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Niagara Falls mayor, in shake-up, removes city administrator and controller

NIAGARA FALLS – Mayor Paul A. Dyster announced a major shake-up in his administration Tuesday, relieving two employees of their jobs, including his second-in-command, City Administrator Donna D. Owens.

Also asked to step down was longtime City Controller Maria C. Brown, who has served in the position for 16 years under three administrations, including two terms under Dyster.

Dyster, in a statement, praised both women but said he had announced after the start of his third term that he intended to evaluate each policymaking position to “ensure we have the right people in the right positions at this critical time.”

Owens has been city administrator since July 2008, and Dyster said she was willing to remain in the position through his third term. But Dyster said she instead will remain through a transition period until July 8. Dyster said that it is his intention to replace her with his current executive assistant, Nick Melson.

Melson started in the job as executive assistant just a little under a year ago. He previously served for two years as chief of staff for Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-Hudson Valley, in the 106th District and had been a legislative director for then-Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, D-Lewiston, in the 138th District. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and minor in public administration from SUNY Buffalo State.

Of the Owens dismissal, Dyster said, “These types of decisions are never easy, and her discharge is not a reflection of her performance as city administrator. I believe this is necessary in order to address the challenges that face this administration over the remainder of my third term as mayor.”

He called her a tremendous friend, wonderful colleague and loyal partner whom he wished well going forward.

Dyster noted that the process of evaluating his policymakers is continuing and that additional changes may come, although he did not specify what they might be. He said Brown will be replaced as city controller by Sandra A. Peploe, a recently retired long-serving employee, who will be asked to serve temporarily as acting city controller, a role that she held for 15 months during the administration of Mayor James C. Galie in the 1990s.

The City Council met Monday, but the shake-up was not publicly discussed. Dyster said that in accordance with the City Charter, he is asking the Council to confirm the actions regarding Brown and Peploe.

Dyster said Brown has asked to remain in the Finance Department, where she currently is on leave of absence from a civil service position as senior auditor.

Dyster called her “wealth of experience” an asset to the Finance Department and noted her leadership skills and counsel during the dispute between New York State and the Seneca Nation of Indians over casino funding that greatly assisted the administration during a period of financial stress.