By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO August 19, 2005 Some called it a lynching, and others said it was the saddest day in the countys history.
But for the Democrats who ousted Sullivan County Manager Dan Briggs on Thursday, it was just good business.
That contrasted sharply, however, with the majority of the 200 people or so sitting and standing in the lobby of the Government Center in Monticello, who supported Briggs and showed their appreciation of him by clapping loudly for about two dozen speakers, Democrats and Republicans, who asked the Legislature to reconsider its decision.
But no reconsideration was in the works. Democratic legislators voted 5-4 as a unified bloc against a unified minority of Republican legislators to oust Briggs, a Republican who has served as the countys manager for the last five years and 18 years before that as county treasurer.
From the Chair
Sullivan County Legislature Chairman Chris Cunningham, who began to share his desire for the firing of Briggs at an executive session two weeks ago, said that Briggs was a nice, well-liked individual, but there were serious management issues.
He cited the Sullivan County Landfill, the Department of Public Works and negative audits of the county to be among the problems.
When questioned afterwards as to what he wanted Briggs to do differently on those subjects, Cunningham replied that he wanted somebody who was more proactive and who showed more initiative. He wouldnt elaborate.
Briggs said that Cunningham had never spoken to him about any of those issues.
Cunningham said that Briggs will receive a generous severance package and will be able to put in his retirement papers with the state, if he chooses.
Cunningham also claimed that Republicans had attempted to get Democrats to switch parties recently.
From the Manager
In an emotional speech before the official vote took place, Briggs said he had conscientiously and honestly tried to make all his decisions during his tenure. He noted that the treasurers department had earned international awards for its clear, financial reporting.
He referred to the great job done by county staff, volunteer firefighters and emergency personnel in response to the floods of the last year. He said the county had worked hard to transition out of an economy once based on just a few industries. He believed the new county comprehensive plan, which is being worked on, will be vital to its future.
Throughout public service, I have attempted to keep things in perspective. I have a loving family, for which I am very proud, he said, choking up.
His mother and his sons were in attendance.
Our employees are our greatest asset. I believe in Sullivan County and will continue to reside in Sullivan County, he continued.
From the Republicans
Fellow Republican legislators used harsh words to describe the firing of one of the partys most well respected leaders.
Jodi Goodman called the last weeks a slow death and the saddest moment Ive had as a legislator.
He has always listened. More than that, he truly cared, she said. Im embarrassed to look to my right and see his family witness this horrific event.
Republican Legislator and County GOP Chair Greg Goldstein said that if Briggs was not performing up to par, then there should have been an evaluation, which was only begun recently. If there were any problems with him, it should have been discussed with him, he said.
Republican Leni Binder lashed out at Cunninghams directives to keep department heads from attending the meeting yesterday. Some attended anyway, but most did not speak.
She called the firing of Briggs the death of open government. She, like the others, decried the lack of open and public discussion on Briggs.
I will not be a party to this lynching, she stated. I am always disappointed in mans inhumanity to his fellow man.
Republican Majority Leader Rodney Gaebel said that Briggs epitomizes integrity and hard work.
From the Democrats
Democratic Legislator Ron Hiatt said it was a matter of business, not friendship. He said that Briggs had done a good job with the fire at the Government Center and three major floods over the past year.
But he singled out Briggs for not funding the human rights commission and the consumer protection board after votes in 2004. (Resolutions stating their funding were not passed by the Legislature until this year.) He said Briggs should have funded the arming of probation officers after a resolution in 2002, which was not done until the Legislature approved a bill in 2004.
Hiatt also blamed Briggs for not properly accounting for $7 million, although Briggs said the in-house auditors located that discrepancy in 2004 after many years of state funds not being earmarked appropriately.
Democrat Sam Wohl said voting against Briggs was one of the most difficult things Ive ever had to do. This is not about politics.
He also said earlier that the successor to Briggs would not arise from the Legislature. He said nobody in the Legislature was capable of succeeding Briggs.
Democratic Majority Leader Kathleen LaBuda, who said she would make a statement yesterday, never did. Legislature Vice Chairman Jonathan Rouis did not speak either.
One of the most prominent Democrats to speak in favor of keeping Briggs on was Sullivan County Sheriff Dan Hogue, who is retiring at the end of the year. Hogues son, Dan Hogue Jr. was also in attendance. The senior Hogue said that the county manager has always been a stand-up person. Whether a county employee held an entry-level position or was a senior official, Briggs always greeted them with a smile, he said.
If a department head needed help, Briggs was there: I went to his office for guidance many times, said Hogue.
Hogue said the majority of legislators who had moved to fire him cant see the forest in front of the trees.
Hogue said if Briggs was being let go for the incidents involving the Sullivan County Department of Public Works, than that was a mistake. He compared it to firing a bank teller for embezzlement after the bank was robbed.
If Briggs did something wrong, it should have been brought to his attention and discussed, said Hogue.
Former Sullivan County Democratic Party Chairman and Publisher Emeritus of the Sullivan County Democrat Fred Stabbert Jr. quoted William Shakespeare.
Ive come here to honor Dan Briggs, not bury him. If anybody has a right to be angry at Dan, its me, he said for Briggs defeated two good candidates that Stabbert put up to defeat Briggs when he ran for County Treasurer.
Town of Liberty Councilman Sean Hanofee, who spoke in front of the crowd and who is a lifelong Democrat, said, Today I hang my head low and am not happy to be a Democrat.
From the Public
John LiGreci, Supervisor of the Town of Lumberland and Chairman of the Association of Supervisors, read from a resolution expressing a vote of no confidence in the Legislature, with nine in support and ten absent. The motion was made by Town of Liberty Supervisor Frank DeMayo and seconded by Town of Mamakating Supervisor Charles Penna.
LiGreci said Briggs was extremely helpful to his town during the terrible floods of the last year. During one flood, Briggs was able to get heavy equipment to the Eldred school to solve a problem, which allowed the school to open the next day.
While he didnt always agree with all the decisions of the Legislature, LiGreci said he could usually respect them.
This decision is something I cannot respect and will put a strain on the relationship between the [supervisors and the legislators], he warned.
He said there were people who feel uninformed on issues and took exception to county meetings that dealt with town issues without town representation.
We wonder whether the county is bring best served by the Legislature, he said.
Noel Van Swol, a resident of Long Eddy, called the firing a palace coup. He echoed Hogues sentiments that if this was a reaction to the DPW scandal, then it was the wrong decision. He called it a sign of weakness and capitulation to the members of the Department of Public Works who allegedly want to bring down the county government after being confronted with their alleged transgressions.
Former Village of Monticello Trustee David Rosenberg, a Republican, said that Sullivan County was losing a friend. He used the opportunity to call for a popularly elected county manager who was not beholden to the Legislature.
Town of Neversink Supervisor Georgianna Lepke spoke in favor of keeping Briggs, as well.