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Retiring D’Youville president named to head NFTA

Sister Denise A. Roche, the outgoing president of D’Youville College, has been named to replace businessman Howard Zemsky as chairman of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

After holding two important state leadership posts for the past 15 months, Zemsky is leaving the NFTA, but he will continue as president of the Empire State Development Corp., a spokesman from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office said on Friday.

Joan G. Aul, a banking executive at M&T Bank, has also been appointed as a commissioner of the NFTA, the government’s office added.

This move has been in the works for more than a year, state officials said, because Zemsky has been extremely busy holding down two important state jobs while also running his businesses.

Zemsky became NFTA chairman in May 2012. In January 2015, the governor added to his state duties by naming him as president and chief executive officer of the 450-employee Empire State Development, the state’s main business development agency.

While holding both offices caused Zemsky to miss a number of NFTA meetings, he told The Buffalo News last year that he felt “very confident” that he could continue to serve in both posts. He also said he felt there was no conflict of interest in holding both state positions.

Zemsky, 56, told The News on Friday that he has “truly enjoyed” his work with the NFTA but is thankful that he will no longer have two state leadership posts. He makes just $1 a year as ESD’s president and was not paid for his work with the NFTA.

“In fairness to the NFTA, the ESD is like two full-time jobs,” Zemsky said. “I travel a lot for ESD. I’m rarely in Buffalo. It’s long weeks that often turn into long weekends, and it doesn’t leave time for much else.”

He said the NFTA has “a great management staff” and he said Roche is “highly regarded in the community and has a wonderful track record as a college president.”

The governor’s new appointments are subject to the approval of the State Senate.

With hundreds of employees, the NFTA is one of the key transportation agencies in Western New York. The NFTA operates Metro Bus and Rail, the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, and also the Niagara Falls International Airport.

Serving as chairwoman of the NFTA will provide a new challenge for Roche, who announced last year that she intends to retire as D’Youville’s president.

A member of the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, the 73-year-old Roche became president of the college on Buffalo’s West Side in 1979. She told The News she plans to retire from D’Youville on July 1.

At D’Youville, she was credited with taking over a small nursing school that was on shaky financial ground, and in 36 years of leadership, turning it into a popular school for students training to become physicians’ assistants, physical and occupational therapists and other health professionals.

Roche has a doctorate in sociology. According to the biography posted on D’Youville’s website, Roche “has guided D’Youville through changes and fluctuations in enrollment, fiscal demands, students demographics, faculty demands and campus expansion. New programs have been developed, facilities have been improved and major obstacles have been overcome” under her leadership.

As NFTA chairwoman, Roche will head the board of commissioners and work closely with the transportation authority’s professional staff.

If the Senate approves, one of her commissioners will be Aul, a Lockport resident who serves as a credit analyst and support manager with the credit division of M&T Bank.

The St. Bonaventure University graduate is a member of the school’s National Alumni Board. She is also a board member of the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency, the Greater Lockport Development Corp., where she is currently chairwoman, and of the YWCA of the Niagara Frontier.

“Along with 18 years of experience in commercial banking at M&T Bank, Joan Aul brings to the NFTA a deep commitment to our community, where she has been particularly active in Niagara County,” said C. Michael Zabel, spokesman for the bank.

Aul will replace Henry Sloma, a holdover commissioner, the governor’s office said.