On County Manager, Now Hard Work Begins

EDITORIAL

On County Manager,

Now Hard Work Begins

By the time you read this, it’s very likely Otsego County will have created a job of county administrator, joining all but a handful of counties around New York State.

Heading into the Wednesday, Dec. 4, monthly meeting of the county Board of Representatives, the momentum to professionalize government was clear.

Six of the seven Democrats were firmly in favor, plus two Republican leaders – chairman David Bliss and Schenevus’ Peter Oberacker.

Add in Meg Kennedy, the Hartwick Conservative who chaired the committee that firmed up the idea, and it’s a go and then some.

The final tally may include that seventh Democrat,
and perhaps two of the other four Republicans. Only Republicans Ed Frazier and Kathy Clark have been outspokenly against the idea that it takes a pro to administer a $120 million operation.

That said, the nays – Frazier, in particular – have raised cautionary issues in two Letters to the Editor published on www.AllOTSEGO.com.

One, it’s a big job. Two, a manageable expense – salary and benefits are expected to cost $150,000 a year – can get out of control.

Greene County, Frazier reported, “realizing one person couldn’t fulfill all the requirements of the position, … hired a deputy. There, annual spending for the office is now in excess of $350K.”

He concludes, “We have a lot of other line items in the budget that we could spend $350K on.” (Among them, perhaps $40,00-70,000 in costs being absorbed by the Susquehanna SPCA; but that’s for another day.)

Still, the consensus grew behind hiring a county manager as county reps recognized there’s too much to do, and much of it is too complicated for 14 non-expert citizens to accomplish at one monthly meeting and a half-dozen committee meetings in between.

It’s OK if you don’t want – or need – to do anything. But the Energy Task Force, a crisis in rural ambulance service, a complex (and, it’s hoped, cost-effective) renovation of county buildings, a possible new multi-entity highway garage, a stubborn (but, thankfully, not too big) homeless problem, changing tech needs, not to mention day-to-day administration.

It’s a lot; that’s hardly all.

To avoid mushrooming costs – that’s the county board’s job going forward: to prevent empire-building.
Accepting the county manager can’t do EVERYTHING is essential to his/her success. That means recognizing all things aren’t equal and setting priorities.

Further, there’s a lot of staff, brainpower and energy in place now, in 24 department heads and their deputies, in the Planning Department in particular, in the clerk of the board’s office, etc., that can be repurposed or “tasked” as necessary.

Not easy, but possible. It’s impossible now.

Attention will now shift to finding the right guy/gal.

Happily, at chairman Bliss’ insistence, the job description is wide enough to ensure a deep field of candidates.

If an MPA, fine. But brains, experience, healthy ambition, diplomacy (in dealing up to 14 bosses and down to department heads) are essential qualities.

If the vote goes as anticipated here, it’s only the beginning.


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