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Former fire chief Roger Melchior was pretty much chronically unemployed until his old Baltimore buddy -- City Administrator Donna Owens -- pulled some strings on his behalf and got him a job as fire chief in Niagara Falls.

When the guy didn't show up for work after collapsing in the City Hall parking lot immediately following his swearing in, and then fell down again and broke his leg a couple days later, Mark Scheer of the Niagara Gazette wrote a column called "It's too soon to sound alarm on new fire chief."

That was on Nov. 28 of last year, just a bit over two months ago.

Since then, Melchior has scarcely shown up for work, and last week he was fired by Mayor Paul Dyster after making an unflattering and somewhat racist remark about Arabs on a Baltimore blog, then lying about it. An investigation by the Buffalo News -- not the Niagara Gazette -- broke the story.

Is it too soon to sound the alarm now, Mark?

We have a hard time figuring out who is more dimwitted: Dyster for hiring the guy, or Scheer for consistently swallowing the mayor's road apples whole.

Dyster made a big deal when he took office about conducting "nationwide searches" to find "the best and the brightest" department heads who would lead us into the 21st century. He said he felt that the city itself was a "swamp" that needed to be drained of "alligators," supposedly city officials who were hired locally, and thus,were corrupt beyond measure.

The mayor's record on these hires has been dismal.

Ali Marzban -- an Iranian with addresses in both Texas and California -- was the best and the brightest city engineer who could be found, Dyster told us. A simple Google search uncovered the fact that Marzban was unlicensed to practice engineering anywhere in the United States!

Peter Kay -- a man of no fixed ability or address -- was the best and the brightest city economic director who could be found anywhere in the country. After several years during which Niagara Falls lost hundreds of jobs and experienced no new development, the City Council gave him the boot last month.

And the aforementioned Donna Owens -- a former garbage collection specialist from Georgia and Maryland -- was apparently the best and the brightest city administrator to be found. We're lucky if she shows up for work four days a week, and her single accomplishment has been to station cops outside her City Hall office and wire the joint with secret cameras.

Let's just come out and say it: Mayor Dyster is a dunce whose judgment is questionable to the point where he should be looked at by a psychiatrist instead of city voters.

And intrepid newsman Mark Scheer, who seems to be angling for a job in government, will stick by Dyster until the end, in much the same way he did with the late and entirely unlamented Francine Del Monte.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Feb. 15, 2011