Lawrence M. Meckler, the longest serving executive director in the history of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, announced Monday he will retire on Oct. 29.
A 34-year employee who has been at the authority's helm since 1998, Meckler said his departure has nothing to do with an attempt by some NFTA commissioners to force him out earlier this month. Instead, he said his decision stems from an early-retirement incentive offered by the state that substantially enhances his pension.
"It increases my pension to something I can't pass up," Meckler said Monday. "And this gives the board enough time to search for a new executive director."
Another veteran NFTA official, General Counsel David M. Gregory, has also announced he will retire as a result of the early-retirement incentive.
Meckler said other top administrators are considering the offer, signaling a wholesale turnover in the NFTA's top management team looming before the end of the year.
A national search will be launched to find a new executive director, Meckler said.
Meckler, 58, has long been rumored to be contemplating an exit from the NFTA, which runs the Metro Bus and Rail system throughout Erie and Niagara counties, operates Buffalo Niagara and Niagara Falls international airports, and oversees vast real estate holdings along the waterfront.
A group of newer commissioners for a time backed an effort in early June to replace Meckler after he had expressed interest in the retirement incentive. The Buffalo News reported at that time that Henry M. Sloma, a Niagara County member of the Board of Commissioners and its acting chairman, was poised to take over the position if Meckler was forced out.
Sloma denied he was interested in the job, but several sources then and now indicate the purpose of a special meeting on June 9 was to install him in Meckler's position. The same sources now indicate that the departure of Meckler and Gregory does not result from the abortive "coup attempt" of early June but from their desire to take advantage of the new state retirement incentive.
A Bronx native who stayed in the area after graduating from the University at Buffalo Law School, Meckler began his career as an NFTA lawyer and eventually became its top attorney as general counsel. As executive director he supervised efforts to attract low-cost airlines to Buffalo Niagara International Airport, transforming Buffalo from one of the most expensive cities from which to fly to one of the cheapest.
"To bring in those low-cost airlines really changed the face of transportation in Western New York," he said.
He also listed other accomplishments such as demolition of the old Westinghouse Electric building at the airport, terminal expansion at Buffalo Niagara, airport adaptations following the terrorist attacks of 2001, the new airport at Niagara Falls and a continually improving safety record.
"It's an incredible organization, and it starts with our people," he said.
Gregory, 56, joined the authority in 1982 as an attorney and was made general manager of transportation services in 1991. He was named aviation director when the new airport was built. He has been the authority's longest-serving general counsel since 1999.