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Development clouded by departure of city director

The city administration is wrestling with how to continue its revitalization efforts after Peter F. Kay leaves office Friday as director of economic development.

In an apparent power struggle between Mayor Paul A. Dyster and the five City Council members, Kay's salary for the coming year was cut to $1. So this is his last week on the job that was supposed to pay him $100,000 during the coming year.

The Council tried to cut Kay's salary to $1 a year ago, but he remained on the job after it failed to override a mayoral veto. This time around, the mayor again vetoed the pay cut. But the Council overrode his veto, and the $1 salary remains in effect for next year.

Dyster praised Kay's dedication.

"It's very gracious of him to continue working through this week," the mayor said. "He's trying hard to make sure the transition moves smoothly."

But it's a transition to -- what?

Dyster said he met with City Administrator Donna D. Owens and other municipal officials to discuss who could take over the city's Office of Economic Development and under what circumstances. He said they have yet to come up with an answer.

"We have a salary of only $1. We want to preserve the continuity of economic development projects that already are under way, but the chances of finding a permanent replacement at that salary are pretty slim," he said.

In the absence of a director, the mayor said, someone might have to be appointed to sign certain legal documents and do other required work. But that would not necessarily have to be somebody in the Office of Economic Development and not necessarily just one person; some of the responsibilities might be divided among others, he said.

Council Chairman Samuel F. Fruscione has said he was disappointed in the pace of economic development during Kay's tenure. Fruscione said the department has "more than enough people" to fulfill its duties.

Kay, 63, formerly worked as economic development adviser to then-Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, as well as in economic development posts in Toledo, Ohio; Tacoma, Wash.; Erie, Pa.; and Dearborn, Mich.

He was hired in Niagara Falls in November 2008 after a national search.

The immediate future of economic development in Niagara Falls also is clouded by the possibility that Christopher J. Schoepflin may be replaced as president of USA Niagara Development Corp., a state agency that is a major partner in the city's revitalization efforts.

Schoepflin is one of a large group of state appointees who are routinely expected to offer their resignations whenever a new administration takes office in Albany. Andrew M. Cuomo, who will become governor Saturday, has not indicated whom he will keep on the job and whom he will replace.

Another state official who is routinely expected to offer his resignation is Mark W. Thomas, Western District director of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Both men indicated they would be pleased to continue serving if Cuomo appoints them.

e-mail: rbaldwin@buffnews.com

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