HIRING COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Kay Stuligross has come a long way, baby.
Raising a family in Oneonta in the 1980s, she and her husband, Hartwick College Economics Professor Jack Stuligross, agreed her time would be better spent raising their five sons instead of holding a fulltime job.
While attitudes of the time may have kept her from a fulltime profession, there was one constant for the inquisitive, engaged woman, who retired from the Otsego County Board of Representatives in 2018: The League of Women Voters.
In the 1960s, she met her husband at college in Detroit, and they married “a year and a month to the day” after their first date. In fact, “I set my wedding date on our first date. It was a good marriage, providential.”
After obtaining a master’s, he joined the Federal Reserve in Dallas and, realizing he was the only one in the office lacking a Ph.D., soon enrolled at the University of Oklahoma, moving Kay and two babies to Norman.
Grocery shopping her third day there, she found the local League of Women Voters’ “Voters Guide” in her shopping bag.
In those days before websites and Facebook, it was common for local Leagues to submit written questions to candidates; the answers would be published in a booklet. “Based on their answers,” the newcomer to the Sooner State said, “I knew who to vote for.”
Even today, age 80, retired to The Meadows, a complete-care community in Lansdale, Pa., she declared in a telephone interview the other day, “I don’t want to vote a straight ticket. I want to be informed.”
She joined Norman’s League, and became involved in collecting local data for a nationwide League study of poverty.
A newly minted, Ph.D., Jack got a teaching job at Central Missouri State, Warrensburg; Kay joined the League. He moved to Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisc.; she joined the League there and, when they departed for Hartwick in 1981, she was president.
“I came prepared to look hard at government here,” Kay said. She soon joined the League of Women Voters, Oneonta chapter, and in the next decade served as president, and also on the League’s state board for two terms.
Her husband died in 2006, struck by a car while riding a bicycle in Southside Oneonta.
In 2007, she decided to run for the county board and was elected, and said her intent was, if possible, to see professional management achieved. In 2009, she was also appointed to the city’s Charter Revision Commission, which created a city-manager job, with mixed results.
Naturally, she declared she was “pleased” on learning the Otsego County Board of Representatives, almost 30 years after the local Leagues’ recommendation, created a county administrator position Wednesday, Dec. 4, by an 11-2-1 vote.
“We need a trained administrator,” she said. “The board members are hardworking, dedicated people, good hearted people who want the best for their county and the taxpayers, but don’t really haves the experience to do it.” (Except, she said, farmers, some who have run sizeable operations before joining the county board.)
“No school board would act without a superintendent,” she said, “and they are much smaller than the county.”
In 2007, David R. Brenner of Oneonta, former county board chair (who then served as city mayor), conducted a study of professional management for the county board, and offered options to pursue.
At the time, however, the representatives were angry and divided after minority Democrats reached an agreement with Republican Donald Lindberg, Worcester: He agreed to caucus with them; in turn, they elected him board chairman.
While supporting the concept of professional management, Brenner recommended against acting at that time: Bringing a manager into such a rancorous situation would guarantee the innovation’s failure.
“It would not be successful until most of the board is firmly on board,” Stuligross recalled Brenner concluding.
Today, with Republican David Bliss’ relatively benign, bipartisan approach, the time may be right. But Stuligross had some advice.
One, department heads will have mixed feeling, appreciating someone who can resolved issues day-to-day, but apprehensive about closer oversight.
“It is important the board not cause confusion by letting department heads come to them,” said Kay. “They must reinforce the administrator is in charge.”
Two, the board must let the administrator fulfill responsibilities outlined in the contract, but should also ensure the “full performance” clause is met.
In particular, “the ability to work with others is crucial,” she said. “Somehow,” before hiring, “they need to observe or otherwise learn about the candidates’ interpersonal skills”