2 Informational Sessions Eyed
At Oneonta, County Courthouse
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN — After the job description was expanded to widen the field of applicants, county board Chair David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, today set a public hearing on creating a county-manager position for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4.
The decision was an initiative by the board’s Administration Committee, chaired by county Rep. Meg Kennedy, R-Mount Vision, that has held a second meeting for the past 22 months to determine how best to craft a professional position to direct the $116 million government.
Before then, Kennedy said, she is organizing two public information sessions, one in Oneonta and the other at the county courthouse in Cooperstown, to allow citizens to get their questions answered. Dates to follow.
As discussion began today, Bliss said he was concerned that the job description limits applicants to those with bachelor’s or master’s degrees in business and public administration, plus professional experience.
Bliss was able to get the word “preferably” placed in the description, which would allow the county board to hire someone who didn’t quite fit all the particulars, but had different strengths.
Kennedy agreed, pointing out the county manager will not only require academic training and experience, but will have to be “a great people person as well.”
Bliss may have been reacting to Oneonta’s experience, where a strict MPA – master’s in public administration – requirement may have contributed to failed tenures of the first two city managers there.
In addition to the job description and resolution, Kennedy and four Admin Committee members, who have studied the issue at a second monthly meeting in each of the past 22 months, addressed different aspect of the process and prospective position.
Kennedy emphasized a county manager would work for the county board, which continues to have all legislative and policy-making powers.
Michele Farwell, D-Butternuts/Morrisville/Pittsfield, traced the development of the county board since 1791, when Otsego County was formed from Montgomery County and a board of supervisor was created.
That continued until 1969, when a county Board of Representatives was created, reducing 24 supervisors to 14 representatives, each with one vote.
That later changed to today’s weighted voting system. She didn’t get into it, but that was the result of a lawsuit brought by Hank Nicols of Cooperstown, then county Democratic chairman, which argued the allocation one vote to constituencies of various sized violated the Supreme Court’s one-man, one-vote decision.
Today, Otsego County is the only one of New York State’s 57 counties so constituted, Farwell said.
Only seven of the state’s 57 counties (outside New York City) lack county managers or executives, but five of those are exploring making the shift, she said.
Liz Shannon, D-Oneonta, reported that a survey of county reps and department heads early in the process discovered a general dissatisfaction with the status quo.
The committees meeting once a month were insufficient to guide day-to-day developments, and funneling decision-making a second time through the Admin Committee was repetitious.
Further, county board turnover every two years created a “lack of continuity,” Shannon said.
However, 75 percent of department heads disliked the idea of a county manager, fearing they would be “micromanaged” and the position might become political.
Andrew Marietta, D-Cooperstown/Town of Otsego, said the impetus was about “vision.” The question, “How do we position Otsego County to be more successful?” informed the process, he said.
While the county board does year-to-year budgets, a county manager would be able to develop five-year projections, minimizing surprises. He also pointed out that department heads are now evaluated every two years, perhaps by a different person.
Done right, a county manager could ensure more logical policy development, economic development, project management and strategic planning.
Finally, Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, said he used a time-management device that determined he spent 35.72 hours last August, 38.08 in September and 31.18 in October to manage the $14.3 million highway and building maintenance departments.
He quoted Coach Brooks from the movie, “Miracle on Ice” – “Great moments are born out of great opportunities.”
The idea, he suggested, is to create more of those opportunities and, occasionally, a miracle.