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Shake-up by Falls mayor draws scrutiny of City Council

NIAGARA FALLS – Mayor Paul A. Dyster’s plans to shake up his administration with the dismissal of City Administrator Donna D. Owens and City Controller Maria C. Brown could hit a snag.

The City Council has no say over Owens, who has served as city administrator since 2008. However, the removal of Brown is drawing scrutiny from Council members, who will consider the dismissals at the next Council meeting May 31.

Council Chairman Andrew P. Touma said Wednesday that Brown serves both the mayor and the Council.

“This needs Council approval. There’s no guarantee that we will honor the mayor’s request (to remove Brown),” Touma said, noting although Council members have heard complaints about Brown’s strong leadership style, they are supportive of her.

Touma also questioned the timing of the dismissal.

“I don’t know if this could set us back and, with the budget looming, I’m not sure the timing is right,” he said.

Brown has worked as city controller for 16 years under three administrations. Touma called a “unique skill set in public accounting that would be hard to replace.”

“I’ve worked closely with her for two years, and she is always able to explain things and break things down,” Touma said.

The Council chairman praised Brown’s recent work in helping the Council set up a long-term casino spending plan that cuts spending and directs a portion of funds toward investment.

Dyster proposes replacing Brown with recently retired Finance Department veteran Sandra A. Peploe, who served 15 months as acting city controller in the late 1990s under then-Mayor James C. Galie.

The mayor is aware of the need for Council approval and, in a statement, said, “In accordance with the City Charter, I am asking the Niagara Falls City Council to confirm these actions and give their consent and authorize this transition.”

Dyster said he intends to appoint his executive assistant, Nick Melson, to the post of city administrator when Owens, following a transition period, officially steps down July 8.

Touma said the Council must be approve the salaries.