A top member of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's transition team is dismayed that the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority appointed Kimberley A. Minkel as executive director of agency without consulting the new administration.
The appointment -- three days before Cuomo's inauguration -- amounts to a major affront to the new governor and his authority over state operations, said Mary Ann Crotty, a private consultant who is advising the transition team on transportation matters.
"Why make that appointment the week before he took office?" she asked. "It's an 'in your face' kind of thing."
The concern raised in Albany appears to signal a "hands-on" approach from the administration of Cuomo, a Democrat, to the NFTA and is prompting immediate push back from authority leaders.
Acting Chairman Henry M. Sloma called Crotty's remarks "disappointing" and emphasized that, while the governor and others appoint members of the board, the commissioners should have the power to name the executive director without interference.
"I would have a greater expectation from this governor that he understands the process," Sloma said.
Crotty also noted that the $170,000 salary awarded to Minkel is "more than the [state Department of Transportation] commissioner makes."
Sloma, a Republican holdover appointee, defended the salary, pointing to the reduction from the $193,000 earned by Lawrence M. Meckler, her predecessor, and the "2 4/7 " nature of the job overseeing a transit system, waterfront properties and Buffalo Niagara International Airport.
"This is very much in line with our structure," he said. "Maybe they're not paying their DOT commissioner enough."
Crotty, a onetime director of state operations and transportation adviser in Gov. Mario M. Cuomo's administration, noted Minkel's qualifications and emphasized she might very well have found approval in the new administration.
But especially in view of the critical role the NFTA will play in waterfront development and the millions of dollars in state assistance it seeks each year, the Cuomo administration would have appreciated some consultation, Crotty said.
"This is not political influence," she said. "If you want the state to be receptive to your requests, why at least would you not have the new governor have some input?"
Crotty is no stranger to the NFTA and its processes.
She was Mario Cuomo's chief liaison with the authority for many years, including the 1990 crisis that prompted a one-day shutdown of transit operations when funds dried up and a new real estate transfer tax was enacted to keep trains and buses rolling.
The process to replace Meckler had been under way for months with no comment from the state, Sloma noted.
"An election happened independently of our process. We came to a conclusion and made a decision," he said. "Then, lo and behold, she shows up and says we're being disrespectful.
"The governor has a prerogative to appoint a chairman and commissioners, and I would hope he would have faith in us to make the best decision," he added. "And it's a little disappointing that they raise the issue of operating assistance because it sounds like a threat."
Sloma also said the authority received no directives from the transition team -- or from David A. Paterson, Cuomo's predecessor -- about any need to seek advice.
"To see them flexing their muscles like this is very disappointing," he said.
He said he had no idea of the political affiliation of either Minkel or William R. Vanecek, the other internal candidate who was a finalist for the position. State records indicate both are Republicans.
Howard A. Zemsky, a Democrat appointed by Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer, declined to comment. Spitzer nominated him to serve as chairman, but the State Senate has not confirmed the appointment.