The City of Lackawanna is in need of a new development director, and Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski could be courting an established political insider to fill the seat.
Ralph D. Miranda submitted his resignation to Szymanski, effective Dec. 2.
Szymanski said he has yet to start a formal search, but one name already has surfaced as a possible successor.
Multiple sources said Szymanski is looking to appoint Robert A. Mendez, the former executive director of the Erie County Water Authority.
Mendez, a longtime Lackawanna resident and campaign treasurer for former County Executive Dennis T. Gorski, stepped down from the Water Authority in late September, after 16 years at the helm. He could not be reached to comment.
Miranda, 61, who had come under fire in recent months by some members of the City Council, could not be reached to comment.
Miranda wanted to pursue another opportunity, according to the mayor, who said he did not have further details about Miranda’s plans.
Miranda had been local project manager for Lackawanna Clean Energy, a company that proposed converting petroleum coke into synthetic gas at the former Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna. But the project never got off the ground due to environmental concerns, and former Mayor Norman L. Polanski Jr. appointed Miranda, who had served on the city Planning Board, as development director in 2008.
Szymanski retained him when he took office in 2012. Miranda was making $48,500 per year.
Over the past several months, members of the City Council repeatedly requested from Miranda an updated development plan for the city. At a Sept. 16 Council meeting, Miranda informed members that he was still working on the document. When pressed, he acknowledged that he hadn’t put together a city development plan before.
“Actually in writing? No,” he said. “Verbally, yes.”
Development plans, he added, had been shared “in a work session” with previous councils.
Miranda also took heat from some Council members for saying he “worked for the mayor,” suggesting that he didn’t have to answer all of their questions.
And 1st Ward Councilman Abdul Noman pointedly asked Miranda why a Dubai-based startup company, Alita USA Holdings, chose South Buffalo over Lackawanna for its plan to build a $102 million factory that will make steel pipes for the oil and natural gas industry and employ an estimated 172 workers.
“That Dubai company was originally supposed to come to Lackawanna,” Noman said. “What happened?”
Miranda said he never had conversations with Erie County officials about a Dubai company setting up shop in Lackawanna, which has hundreds of acres of developable land for manufacturers.
Large companies usually reach out to the state or county, not the city, he added.
Both Szymanski and Polanski commended Miranda for his professionalism and rapport with the business community.
Miranda was instrumental in helping the city land $862,460 in October from the state’s Brownfield Opportunity Areas competitive grants program.
The grant award was more than two years in the making and is expected to help breathe new life into several brownfields in the city’s First Ward.
The mayor and Polanski said some Council members treated Miranda unfairly.
“A couple of them are the reason why he is leaving,” said Szymanski.
Department heads are required to attend Council meetings, but Miranda has missed the past three. On Monday, City Attorney Antonio Savaglio informed Council President Henry R. Pirowski that the economic development plan he had been seeking from Miranda was completed and would be provided to Pirowski on Tuesday, pending a discussion with the mayor about a “couple of changes.”
Pirowski said he has requested economic development plans for the city for the past decade but still hasn’t seen one.
“It’s in our charter that this is supposed to be done every year,” he said. “To my knowledge, this has not been done in at least the past 10 years and if it has, I haven’t been able to obtain a copy.”
Pirowski said he and other Council members simply want “a picture of where we’re going.”
They’re holding department heads accountable, and some department heads, he said, have responded very well to the new accountability.
“Others,” he added, “don’t show up anymore.”
Szymanski said Miranda is using up accrued vacation and sick time.