By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Legislators tackled a variety of issues Thursday, but the most notable ones didn’t require action that day.
Red meat sitework bid comes in
Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) Executive Director Jennifer Brylinski told legislators that a bid had been received for the sitework for the proposed red meat processing plant in Liberty.
The low bidder out of six submitted proved to be Sullivan County Paving, coming in at $1.3 million. However, it has not been awarded at this time.
That’s a sizable chunk of the project’s entire $1.6 million grant-funded budget, however, and the 5,000-square-foot facility itself has yet to be separately bid out and built.
“We’re in the middle of reviewing the information now,” Brylinski explained. “We’ll know more next week.”
Tourism RFP sent out
Though a month later than expected, the county has issued a request for proposals (RFP) from any firm interested in providing tourism promotion services.
Earlier this year, legislators controversially announced their intention to competitively bid out the services of the Sullivan County Visitors Association (SCVA).
Though the initial RFP language appeared to exclude the SCVA, subsequent modifications mean the existing promoter can vie with other firms for the annual contract, which will be paid via 85 percent of the county’s room tax revenue.
Proposals are due by October 11 and will be reviewed by the Legislature prior to an expected November vote.
Debate over nepotism
Human Resources Director Lynda Levine told legislators in the Personnel Committee that she’s working on an anti-nepotism update to a yet-to-be-finalized county employee handbook.
If approved, the policy would prohibit employees from working under the direct supervision or evaluation of a relative.
“I wasn’t really sure how broad you wanted the definition of ‘relative’ to be,” she said, admitting she had not referenced Legislator Alan Sorensen’s previous anti-nepotism policy proposal (of which this is an outgrowth).
She said legislators would have to address potentially thorny dilemmas i.e., what happens if an employee gets transferred into another department where they’ll be overseen by one of their relatives.
Legislator Ira Steingart, however, worried that officials would “shoot ourselves in the foot.”
“We’re such a small population that I’d hate to limit someone’s opportunity because someone decided to run for office,” he mused.
Sorensen pointed out that his draft included exceptions, while Levine said she had tried to keep the “relative” definition short.
Legislator Kitty Vetter, however, thought that such a policy would be “crazy.”
“It is crazy,” agreed Legislator Kathy LaBuda. “Let’s throw it in the garbage.”
But Sorensen put out a different perspective.
“I wouldn’t want to see someone who is more qualified denied a position because someone hired their cousin who is less qualified,” he proffered. “So I do think we need some sort of policy.”
Personnel Officer Carolyn Hill pointed out that state law requires appointments based on merit, fitness for the job and performance on Civil Service exams, and she agreed that the county does have a small labor pool.
“[Candidates] are going to be related to someone in the county,” she predicted, “unless they’re from out of the state or haven’t been here before.”
Leaders of county departments and divisions are taught how to recuse themselves in situations involving relatives working underneath them, she added.
“I don’t think you need to go to the extreme of defining who a relative is,” Hill assessed.
“It’s an exercise in futility,” felt Legislator Gene Benson.
“I feel it is an issue here in Sullivan County,” countered Legislator Cindy Gieger, who said she’s gotten complaints about nepotism.
But, said Hill, “you can’t keep someone from working in that title if they’re qualified for it.”
“I work in a family business, and it works well, and I’m glad I do,” said Legislator Jonathan Rouis, who worried the policy might unintentionally disparage family businesses. “We should be careful of the message we’re sending.”
The debate continued, until Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson said, “The conversation can certainly continue amongst ourselves until it gets decided to be brought up again. We can continue to discuss this outside of here [public committee].”
Bullying, commenting policies, too
Also under consideration is an anti-bullying policy, said Levine, plus a possible clampdown on county-disparaging comments posted online by employees.
“Some department heads have come to me with concerns about employees making comments on Facebook, for instance,” she told legislators.
Levine drew a distinction between simply complaining about a boss or work situation and saying something “to hurt the reputation of the county.”
“That’s a policy decision something you guys need to think about,” she said to legislators.
Legislator Benson wondered if restricting comments in such a fashion might really be legal.
Levine acknowledged First Amendment protections afforded by the U.S. Constitution but indicated that smearing the reputation of the county might be legally actionable.
As for the bullying policy, Levine said the county’s current anti-harassment policy only applies to people in a “protected class” i.e., bullied because of their sex, religion, race, sexual orientation, etc.
Teamsters Union Business Agent Sandy Shaddock who represents the majority of the county’s workforce added that union contracts don’t address bullying either.
“The bullying is huge,” she affirmed. “It is definitely a problem.”
No action was taken, but both items remain under review.
Legislators were told that the Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development (SASD), which is the county’s “green” consultant, will hold a biomass symposium on September 21, between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Liberty.
The symposium will “showcase new revenue opportunities for farmers and forest owners, truckers, loggers and local pellet vendors, as well as provide examples of substantial savings for conventional energy consumers such as schools, hospitals, government and commercial enterprise,” said SASD.
Funds to hire more employees
The county’s Center for Workforce Development (CWD), through the NYS Labor Department, has landed a grant to encourage local businesses to hire new employees.
CWD Director Laura Quigley told legislators that the grant will reimburse 50-90 percent of wages for up to six months for new employees who were previously receiving unemployment benefits for 27 weeks or more.
Quigley said one local business has already taken advantage of the monies, turning a part-time job into full-time (at $20 an hour) as a result.
For more info, contact CWD at 807-0385.