Legislature proposal: Give ‘five’ firing power over manager
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO January 15 Legislators voted 4-1 Thursday to move toward a charter revision that could result in the termination of County Manager David Fanslau.
The resolution calls for a deletion of the Sullivan County Charter’s requirement that at least six of the nine legislators agree to appoint, suspend or remove the county manager.
Five legislators Alan Sorensen, Cindy Gieger, Kitty Vetter, Cora Edwards and Gene Benson have expressed dissatisfaction with Fanslau, severe enough to include calls for his replacement.
But they haven’t convinced a sixth legislator to agree. Thus they created this resolution, which would restore the charter’s original stipulation that only five legislators are needed to hire or fire a county manager.
Thursday’s resolution was unexpectedly introduced at the Ag and Sustainability Policy Committee, prompting dissenting Legislator Jonathan Rouis to ask what the matter had to do with agriculture or sustainability.
Committee Chair Cindy Gieger replied that she was fine with it being handled in her committee, though Rouis took that as meaning there was no connection and decried the “last-minute” nature of the resolution.
However, Legislator Alan Sorensen who introduced the resolution said after the meeting that every legislator had been notified of its coming introduction earlier that morning.
Voting for the resolution were Sorensen, Gieger, Vetter and Edwards, while Rouis voted against it. Though Benson was present, he does not sit on the committee and therefore could not vote.
Legislators Scott Samuelson, Kathy LaBuda, and Ira Steingart all of whom also do not sit on this committee were absent.
Regardless, the full Legislature still has to vote on it on January 24 (2 p.m. at the Government Center in Monticello) to make it official.
If a majority of legislators agree (and it appears at least five of the nine will), the public will get a chance to weigh in on the proposal on February 21 at 1:50 p.m.
Likely immediately thereafter, the full Legislature will hold a vote on amending the charter. If that passes, Fanslau could subsequently be terminated in a separate vote requiring only five legislators instead of six.
“We have to be able to make decisions and move forward,” insisted Sorensen.
“We have responsibilities to carry out, and there have been serious concerns about the power structure,” Gieger added. “... There’s an issue with not having the power in the hands of the Legislature.”
Rouis, however, was not persuaded.
“You don’t change your charter to change your circumstances,” he argued, saying the 2007 charter amendment which created the supermajority requirement “was done in an articulate, thought-out process, which this is not.”
Rouis himself is advocating for a charter review and amendment process, holding a press conference this month to call for a study of and eventual switch to an elected county executive form of government.
But with that would come a stipulation that Fanslau remain until the changeover is complete in two years unacceptable to the aforementioned five legislators.
Fanslau did not return a request for comment on Friday.
After the meeting, Sorensen and Vetter said their resolution was introduced because they weren’t willing to wait any longer to make changes.
“We constantly got stalemated,” said Vetter, referring to an unwillingness by her more powerful colleagues to return to the matter after an initial discussion in June.
She noted that Fanslau’s employment agreement ended on Dec. 31 (except for a clause giving him severance pay).
“We need to know where we’re going, come 2013,” she remarked.
And there’s more
Thursday’s resolution also calls for any county manager’s interim replacement to be appointed by the Legislature, rather than automatically falling to an acting county manager appointed previously by the county manager.
Further consolidating the Legislature’s power, the resolution seeks to eliminate the county manager’s ability to designate a deputy county manager.
It also stipulates that the presentation of the tentative county budget would occur no later than October 1, rather than the current November 15 deadline.
County Attorney Sam Yasgur said he’d look into whether a countywide public vote would be necessary to amend the charter, but Sorensen predicted that won’t be required.
The charter, Sorensen pointed out, was amended by legislators in 2007 to require the supermajority without a public referendum.