Change is in the air for County Legislature
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO April 26, 2013 Legislators are looking at a number of “new ways of doing things,” based on several meetings held on April 18.
New Planning Division?
Legislators continue to ponder the future of the Division of Planning and Environmental Management, which has seen its share of “realignments” over the past decade.
Though staffed by less than half a dozen people, the division will remain.
“We can’t lose sight that we need to have planning, true planning,” urged Legislator Jonathan Rouis. “... But community development isn’t necessarily economic development. ... We need to get refocused if we’re going to see our main streets jumpstarted again.”
“We can really make it what Sullivan County needs,” agreed Legislator Cindy Gieger. “... I think economic development is a priority.”
Legislator Alan Sorensen, who more than a decade ago served as the county’s Planning commissioner, called the division “a critically important function” with a definite return on investment.
“I don’t want to restructure it again,” he proffered, “... but I do think we need to take a hard look at how it’s structured.”
That includes the permanent head of the division, a role temporarily being filled by Acting Planning Commissioner Jill Weyer. The Monticello native is well-respected by the Legislature and is considered a prime candidate for the job but what will the job be called?
“Is it going to be a director or a commissioner?” asked Legislator Gene Benson, referring to differences in how Civil Service defines duties.
“Do we need a full-time planning commissioner for that department now?” added Legislator Kathy LaBuda, who’s looking for cost efficiencies, noting that new Health Commissioner Randy Parker oversees three departments with hundreds of employees.
“I think it’s a little premature ... if we don’t know what we’re going to do [with the division] yet,” Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson replied.
So Samuelson indicated he’ll set up a special Executive Committee meeting (date to be announced) to discuss the issues further.
In the meantime, Legislator Cora Edwards asked that the heads of Planning in neighboring Ulster and Orange counties provide their job descriptions for legislators to review as possible model language.
New ethics code coming
Legislators plan to meet this Wednesday, May 1, to go over more proposed amendments to the county’s coming ethics code revision.
In the works for nearly two years, the update is a comprehensive one, and officials continue to wrestle with how restrictive to make it.
For example, Benson is proposing to ban elected officials from serving as attorneys, accountants, lobbyists or board members for any entity that receives county funds or tax abatements.
“Persons who are board members of an entity (such as a not-for-profit) that receives county funds will not be permitted to serve on that board if such board member’s business is hired from such agency to provide services in which that board member or his or her company earns a financial profit,” he added.
As another example, Edwards is arguing that a clause dealing with intimidation be inserted. The ethics code would be violated, she offered, “if an employee, county official or elected official uses coercion, influence-peddling, promulgating fear of retribution or loss of job, scare-mongering or threats of investigation, loss of business, bid-rigging, etc. in order to induce someone to change county policies for the sake of personal gain.”
The Wednesday meeting is open to the public and will be held at 10 a.m. at the Government Center in Monticello.
A public hearing on the finalized changes will be held on Thursday, May 16 at 1:30 p.m. in the same location.
Changing ECC board?
Dissatisfied with the lack of new tenants at the Emerald Corporate Center (ECC) office park in Rock Hill, several legislators balked at automatically reappointing five members on the ECC Local Development Corporation board whose terms have expired.
“I’m not ready to rubberstamp reappointments of this board,” Sorensen stated. “I think some changes are needed.”
He didn’t name names, though the five members up for reappointment are Jay Weinstein, Gerald Skoda, Allan Scott, Wayne Zanetti and Democrat Publisher Fred Stabbert III.
“I’m not blaming the current board, but I do think we need to invite other interested parties [to serve on the board],” Sorensen added.
He called the shovel-ready park “an incredible opportunity” (despite the significant amount of potential office space in the partially vacant former headquarters of Frontier Insurance right across Route 17).
Sorensen who was an integral part of the ECC’s creation noted that nothing’s been built there since Crystal Run Healthcare opened nearly 10 years ago.
“There’s good people on that board,” replied LaBuda. “It’s not their fault those lots weren’t sold.”
Changes to the county’s ethics code may ultimately prohibit some of the current members from remaining on the ECC’s board, said legislators, who ultimately decided (minus a dissenting Rouis) to table the reappointments and invite letters of interest from both the existing members and interested candidates.
In other business
• Legislators unanimously approved bonding $3.5 million (term of the bond to be determined) to repave/reconstruct around 14 miles of roads this year.
It’s all the county can afford, they said, even though the Division of Public Works estimates that about 225 miles of the county’s 400-mile road network need repaving.
• Treasurer Ira Cohen announced that the county’s annual tax foreclosure auction will be held at the Sullivan in Rock Hill June 13.
He said the repurchase window has come to a painful close, though more than 50 properties have been redeemed.
“Even though we’ve afforded people more than three months than the state would,” Cohen told legislators, “... it’s very difficult to turn people down.”