By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO May 30, 2006 After 27 years in government including three stints as acting County Manager, one year as Village of Monticello Manager and the last 20 years as the Sullivan County Commissioner of General Services Harvey Smith has earned the admiration and accolades of his colleagues.
Sullivan County Legislature Chairman Chris Cunningham describes him as the closest thing to indispensable of a person as we can get.
Smith has been at the forefront of just about every capital project the county has undertaken over the last 20 years. From the expansion of the landfill to the Adult Care Center in Liberty, the annex at the Sullivan County Jail to the Corporate Park in Rock Hill, the Maplewood Facility for the Department of Public Works to the annex to the Sullivan County Government Center, the Farm and Home Center in Liberty (run by Cornell Cooperative Extension) to the Fire Training Center, hes been involved.
Over the last year, he has served as County Manager along with Richard LaCondre. This is the second time the two have shared the role. They last did so six years ago when Jonathan Drapkin stepped down from his post to take over as Executive Director of the Gerry Foundation.
The first time Smith was Acting County Manager, however, was during the switch from the Board of Supervisors to the Sullivan County Legislature in the mid-90s, between County Administrator Linda Green and Drapkin.
But on July 14, Smith will call it a day.
I decided I wanted to do several of the things Ive always enjoyed doing but never had the time for, he said in an exclusive interview last week.
That includes architectural design work, which he has always done on the side. He also will be able to dabble in quantum physics, something he has always enjoyed reading about.
A 1961 graduate of Liberty High School, Smith is a native of Parksville. He and his wife Stephanie have been married for 40 years and have two children.
He began a carpentry career in New York City before being drafted into the Army. He spent one year on bases in Georgia and Missouri before returning to the county. He worked for Arnel Homes, a homebuilding company, and then as office manager for Right Furnishing and subsequently at Bogner-Seitel for four years.
In 1975, he began his own contracting and design work company, before going to work for the Village of Monticello as the Director of Community Development in 1979. He oversaw projects to renovate homes and the awarding of grants for such renovation. He also became involved with the building of the villages sewer plant in 1983.
In 1985, he was named Village of Monticello Manager under former Mayor Lou Harmin. He was involved in the transfer of the villages landfill to the county. The deal was meant to unload the fiscal burden the village faced in closing the landfill cells, due to new environmental regulations. In return, the village negotiated a deal in which it would receive a reduced rate for dumping its garbage.
After one year there, he was tapped by the Board of Supervisors, Chairman and Town of Thompson Supervisor David Kaufman, and County Administrator Paul Rouis to be the next Director of General Services.
Ever since, he has handled nearly all of the countys 4,000 purchases each year, as well as an average of 200 contracts which go out to bid.
In all of the years he has been running the countys bids, there was only one court challenge to the process, which was summarily dismissed. The challenge was by a local dairy company which intended to raise its prices by $100,000 one year. Smiths rejection of the bid ended up saving the county about that much.
He also opened up the countys bidding process to outside vendors, rather than just local businesses, particularly in the realm of office supplies. That move alone saved the county $80,000 in one year during the late 1980s and more than a million dollars since.
The vendors know that we run a very fair and objective office. They know we have a very level playing field and [as a result] a competitive bidding process for such a rural area.
He acknowledged that the landfill has been one of the countys most difficult issues over the last several years, although it hasnt been his main responsibility. The Department of Public Works and Solid Waste Management has largely overseen the operation of the landfill. However, it was Smith who reached out to SCS Engineers, who were hired by the county two years ago. They are credited with turning a devastating odor problem into less of an issue although the expansion of the landfill is still opposed by many in the Town of Thompson.
Most recently, the county has been dealing with a fiscal crisis, yet over the years, Smith has found local politics becoming more polarized a comment echoed nationwide.
It seems its getting more difficult to govern because there seems to be no common wheel. Its everybody out for themselves, he lamented. There is a degree of incivility . . . and a lack of compromise [among both citizens and politicians], he said.
But he remains optimistic.
Overall, I think elected officials are very good and trying to do the best they can balancing very contentious issues where their constituents are at odds with each other. They have to make tough decisions.
Cunningham called Smith a personal friend. . . . He has a tremendous reservoir of history about issues. . . . He has the ability to remain calm when others around him are not so calm.
The chairman said that Smith is also good at keeping others around him focused on the heart of issues, rather than getting sidetracked on personal matters and day-to-day politics.
He is a leader in this government. . . . The commissioners rely on him for advice and government, Cunningham said. I wish him well in the future. Those are some very big shoes to fill. I will miss him on a daily basis. . . . He always has the best interests of the county at heart in every decision he makes.
Kathy Jones, the Director of the Office of General Services, has worked with Smith for about 20 years he hired her, in fact.
Hes taught everybody here . . . how to do [the job] right, be steady, be objective, stay the course, she remarked. Its been a wonderful experience. We will miss him. He has a wealth of information from all of his years here. I dont know how you can replace it. Everybody goes to him for guidance.