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Ellen Grant named deputy mayor for health, education issues

Mayor Byron W. Brown has selected Ellen E. Grant, a veteran of various health care organizations, as a deputy mayor.

Grant will leave her position as commissioner of senior services for Erie County, which she began in June, and will oversee education and health care issues for the city, including being Brown’s liaison to the Board of Education and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

Grant’s appointment follows the news that another top-level Cabinet member, Janet E. Penksa, is leaving her post as commissioner of administration, finance, policy and urban affairs, to become executive director of the Jacobs Institute, an independent nonprofit organization on the Medical Campus.

The appointment also signals a commitment by Brown to be more involved in education, though he said there had been “no deficiency whatsoever” in the administration’s approach thus far. “This is really a focus on coordinating all of the many things that we do that have an impact on public education, and my belief is that you can’t have a great city without great schools,” he said.

The mayor said that he discussed the design of Grant’s position with School Superintendent Pamela C. Brown and that they talked about how the city could offer more assistance to the district.

Asked whether he was interested in seeking control of the district, the mayor acknowledged that other mayors are but said that he was interested in “partnerships” instead.

Grant, 63, has a Ph.D. in communications and organizational behavior from the University at Buffalo and has been director of Cornerstone Manor, vice president of community affairs at BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York and, in 2001-02, president and CEO of Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.

“Buffalo is really at a renaissance economically, socially, culturally, educationally and in the health care area, and I look forward to just playing a role in that continued development,” Grant said during a news conference in the mayor’s office.

Grant was commissioner of mental health during County Executive Dennis T. Gorski’s administration. She also has been a licensed private therapist for 25 years and started as a practical nurse at Erie County Medical Center.

Common Council Majority Leader Demone A. Smith, of the Masten District, said the city must be engaged in education, because for many parents, schools drive the decision about where to live. “The city is dependent on what the Board of Education does,” Smith said. “Though they operate as silos, their destinies are so intertwined.”

Grant will work with the Police Department on its activities in and around schools, with Say Yes to Education, Buffalo Promise Neighborhood, the mayor’s summer reading program, and colleges and universities. She also will be point person for hospitals and city employee benefit programs.

The appointment of deputy mayors is solely up to the mayor, and the position, which pays $97,853, is in the budget.

Grant grew up in the Kensington housing projects and now lives on Grand Island. She will move into the city, she said.

“She’s well-qualified” to oversee health care and education issues, said Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk.

The budget calls for two deputy mayor posts. First Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey has been on the job since Brown took office. Donna M. Brown left in 2010 to join ECMC.