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HUD denies housing post to Polanski; Well-paying haven for departing Lackawanna mayors won't be this time, at least till '13

The Lackawanna Municipal Housing Authority has been a soft landing spot for previous departing Lackawanna mayors.

But that won't be the case with current Mayor Norman L. Polanski Jr. -- at least until 2013.

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has denied a request that would have allowed the LMHA to hire Polanski as the authority's executive director at the completion of his term as mayor.

The authority's board of commissioners asked HUD in October to waive a required one-year waiting period for the mayor to be considered for the director's post, which has an $82,000 annual salary.

But HUD's Buffalo office decided last week to deny the request, determining that the board had failed to make the case that Polanski was the only person qualified for the job.

"They did not present enough justification for why Polanski would be the best person to become [executive director] of the agency," said Joan K. Spilman, Buffalo field office director for HUD.

The board may still submit more documentation to support its waiver application, Spilman said.

HUD's ethics policy prohibits a housing authority from hiring public and elected officials who exercise functions or responsibilities with respect to that authority during the tenure of the official or for up to a year after the tenure is completed.

Housing authorities, which rely on HUD for much of their funding, must seek waivers to bypass the prohibition. HUD has issued similar waivers in other communities across the country.

In Lackawanna, the mayor has the power to appoint commissioners to the Housing Authority board, and Polanski appointed five of the seven commissioners during his eight-year tenure, which concludes Saturday. The two other commissioners were elected by tenants.

Some tenants and critics of Polanski cried foul over the waiver request, saying that it was unethical for commissioners who owed their appointment to the mayor to then hire him as executive director.

Spilman said the Buffalo HUD office received some letters and phone calls from people objecting to the waiver.

But the request was denied primarily because the "board didn't submit a strong-enough justification," she said.

The request also was reviewed by HUD officials in Washington, D.C., who concurred with the decision of the Buffalo office, Spilman said.

"It got to their attention and they wanted to see what was going on as well," she said.

Leading the Housing Authority traditionally has been a plum post for former Lackawanna mayors.

Thomas E. Radich ended up at the Housing Authority in 1992, after losing a mayoral re-election bid to Kathleen M. Staniszewski.

A year later, Radich resigned, as Staniszewski was able to appoint her own commissioners.

Then, in 2000, following a failed bid for a third term as mayor, Staniszewski became Housing Authority executive director.

The job would have amounted to a sizable raise for Polanski, who made $56,106 a year as mayor.

Polanski could still get the job, if the board chooses to hire him after the one-year waiting period.

Robert W. McManus, a longtime Housing Authority staffer, has been serving as interim executive director since the 2009 departure of Thomas J. Radich, the former mayor's son, who negotiated a $50,000 buyout. McManus has said he's not interested in the job permanently.

Neither Polanski nor Jeffrey P. DePasquale, chairman of the LMHA board of commissioners, could be reached Thursday to comment.

Both had maintained in previous interviews that Polanski was highly qualified for the Housing Authority post.

Polanski also was considering a run for the Assembly seat vacated by Mark J.F. Schroeder, who is now Buffalo city comptroller, or returning to his plumbing job at Collins Correctional Facility.

Polanski took a leave of absence from employment with the state Department of Corrections to run the city.