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Erie County Water Authority Commissioner Christopher J. O’Brien, a Democrat, abruptly resigned from the post Wednesday with more than two years left on his term.

Commissioner Francis G. Warthling, a fellow Democrat on the three-member board, said O’Brien’s resignation was effective at the end of the workday Wednesday.

“Due to the significant growth in Commissioner O’Brien’s private law practice and his family and personal obligations, he felt now was the best time to step away from the increasing demands and time commitment of being a member of Board of Commissioners,” Warthling said in a news release.

The timing of O’Brien’s resignation could be significant because the party in control of the County Legislature controls two of the three seats at what’s considered a patronage haven, and Republicans will replace Democrats as the Legislature’s majority party as of Jan. 1.

Warthling added that O’Brien had confided his desire to resign from the board weeks ago but, at Warthling’s request, committed to stay on through the appointment of a new executive director Oct. 2 and the adoption of a 2014 budget for the Water Authority a week ago.

O’Brien, a well-known local attorney who also serves on the University at Buffalo Council, was appointed to the board by the Democratic-controlled Legislature on April 23. He replaced fellow Democrat Jack O’Donnell, whose term had expired. Prior to his appointment, O’Brien was known as a benefactor to Democratic headquarters. He was not available to comment Wednesday.

Depending on the timetable for replacing O’Brien, the move may present an opportunity for the incoming GOP majority in the Legislature to flex its new political muscle, following the results of Tuesday’s elections.

Given that O’Brien had more than two years left on his term, the opportunity for a new appointment was not anticipated. Now the GOP may have an early chance to install its own appointee and influence issues at the authority – unless Democrats rush to fill the seat while they still control the Legislature through year’s end.

With the vacancy from O’Brien’s departure, the board comprises Warthling, whose term expires in 2015, and Vice Chairman Earl L. Jann Jr., a Republican, whose term expires next year. Each of the commissioners receives $22,500 annually.

“I am confident that the Erie County Legislature will appoint an individual that is highly qualified and shares the same level of commitment that Commissioner O’Brien displayed during his tenure.” Warthling said in the news release.

Once the Legislature is officially notified of O’Brien’s resignation, Energy and Environment Committee Chairman Terrence D. McCracken, a Democrat from Lancaster who did not seek re-election, will be authorized to solicit résumés for candidates to replace O’Brien. Interviews would be conducted at 1 p.m. Nov. 18 with the candidates, and from that pool, a recommendation would be made for a vote by the full Legislature.

email: hmcneil@buffnews.com