County Manager Aims to Restructure County Government
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO March 13, 2007 Big changes are coming to county government.
Sullivan County Manager David Fanslau unveiled his plans to restructure departments and committees during the County Legislature’s Executive Committee meeting Thursday.
Among the recommendations are the creation of a brand new branch of county government: the Division of Community and Economic Development.
Fanslau’s choice for its commissionership is newly hired Agriculture, Marketing and Economic Development Director Susan Jaffe, and she and her staff would be responsible for the Department of Economic Development, the Dept. of Community Development and Grants, Youth Services, the Empire Zone Program (already under Jaffe’s purview), and the Center for Workforce Development, plus working with groups like the Partnership for Economic Development, the Chamber of Commerce and the Industrial Development Agency.
The Division of Planning and Community Development currently oversees these departments and agencies, but in the new plan, it would transfer those duties to the new division and rename itself the Division of Planning and Environmental Conservation.
Current Commissioner Bill Pammer would remain and be responsible for the Dept. of Comprehensive Planning, Geographic Information Services Functions, Mobility Management, Environmental Conservation, the new Endangered Property Protection Program, Real Property Tax Services, and Agriculture Planning Districts, along with working with groups like Communities Against Regional Interconnect.
“The nice part about this is planning takes on more traditional functions [instead of economic development],” remarked Pammer.
Other major changes include the elimination of the Division of General Services, which would fall under the Dept. of Purchasing and Central Services instead, which itself would be under the administration of the Division of Personnel. Also under Personnel would be the County Clerk, the Board of Elections, the County Historian, Veterans’ Services and the Dept. of Consumer Affairs.
As a result of these changes, the legislative committees which oversee county departments would be restructured and renamed accordingly.
Fanslau also advocated for a Facilities Planning Committee to develop a long-term building plan, especially when it comes to judicial structures.
This all comes on the heels of a Fanslau-created resolution approved in the Executive Committee to require potential agenda items for every legislative committee be received no later than two weeks prior to the committee meeting itself.
Such requests would be reviewed by the Division of Management and Budget and the Department of Law before being added to agendas.
All this, said Fanslau, is a way “to refocus and streamline some of the priorities the Legislature has set in the past few years.”
It’s also evidence that Fanslau is now confident of his leadership and staff’s skills, especially considering the new hiring/firing policy, which takes those responsibilities out of the sole hands of administrators.
Citing concerns by county employees that certain departments engendered a culture of fear and reprisal should they voice issues to higher-ups, Fanslau has proposed that he or his designee (most likely Personnel Commissioner Pamela Rourke) sign off on any position appointments made by the division commissioners and other administrators.
The only leaders who could make their own decisions on such appointments would be elected officials like the County Clerk, Sheriff and District Attorney, and the non-elected Commissioner of Jurors, County Attorney, Board of Elections Commissioners, Director of Veterans’ Services and County Auditor.
“I think there should be a system of checks and balances in government,” Fanslau explained. “This sends the message that a singular department head will not be able to determine who gets promoted or demoted… There is not some single authority that has jurisdiction over their destination as a county employee.”
He also is advocating for another cultural change in office politics: the idea that county employees work for all of county government, not just their particular division.
“Sullivan County can’t afford… to have these rigid ‘silos’ built up,” he remarked. “… Basically, we need to share services and share staff.”
Legislators seemed in approval of Fanslau’s suggestions, with Leni Binder asking that they be passed by the Charter Review Commission as well (which will be done).
“This is an area we wanted him to look at,” confirmed Legislative Chair Chris Cunningham. “He’s looking at comprehensive, long-reaching recommendations.”
And Cunningham indicated Fanslau’s got the Legislature’s full support a crucial aspect, since it will soon vote on whether or not to approve these changes.
“Hiring David Fanslau was the best decision I’ve been involved in since I’ve been on this board,” Cunningham remarked of Fanslau’s addition to the ranks last year.
“We were looking for someone who’s hands-on,” added Legislator Ron Hiatt. “He’s not a caretaker he’s a director.”