Not all sold on idea of county administrator


By Jim Poole

Most community leaders agree that Schoharie County should look into topping county government with an administrator, manager or executive.
But few leaders agree on what should happen after county supervisors study the issue.
Supervisors decided in November that they’ll study the new position of county administrator who would handle daily government business.
The infant stages of that study should start in January, with supervisors referring it to one or more committees, according to Earl VanWormer, chairman of the board.
He’s not sure which committee the study will go to––Finance, Personnel or Planning or all three––but the committee is a first step.
“If we’re going to study, let’s study every option and then hear from the public,” Mr. VanWormer said.
If he had his way, Mr. VanWormer would opt for an appointed administrator who would “serve at the pleasure of the Board of Supervisors.
“Ideally, the Board of Supervisors should still be in charge,” Mr. Van Wormer said. “It would be sort of a cooperative effort and a better way to do business.”
Middleburgh Mayor Bill Ansel-McCabe likes that option, too. He’s familiar with the system because his wife, Erynne, is director of the Iroquois Indian Museum and answers to a 16-member board, the same number as the Board of Supervisors.
“The supervisors do a good job, but they have full-time jobs someplace else,” Mayor Ansel-McCabe said.
“The county needs someone there every day. The budget is $72 million. You don’t see many businesses that size without a CEO.”
But not everyone sees it that way. Both Maureen Lodes of the Sharon Springs Chamber of Commerce and Cobleskill Regional Hospital President Eric Stein––former president of the county Chamber––said the right person must fill the job.
“It really depends on having a clear vision and the right leader to fulfill that vision,” Mr. Stein said.
And, Ms. Lodes added, a new system of government requires more than just hiring one person. It will mean new chains of command, with county department heads answering to the administrator instead of 16 supervisors.
“It’s a new concept, a big change,” Ms. Lodes said. “If people aren’t going to accept it, it’s not going to work. But it’s worth looking at.”
What do department heads think? Two long-timers, Alicia Terry in Planning and Development and Stanley France in Central Data Processing, have mixed feelings.
“I’m not embracing one system over another,” Ms. Terry said. “Some days it would be great to report to just one person. Other days, it’s great to have more sets of eyes and ears to refine policy.”
Mr. France pointed out that an administrator and board has worked well in some counties, though there have been “notable failures in others.”
Like Ms. Lodes, Mr. France said the system would depend on the quality of the administrator––and the quality of the board.
His concern is that with supervisors playing a lesser role, towns would lack the representation they have now.
“The relationship with the towns is there now, and it’s something I would not want to see go,” Mr. France said.
“There are definite advantages to the current system.”
Admitting that “it’s never bad to look into something,” Cobleskill Mayor Mark Galasso agreed with Mr. France that the current system has its advantages.
Mayor Galasso is worried that adding an administrator is adding to government––and, possibly, expense.
“I’m concerned that government has a never-ending propensity to grow,” he said. “We’re the only county without debt. Why change it?
“We should look into it. It’s a worthwhile enterprise. But I’m skeptical as to the need.”