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Water Authority director says job was 'not a good fit' after four days

H. John Mye III became a symbol of the professional and nonpolitical direction the Erie County Water Authority was taking when he was hired this year as its new executive director.

He lasted four days.

Mye resigned his post on Monday, saying he decided the job was "not a good fit."

The professional engineer and former chief financial officer in the private sector was hired last month at a salary of $175,000.

"It had nothing to do with politics," Mye told The Buffalo News.

Mye, 66, came out of retirement as the CFO for the Ecology and Environment consulting firm to take the Water Authority post.

Speculation was rampant Wednesday about why Mye departed, given the Water Authority's history of political patronage and giving high-paying jobs and generous benefits to the party faithful of  whichever party controls the Erie County Legislature. The party in power typically appoints loyalists to the board and other positions, including the executive director.

But authority board members vowed to change that with the search that culminated in Mye's hiring.

At last Thursday's board meeting, Mye was praising the staff at the authority and saying he looked forward to working with "a great team" and being "an exemplary leader."

Then he took Friday off. On Monday, he called authority Secretary Terrence McCracken to tell him he was quitting.

"We are really upset by this," McCracken said. "It took us six months to get here. We worked really hard to find someone who was really qualified for the job who the community would accept."

Erie County Water Authority turns to a pro, not a pol, to run itself

Mye said Wednesday that he understands why authority leaders would be surprised and disappointed.

But Mye said politics was not a factor in his decision. There was no conversation or event that triggered his resignation, he said.

He also said he was never misled by Water Authority leaders and administrators about the nature or responsibilities of the work.

"Absolutely not," he said. "I’m being 100 percent straight with you."

Instead, he said that after touring the Water Authority's operations, speaking with top administrators and gaining more insight into the magnitude of the responsibilities, he spoke with his family and decided he was not meant to take on the position. He did not elaborate on what he saw or experienced that led him to doubt his capacity for the position.

He said, however, that it was the job – not any personal family crisis or health issue – that prompted his decision.

McCracken and authority Chairman Jerome Schad said they were stunned by Mye's phone call on Monday, given the enthusiasm he expressed for the job last week. Both said they don't know why he chose to step down.

Schad said that after Thursday's board meeting, he and Mye spoke about setting up weekly meetings to confer on issues that crop up and that Mye was agreeable.

McCracken also said he assured Mye that he would not be pressured by any party politics within the Water Authority.

Mye told The News he wishes authority leaders the best.

"I want to extend my gratitude to the ECWA board of commissioners and senior management who were extremely professional during my hiring process," he said in a prepared statement. "They also were very understanding of the unforeseen personal circumstances resulting in my resignation.

“Along these lines, in the short time I was at the ECWA, I came away very impressed with its operations. The organization is well managed, and I am confident that the leadership at ECWA will select a highly qualified individual that will continue to lead the organization in a positive direction.”

Mye was hired without an employment contract, so he is not entitled to any financial compensation beyond the four days he worked at the authority, McCracken said.

Schad said that despite the disappointment of Mye's departure, the authority will move forward with infrastructure and modernization improvements. He also said the board will resurrect, and probably expand, the national search for a new executive director.

If all goes as planned, a new director would be named within the next two to three months. In the meantime, Deputy Director Robert Lichtenthal will resume as acting executive director.

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