Contributed Photo | Jeanne Sager
CURRENT COUNTY CLERK Neil Gilberg, a Democrat, (shown at left) is squaring off against Dan Briggs, a Republican, (at right) for the Sullivan County Clerk Position.
Neil Gilberg Faces Political Veteran
Gilberg: Building On Success in County
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO October 5, 2007 Neil Gilberg recently discovered a pleasant irony:
As Kutsher’s general manager for 25 years, he made it a point to be the epitome of hospitality for upwards of one million out-of-county guests.
Now, as Sullivan County’s clerk for the past four months, he’s had the privilege of doing the same for his own neighbors.
“The hospitality industry is basically what I’m doing here,” he related inside his Sullivan County Government Center office in Monticello. “It’s made the transition to the clerk’s office seamless.”
There are some differences. He now oversees a staff of 32 skilled government employees rather than 300 hotel workers with widely varying talents.
Rather than focusing an experienced eye on the day-to-day activities of a 400-room icon of the Borscht Belt, he’s learning the ropes with the rest of his administrative staff in both the clerk’s office (with facilities in Liberty and Monticello) and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
And he never had to run for election at Kutsher’s.
Appointed by the governor in May to serve out former Clerk George Cooke’s remaining term (with his friend Cooke’s full blessing), Gilberg is now seeking election to the post, running on the Democratic and Working Families lines.
The 56-year-old lifelong Democrat, however, wishes he could have gotten the Republicans’ nod, too (the local GOP stands behind former County Manager and Treasurer Dan Briggs).
“I feel there are a lot of Republicans out there who feel I’m the right man for the job,” Gilberg said, though he added that Briggs is “a nice man” with whom he has “a good relationship.”
While acknowledging the potential for a very close race, Gilberg feels his “fresh face with new ideas” will appeal to voters.
After all, Gilberg’s political involvement has long been confined to his home township of Fallsburg, where he first served two terms on the Fallsburg School Board from 1995-2001, followed by three consecutive terms (1997-2007) on the Fallsburg Town Board.
While he left the school board in order to “get more done” on the town board, he had to reluctantly resign from the town board earlier this year to take the reins as county clerk.
Gilberg’s proud of the fact that Governor Eliot Spitzer didn’t just take local Democrats’ word that he was the best candidate the state’s top leader looked over three dozen applicants before agreeing that Gilberg deserved the chance.
And despite the short time in which to learn a job and campaign to keep it, Gilberg remains enthusiastic and energized.
“I feel that if people look at what I’ve done in the past four months, they’ll be very confident of electing me,” he said.
Accomplishments he touts as clerk have included handling pre-existing (and thorny) staff issues and an audit, fixing a malfunctioning computer system, communicating and cooperating with other county departments, successfully promoting an ATM for the government center so that those seeking services don’t have to make two visits, and seeking out innovations that include a potential new computer program that may serve both the clerk’s office and the Division of Real Property Tax Services.
Thanks to Gilberg’s efforts, students will soon be able to take driver’s license exams at their high school rather than just at DMV. Residents seeking passports may soon be able to get them at locations closer to home, and the Sheriff’s Office will soon get information on who has a registered handgun at locations to which they’re responding (the clerk’s office handles pistol permits).
But Gilberg is involved in more than just his county job. The husband of Linda and father of daughter Jennie and sons Thymio and Michael makes his home in Hurleyville and still organizes the annual Francis Currey Day, honoring the county’s only living Congressional Medal of Honor recipient and Gilberg’s dear friend.
He also sits on the steering committee of the brand new Boys and Girls Club of Sullivan County, is a member of the Sullivan County Historical Society, was a charter member of the Holocaust Society of South Florida and has served as president of the Fallsburg Lions, an AYSO soccer coach and a Little League coach.
Through his connections to the world of professional sports and entertainment, he’s obtained a $10,000 boxing ring to be donated to the Monticello Boxing Club.
Such community-mindedness has garnered him support from the Teamsters and endorsements from the Sullivan County Police Benevolent Association (PBA), the Troop F membership of the NYS Police Investigators Association, and the Hudson Valley Building and Construction Trades Council.
Whether it’s aiding longtime residents in deed and passport issues or helping immigrants become American citizens through naturalization ceremonies, Gilberg hopes voters will allow him to continue serving anyone and everyone.
“I come into this building,” he said of the government center, “and I have no enemies, no friends. My door is always open.”
It’s the longtime county resident’s way of giving back.
“The job of county clerk utilizes my strongest abilities,” Gilberg explained. “I love helping people. I love working with people.”
Briggs Seeks Political Redemtion After Dismissal From Post
By Jeanne Sager
MONTICELLO There’s an 800-pound gorilla in the room, and Dan Briggs is staring him straight in the eyes.
It’s been two years since Briggs’ very public dismissal from his post as county manager by the Democratic-controlled county Legislature.
The Republican candidate for county clerk doesn’t mince words.
It was, in a word, “humiliating,” he said.
It was also uncalled for says the man who spent 17 years as county treasurer, another five as manager.
Briggs is running for county clerk on his credentials.
He’s got experience, and he can prove it.
Raised in Monticello, a 1970 graduate of Monticello High School, Briggs returned from college with an MBA and law degree in the early 80s.
He was pressed into public service almost immediately, including stints as an acting justice in the Village of Monticello and a seat on the Town of Thompson Board.
In 1982, with Dick Coombe seeking higher office, the county needed a treasurer, and Briggs was asked to run.
Newly married, setting up house in Monticello, with an MBA from the University of Miami under his belt and extensive finance experience, Briggs decided to give it a go.
County voters gave him 17 years in the treasurer’s office.
Then the Legislature, at that time in the hands of Democrats, called him up to the majors.
They wanted him in the manager’s seat. That’s where Briggs sat for five years, under both Democratic and Republican Legislatures.
That’s where he would be today if it weren’t for the Democrats’ decision in 2005.
Briggs admits his election to clerk would bring closure.
The county charter allows for the firing of a manager without cause or with cause. With cause, you’re entitled to a hearing, Briggs said.
He never got one.
“I’d contend there were no circumstances that led to it,” he said. “They may have just not liked my style; they may have just wanted me out for political reasons.”
That’s why Briggs is determined not to make his campaign all about politics.
“I think you have to do a lot of soul searching which I did to make sure you’re running for the right reasons, make sure you’re not running out of bitterness,” he explained.
At the end of the day, Briggs said he’s running because he thinks he’s the best man for the job.
“Based on qualifications alone, in terms of my experience and education, I feel I’m better suited to do the position,” he said.
His opponent has been doing the job since his gubernatorial appointment, but Briggs is no stranger to the clerk’s office either.
As a former member of the county’s staff, he knows the lay of the land and the people.
As the former county manager, he knows what it’s like to budget and plan including setting aside monies and support to keep the clerk’s office running.
He’s also got a handle on the areas that could use the most improvement.
The backlog of files in the clerk’s office is a potential nightmare for the county the clerk holds the official documents for the citizens of Sullivan County.
Deeds, mortgages, passports, they’re all filed in the office on the first floor of the government center.
The consequences of a backlog are obvious to anyone, Briggs said, but even more so to someone with a legal background.
He can anticipate the problems, and he already has a solution in mind a proactive, inclusive approach that would include office staff and individuals from the local legal community, abstract companies and the like.
Briggs also holds an insurance broker’s license, which gives him a unique perspective on the management of the department of motor vehicles.
Although much of that department is tied up in the state’s standards, the job of manager falls squarely on the shoulders of the county clerk.
He saw the improvements made in his tenure in the government center from benches and a screener at the door to the mobile van that visits other spots in the county on a regular basis.
Briggs wants to build on that theme of a consumer-friendly DMV.
He’s determined to mine the clerk’s office for its gems utilizing an already excellent staff.
“I’m going to look to see that the office is structured in the most bipartisan and efficient way possible,” he explained.
Historically, Briggs said he’s had a track record for bi-partisanship.
He worked for the board of supervisors as treasurer; he worked for Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature.
After leaving the manager’s post, he was appointed by Republican Governor George Pataki to the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal where he served as assistant commissioner, deputy director of the Syracuse region.
He remained in the post for a period, even after Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer came into office, and was involved in working with the state in the local flooding efforts.
But this spring, calls were coming hard and fast from folks around Sullivan County.
They wanted the hometown boy back in his hometown, back in the county seat.
Many were people who publicly supported Briggs when the Legislature turned their back on him.
He appreciated their support then; he couldn’t say “no” now.
“There are those who think I’m best qualified, those who think I was given a raw deal and want the opportunity to put me back in the government center, those who have supported me all along,” Briggs said.
So he’s back.
Engaged to long-time girlfriend Anna Milucky, Briggs lives in Monticello these days. His three children, 21-year-old Ryan and Christopher and 19-year-old Kaitlyn, all went to county schools.
This is home.
“I’ve been raised to believe you give back to your community,” Briggs explained. “I was raised here, my siblings were raised here, I’m raising a family here.
“If you’re going to sit back and be critical, you have to participate because we all live here,” he continued.