Fanslau headed out, charter to change, exec idea headed nowhere
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO January 29 Sullivan County Manager David Fanslau’s future here would appear to be limited, thanks to a resolution passed unanimously by legislators.
On Thursday, all nine agreed to have Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson, Vice Chair Gene Benson, and Minority Leader Alan Sorensen negotiate a separation agreement with Fanslau.
That agreement subject to talks that have already been ongoing between legislators and Fanslau will be reviewed by an independent lawyer, former Orange County Attorney Richard Golden, currently a principal with the Goshen-based law firm of Burke, Miele and Golden.
Sources say March 1 is a goal by which to cut ties, but that’s dependent on agreement being reached.
And agreement on this issue is otherwise hard to come by.
Indeed, the vote to hire Golden (for $250 an hour, up to $5,000 total) passed by the slimmest of margins, 5-4, on Thursday. Legislators Gene Benson, Cora Edwards, Cindy Gieger, Alan Sorensen and Kitty Vetter were in favor, while legislators Scott Samuelson, Kathy LaBuda, Jonathan Rouis and Ira Steingart were against.
“We have a county attorney and two qualified staff,” argued LaBuda. “It’s not a conflict [of interest]. It’s a waste of $5,000.”
Benson, however, maintained that involving County Attorney Sam Yasgur who represents all county employees would be a conflict, and he noted that the $5,000 upper limit may not ultimately be reached.
“Where’s the money coming from?” wondered Rouis, who was later told it will be derived from an unspecified legal line in the county budget.
Edwards shot back that the county wouldn’t be spending this money if the matter had been addressed before Fanslau’s employment agreement expired in December.
The moves garnered both praise and criticism from the public.
“I’d like to see an outside person [counsel review the separation agreement],” affirmed Monticello resident Tom Manza. “It’s a very small amount of money.”
“I feel he [Fanslau] is the one who really knows the budget and the county,” argued Grahamsville resident Ken Walter. “I really feel his heart is in it, and what you’re going to do is not in the best interests of the county.”
Whither goest the county Charter?
Thursday also saw several potential County Charter amendments advance and one not.
Two amendments proposed by Sorensen to eliminate the requirement that a supermajority (six or more legislators) is needed to hire or fire a county manager, and to move the tentative budget presentation date from November 15 to October 1 will come up for public hearings on February 21, starting at 1:40 p.m. at the Government Center in Monticello.
The proposed budget filing amendment earned unanimous approval from legislators, but once again, there was a 5-4 split on the supermajority elimination amendment along the same exact lines as the vote to hire Golden.
As with Golden, the measure passed, after some debate (see “Legislator threatens suit” below).
Legislator Steingart threatens suit
The effort to change the Charter back to requiring a simple majority (five, rather than six, legislators) to hire or fire the county manager could come to a public vote or not.
Yasgur opined to legislators that such an amendment would be subject to a permissive referendum. In other words, if approximately 1,100 county voters signed a petition, they could force a countywide vote on the proposal.
Some legislators disagreed, however, pointing out that the Charter was changed in 2007 to require the supermajority without being subject to a permissive referendum.
Yasgur, who was the county attorney then, said he made a mistake in drafting the language for that amendment.
“My oversight,” he admitted.
“So if it was done improperly,” argued Benson, “it should go back to the original intent.”
“The fact is, nobody challenged it,” replied LaBuda, calling the 2013 proposed amendment “totally outrageous.”
Rouis felt his colleagues were exceeding their authority, but the majority disagreed.
Nevertheless, Steingart vowed to sue if his colleagues go through with this amendment, calling the process illegal.
“I will pursue all actions I deem appropriate to stop it,” he promised.
Gieger argued that the 2007 amendment wasn’t followed properly.
“So you want to do the same thing!” Steingart accused, concluding that “the courts will decide.”
But that will cost the county money, noted Vetter, who inquired, “What budget line are you taking that out of, Ira?”
No Elected Exec
But it appears there will be no Charter Review Commission engaged this year. Rouis’ desire to have the Commission explore switching to an elected county executive form of government was not shared by the majority of his colleagues.
The measure didn’t even get out of Executive Committee Thursday, where it failed 5-4 the third such split that day.
Rouis attempted to bring it up during the full Legislature meeting later in the day believing his colleagues misunderstood that the Commission could look into the other proposed amendments, as well but yet again, that 5-4 split sunk its reintroduction.
Some of the dissenting five later confirmed that they were not interested in the caveat that came with Rouis’ idea that Fanslau stay on for the two years it would take to change over to an elected county executive government.