By GREG KLEIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Otsego County’s legislators began an in-depth look at crafting the county administrator position at a special all board workshop Monday, May 10.
The 14 board members listened and asked questions during a two-hour meeting as County Attorney Ellen Coccoma reiterated to them the details of the local law they passed in 2019 to establish the position and several experts on local governments that are using a county administrator gave their tips and suggestions.
“This is going to be a work in progress,” Coccoma said. “We’re going to probably impliment things now, then as we see how it works out, you may end up saying, ‘we need to change that.’”
A county manager, executive or administrator had been proposed to Otsego County by individuals and good government groups for more than three decades. The county’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee studied the prospect for two years, finally drafting a proposal to create a day-to-day manager who answers to the board. The administrator position passed in a November 2019 local law, with only three representatives against the plan.
Steven Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, Pat Cummings, NYSAC’s council, and Nick Mazza, who served as a county administrator for more than 20 years in Livingston County, gave their insights and took questions from the legislators.
Acquario said the county administrator position has had staying power in counties that have adopted it.
“It’s probably about 95%,” he said. “So it works. It’s good and it is quite helpful.”
Cummings, who worked in Schenectady County when it switched to a county administrator, said the board will delegate some authority, and in return, will gain a lot more time to focus on big-picture matters.
“This is the benefit of a county administrator,” he said. “They are there every day, and you are delegating that oversight to day-to-day operations. They are your eyes and ears. They work for you.”
Acquario stressed that the administrator works for the board but is not the board chair’s assistant. He said the administrator will work closely with the department heads and elected officials as a chief executive and operational officer.
Otsego’s law specifies the administrator will be the budget officer, monitor spending and revenue and give the board updates and advice, among other provisions.
Mazza, who is an advisor to NYSAC, said he would be willing to help the county in any way, including the hiring process. He said hiring is tough and Otsego should not settle, because getting the person with the right experience, skill set and temperament is crucial.
“What you have going for you is Otsego County is a relatively desirable place to live,” he said.
At about the two-hour mark, Coccoma and Board Chair Dave Bliss, R-Cherry Valley, Middlefield, Roseboom, agreed to adjourn and schedule a second workshop.
The administrator position was listed in the winter and is budgeted for a half year, with county officials hoping for a July 1, start date. And although Mazza cautioned patience on hiring, the entire presentation drew praise from the legislators.
“It has been valuable,” Bliss said. “I appreciate you taking the time to join us and help us with our process.”
“I think that prospect of proactivity and planning is really exciting to us all and hopefully to the public as well,” said Rep. Clark Oliver, D-Oneonta.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the meeting was held via Zoom. It can be viewed on the county’s Facebook page.