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Letter to the Editor: Planning Department Changes Needed

Written By Editor on 10/29/14 | 10/29/14

In last week’s Times-Journal, that newpaper’s lead editorial demanded an explanation for some of the recommendations that I made in the 2015 Tentative Budget. It is a fair request. What isn’t fair however is the inflammatory claim made by the TJ editor that I “gutted” the Planning Department. Planning and Economic Development Director Alicia Terry recommended that the vacant Office Manager position be eliminated from the Planning Department in 2015, and that a new fulltime Planner position be created. I supported that plan, but I am also recommending a change in the way the agency is managed.

For the past 20 years, economic development has been the under-performing stepchild of the Planning Department, with both functions combined and overseen by one department head. I am recommending that the two functions be separated into their own individual departments. I made this recommendation because, in my opinion, our county’s economic development and job creation record is abysmal, and has been for a long time.

The Planning Department deals with helping towns re-write zoning regulations, assists with drafting master plans, and so on. On the other hand, Economic Development deals with bringing in new jobs, promoting Schoharie County to potential businesses which might be willing to relocate here, and cutting through red tape to help those businesses see the benefits of coming to our community. These two functions are really not compatible with each other in that Planning sets limits on what a homeowner or a business can do with their property, while Economic Development’s role should be creative and innovative in order to attract businesses and employers to our community. Over time, it is true that there have been occasions when I criticized our county’s economic development program. Those comments were not personal attacks, they were valid public policy criticisms of a program that was clearly not working. My complaints are based upon a taxpayer-funded agency’s failure to bring jobs to this county, when that is their only mission. Should there be no limits to how long we continue to pay for services that fall short of expectations?

The Director of Planning and Economic Development was appointed to that position more than 20 years ago, yet her job performance has never been evaluated by the Board of Supervisors nor has she ever come up for reappointment during that span of time. No annual goals are set by the Board, and no benchmarks are established in order to measure success (or failure). Moreover, this year’s cost overruns and change orders on the streambank project now total more than $5 million. The Planning Director has publically acknowledged that she personally authorized engineering company AECOM to perform $1.2 million worth of additional services, well beyond the scope of their contract, without ever bringing the matter to the Board of Supervisors for their approval. County taxpayers will now be stuck with that bill. The TJ editorial hinted that my budget recommendation is based upon some personal vendetta, and that I was being “vindictive”. Even worse, and more mean-spirited, were the accusations spewed out in two letters to the editor, claiming that the underlying reason for my recommendation for change was that I treat women differently than I treat men. Both accusations are completely false and untrue, and I believe they are made in an effort to take the focus off the real issue at hand, which is the ineffectiveness of our county’s economic development policies.

It is my duty and responsibility as budget officer to sometimes recommend changes to the status quo. Surely most people will agree that Schoharie County’s record of economic development and job creation over the past 20 years has been a failure. While counties all around us have experienced job growth and economic expansion, Schoharie County always seems to fall short. The TJ accurately states in their editorial that I once called our economic development efforts a “flat tire”. I still think that sums it up pretty well. That statement is not intended to hurt anyone’s feelings, it is an evaluation of our failure to create much-needed jobs in this county. This has nothing to do with the gender of the department head, instead it has everything to do with our lack of forward progress. I am suggesting that the Planning Department be separated from Economic Development, and that more emphasis be placed upon attracting new employers to Schoharie County.

With that in mind, I also recommend that the one current full-time position in the economic development division be replaced with two employees for essentially the same money. In a questionable “cost-savings” move made two years ago, the now-dismissed former Personnel Officer, working in conjunction with Planning Director, eliminated a grade 12 position in Economic Development and replaced it with the current grade 19 ‘Marketing Specialist’ position. Obviously, this change didn’t save any money at all, but instead cost taxpayers even more. I am recommending that this ill- conceived plan be reversed, and the current grade 19 position be abolished and replaced with one fulltime grade 15 position plus one half-time position for essentially the same money that we are now paying. The advantage here is that for about the same cost, we could have two economic development representatives out there beating the bushes and trying to bring in jobs instead of just one. I call that more bang for the buck.

As for the claims that I am somehow targeting anyone in county government because of their gender, I categorically and absolutely deny that accusation. Unless the Times Journal or its contributors have proof that I have ever discriminated against anyone based upon gender, race, or age, they are coming dangerously close to crossing the line and being sued for libel. I have worked with dozens, if not hundreds, of professional women during my 30 years in public service, and I have always fought for their equality in the workplace. I treat everyone that I work with, both men and women, with dignity and respect. But I am not your typical “politician” in that when it comes to taxpayer dollars, I am often willing to speak my mind, and even criticize other governmental agencies when the more politically correct (and probably smarter) move would be to sit on the sidelines and keep quiet. But the residents of this county have given me a job to do as their treasurer, a job that sometimes requires me to make difficult choices, and to speak the truth as I see it.

I know that I am not going to make everyone happy all the time, but for a local newspaper to accuse me of discrimination against women is a complete fabrication. I will continue to treat women and men as equals, to treat Democrats exactly the same as I do Republicans, and to be critical of wasteful spending and poor performance regardless of gender or political affiliation.

William Cherry
Schoharie County Treasurer
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2 comments:

Norie61 said...

I totally agree with Mr.Cherry's assessment of Mrs.Terry.If anyone can produce just what the hell she's done in the last 20 years that benefitted this County let them come forward.Over the last 20-40 years most Chairmen of the Board of Supervisors came from the same town as Mrs.Terry, Gilboa. Presently Mr.VanGlad also comes from Gilboa and Mrs.Terry and him are friends and she has served on the Town Board.When a vote comes up, he should abstain.

upstateny1000 said...

Mr. Cherry is absolutely correct when he states that there is a substantive conflict between County Planning’s role as subject matter experts on land use regulations and that of economic development. The goal of the former is to help apply planning and zoning strategies to maintain the character and qualities of a community as defined in its Comprehensive plan, prevent counter-productive sprawl/segmentation and to ensure land use decision making is consistent with applicable laws and regulations, including those designed to protect the environment (such as SEQRA). The latter is to identify economic development strategies that promote growth and create jobs. The goals of both can occasionally be compatible but just as often they can be at odds and must be balanced by independent authorities.

Under Ms. Terry’s leadership the planning function has been secondary to the economic development role. Ironically, despite that bias, Ms. Terry has done a terrible job at both, failing to implement any meaningful economic development strategies. Compounding Ms. Terry’s failures are her decisions to push dubious projects such as the failed and expensive Maranatha project and the pork-barrel multi-million dollar construction of water and sewer lines to Howe Caverns, a project that was heavy in political motivation and cronyism but absent any rational justification. - Bob Nied

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