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Letter to the Editor: County Government in Crisis

Written By Editor on 6/20/14 | 6/20/14

Over the last several months much has been written  with regard to the administration and leadership of Schoharie County Government. And with good reason, based on the recent history of personnel scandals, fiscal mismanagement, and a general inability to work in a concerted effort. Our County appears to be in dire straights.

This past years lengthy and expensive investigation into possibly corruption coming from the Office of Personnel was enlightening if for nothing else than revealing just how dysfunctional our present government has become. As is typical in these matters, what we know as the general public is only the tip of the county government iceberg.

I foolishly thought that based on the election results of last fall with several incumbents not being re-elected and others winning by the narrowest of margins, the Board of Supervisors had been given a mandate to seriously consider how to provide better representation to the electorate. Alas, it was not to happen as at the eleventh hour a parliamentary move put an apparent end of what appeared to be a balanced study of alternative forms of government.

In a letter to the editor in the Times-Journal Supervisor Gene Milone made a very candid remark. Mr. Malone stated that on occasion he does not have the time to acquaint himself fully with all the issues which come before the Board for a vote. And from where I sit, I can fully relate with him. Supervisors, particularly those who are also committee chairs at the county level and represent relatively populated towns, have an incredible work burden in addition to their regular jobs they may hold. It is not an exaggeration to state that they have meetings four of five evenings a week in addition to their monthly marathon, the Full Board meeting.

Is it any wonder that the Board's effectiveness has waned in our highly over regulated State. It is interesting to note that of the fifty-seven counties outside of NYC, thirty-one use the appointed administrator/manager form of government, seventeen have and elected County Executive. While only nine counties continue to be managed by a legislative Board. Simply put, it's not the seventies any longer. Committees regardless of how effectively they are structured can not meet timely enough for today's fast paced and highly complicated decision making.

If this is our past and present, then what might be our future? Many ideas have been advanced over the years. One being a county legislature made up of any number of local districts. Surprisingly this system is used not only by the largest Counties within the State but some of the more moderately sized, with a significant amount agricultural base. We have also seen some local movement regarding the appointed County Administrator and to a lesser extent the elected County Manager forms of government. All have their respective pluses and minuses. Yet unfortunately due to the recent action or better said inaction of the Board of Supervisors we may never know what might best fit Schoharie County.

From a practical standpoint I don't envision the County Legislature concept ever moving forward as the Board lacks the political courage to essentially end their current way of life. While the elected County Executive is less of a blow as the Board remains intact, it means there would be a publicly elected official whom some may perceive as having greater authority (translation = power) than the Supervisors themselves. Again, a somewhat unlikely scenario.

This leaves an appointed County Administrator or Manager as the only viable political option. True, appointed by the Board, yet able to act independently in part by the protection afforded by his/her employment contract. This could allow the County to hire a fresh face, unscarred by local combat. Someone with a Master's Degree in Public Administration and having enough real world experience to lead a multi-million dollar service oriented company of some four-hundred plus employees, which is Schoharie  County.

Hopefully and perhaps ideally, gone would be the seemingly never ending sagas of questionable management practices at the great expense of tax payers hard earned dollars. I am hopeful that the County Board of Supervisors, particularly those taking office the result of the last election cycle, can convince their colleagues to reopen their study on alternatives forms of local government. And eventually exercise the political courage and visionary leadership skills the voters know you are capable of producing.

Brian DeFeo

Mr. DeFeo serves on the Middleburgh Town Board.
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