Saturday, October 9, 2010

County Administrator

Now that the County has begun the process of creating the position of County Administrator, I think I should clarify my stance on the position.  During my last campaign for County Supervisor I stated then that we needed to change the way County government is run.  At that time, I stated we should take a serious look at going to a County legislature with a County Executive.  One of the reasons I was leaning toward this form of government is, this would give us a chance to reduce the amount of Supervisors we current have in the County, starting with changing the number of Supervisors representing the City of Hudson from 5 to no more than 2.

Along with the change in the number of County Supervisors, I was in favor of creating the position of County Administrator or Executive.  With that change, I was looking to make the position an elected position so that the people of the County would have some say about the person who would be running part of County functions.

Now, Chairman Brown has formed a sub-committee to explore the possibility of creating the position of County Administrator.  Chairman Brown, came before the County government committee and made a power point presentation on why he believes we need a County Administrator.  During  that meeting I asked many questions, the first of which was, why are we not considering an elected position instead of an appointed position?  Chairman Brown, along with most of the members of the County government committee was in favor of going with an appointed position instead of an elected one, I disagreed.  I also asked, how long is the proposed term for the new position going to be?  Chairman Brown, responded by saying County Attorney Rob Fitzsimmons is looking into whether the County Board of Supervisors can appoint someone to the position of County Administrator for 5 years.  I immediately said 5 years is to long, given most County Supervisors have to run for re-election every 2 years, I felt it would not be fair to the new incoming Supervisors to have someone who was appointed by the previous Board of Supervisors without having any input to whether that is the person they choose to work with. 

Just from the two answers I got from Chairman Brown, the position would be appointed not elected and the person would be appointed to a 5 years term, I was seriously considering voting NO, once the position came to the full board for a vote.  I'm now a little more comfortable knowing there are laws that do not allow someone to be appointed for a 5 year term. 

This doesn't mean that I am going to vote YES, if and when this is brought to the full board for a vote.  Many questions still remain as to why we need a County Administrator.  As I stated before, I was in favor of creating an elected position of County Administrator or Executive.  That was before we created the position of County Controller.  Many of the scenarios that have been outlined regarding the lag time in the ability to purchase is something that can easily be handled by the County Controller.  Why do we need to create the position of County Administrator, which I feel will be doing a lot of duties that can easily be handed over to the County Controller?  With this in mind, the question begs to be answered, do we need to have a County Controller and County Administrator to run our government? 

As and elected official and a taxpayer, I believe we can do more with less, that means consolidating positions not creating them.  I believe now that we have a County Controller a hard look needs to be taken at whether we indeed need the position of County Controller and County Administrator?  One thing is clear, adding these two positions to the County payroll is going to cost the taxpayer's of Columbia County over $200,000 a year.

Attached is the newspaper article of the first sub-committee meeting to discuss the position of County Administrator.

Register Star Article:

Creation of admin faces hurdles

By Francesca Olsen

Hudson-Catskill Newspapers


Friday, October 8, 2010 2:13 AM EDT

It’s likely that a local law providing for a county administrator won’t be passed until 2011 — not by the end of this year as Board of Supervisors Chairman, Roy Brown, R-Germantown, had hoped.

“It will be December before we get into the meat and potatoes,” he said, “But that’s OK.”

The subcommittee dedicated to researching the new position’s implementation met for the first time Thursday evening to discuss some preliminary concerns.

First on the agenda, County Attorney Robert Fitzsimmons explained that unless the entire Board of Supervisors moved to uniform, four-year terms, it probably wouldn’t be legally possible for a county administrator to have an appointed term over two years.

There is “a term limit provision in the Common Law ... that says a current board can’t bind a future board to somebody” like a county administrator, Fitzsimmons said.

And in order to shift the board to all four-year terms, each of the twelve towns that set two-year terms for their supervisors would have to pass a local law changing the term limits, and hold a mandatory referendum, leaving the decision in the hands of town residents.

If every referendum passed, the change wouldn’t come until the next election — at least two years from the time of the referendum. “That’s unfortunately the process,” Fitzsimmons said.

Ancram Supervisor Art Bassin (D) said he wished he had known this earlier, since he recently “strongly opposed” a supervisor term limit extension in his town.

“It’s not easy to get (the referendum) through, even if you do do it,” said Supervisor Valerie Bertram, R-Stuyvesant.

The subcommittee also discussed the current government structure and how it could reasonably be minimized while still leaving the final deciding power to the BOS.

A county administrator could quickly approve new employees for budgeted positions (rightusually takes at least a month to get approval, leaving departments in a lurch) and simple requests for equipment.

This might allow BOS’ committees to meet less, since they would mostly cover policy instead of personnel and budgetary requests, Bertram said.

“There has to be some authority the person has ... to be able to make things happen ... otherwise, why would you want to put another level of bureaucracy in place?” said county Human Resources Director John Rutkey Jr.

An administrator would also be able to direct policy in the face of BOS turnover — the county has no comprehensive plan or official long-term strategy, and an administrator could take input from supervisors to use for future planning, Brown said.

The BOS and county department heads will most likely be surveyed about what inadequacies they see in the current system, and in the case of the BOS, what powers they’d like to retain.

Bertram said the county would need to “make it known why we’re taking away what we’re taking away (from the BOS) and what we’re going to be doing instead.”

Plenty of other counties have explored the idea of a central figure like a county administrator, some successfully, and the resource of experience will have to be utilized in Columbia County, the subcommittee seemed to agree.

Several people with experience, including Greene County Interim Administrator Dan Frank, will be asked to speak to the subcommittee about their process, and the challenge of implementing such a major change.

The next subcommittee meeting will be held Nov. 4 at 6 p.m., directly after the BOS’ public safety committee, at 401 State St. in Hudson.