Benson, Edwards: Don’t renew Fanslau’s contract
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO In a surprise press conference yesterday, legislators Gene Benson and Cora Edwards asked their fellow legislators to not renew County Manager David Fanslau’s employment agreement when it expires at the end of this month.
“David Fanslau has done very little to change the way Sullivan County is managed and conducts its business,” Benson told three reporters and a few county employees yesterday afternoon. “It is time this Legislature looks for someone else to manage this county.”
Claiming that “vital information has continually been withheld from this Legislature or has been distorted,” Benson said Fanslau has at times not been cooperative or accurate. Yet when legislators have tried to talk directly with county staff, he said they were “chastised.”
“County management is making it impossible to do the job we were elected to do,” he stated.
Fanslau was also accused of contributing to rather than reviving the county’s declining finances, with Benson and Edwards critiquing $10 million in contracts alone in the Management and Budget Office, more money they said is being spent on computers than bridges, $200,000 in overtime charges for HEAP employees, and a lack of manager-led investigation into Medicaid taxi fares that total over $2.5 million.
The two legislators acknowledged that a new county manager could not be hired in time to replace Fanslau in January.
“But government will always run,” Benson said. “It’s the people in the trenches who make government run.”
Edwards could not say for certain whether the required supermajority of legislators (six of the nine) would support this effort, but she hoped the public press conference would spur action.
“We’re asking them to make the hard decisions,” she said.
Since the 2013 county budget is currently dominating discussions and should come up for a vote this Thursday, Edwards expects the matter to be discussed sometime before Dec. 31.
Count on it, said Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson.
“We’re not preparing a resolution until there’s a discussion,” he affirmed.
With the press conference catching him by surprise, Samuelson said he’s “really disappointed” in Edwards’ and Benson’s actions.
“My understanding was we’d be having discussions,” he explained. “We said we’d meet.”
Fanslau’s performance has been a bone of contention between legislators most of the year, with a June meeting featuring five in favor of Fanslau’s continued employment and four against, said Samuelson.
Edwards and Benson were not among those four in June, Samuelson said, leaving the possibility of a vote to end Fanslau’s six-year tenure wide open.
Fanslau is supported by Samuelson, who credited the manager with spending endless hours retrieving and presenting data requested by legislators.
“I think David has done an extraordinary job over the past year dealing with six new legislators who have not got a clue what they’re doing,” he stated. “... I just think this is a terrible time for something like this. ...To humiliate somebody, it’s very sad.”
He dismissed arguments that Fanslau tried to stop legislators from directly questioning county staff on issues of research and concern.
“There was a suggestion from the county attorney to be very careful dealing with rank-and-file because legislators would be leaving themselves open to litigation,” Samuelson recalled. “It’s not a directive. It’s been cautionary.”
He added that Fanslau does not have a binding contract with the county but simply an agreement that spells out his benefits and nearly $150,000 salary (and includes a Dec. 31, 2012 expiration).
If that agreement is not renewed by the end of the month, said Samuelson, Fanslau becomes a typical “at-will” employee, able to quit or be fired with little to no notice.
He’s not sure, however, that there will be any vote.
“My guess is there isn’t a sixth vote,” he said of the need for a supermajority.
Fanslau and the remaining legislators could not be reached for comment, due to the Democrat’s press deadline yesterday.