who has been steering efforts to revamp Buffalo's permits and inspections process has been tapped by Mayor Byron W. Brown to serve as the department's permanent commissioner.

Brown nominated James W. Comerford to become commissioner of permit and inspection services. Comerford has been deputy commissioner for nearly three years and most recently has served as interim head of inspections as the city overhauls the department.

Assuming the Council confirms his appointment to the $85,000-a-year job, Comerford will run a department that no longer oversees economic development. The retooled office will focus solely on permits and inspections, similar to the set-up that was in place before Brown became mayor in 2006.

"Personally, I don't think economic development was a good fit for this department," Comerford told The Buffalo News.

Still, Comerford said his department will continue to work closely with the Office of Strategic Planning, which has been given responsibility for all economic development functions.

In a nomination letter sent to Council members, Brown said he believes Comerford has "served with distinction."

Comerford previously served as inspections commissioner in the mid-1980s under then-mayor James D. Griffin.

The Council could hold confirmation hearings as early as next week. Comerford said he has already been meeting with some lawmakers to discuss his long-term vision for a department that has faced sharp criticism. Some complained about excessive red tape and frustrating delays. In recent years, the department has been grappling with the largest number of housing court cases in decades.

City officials have insisted that some strides have already been made in streamlining the unit and making it more efficient. They said they've been working with outside experts to find ways to make additional improvements.