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January 7, 2014

 

As he departs, Quail sees fiscal challenges for city government

12-year city alderman points to consolidation of police at county level as one way for savings

Quail

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Former city Alderman Dan Quail stands Dec. 30 in front of City Hall. Quail did not run for re-election last year after serving on the Common Council since 2001. Aldermen said his leadership on the council will be missed.

By STEVEN HOWE
Staff Reporter
showe@cortlandstandardnews.net

With the beginning of 2014, a new Common Council full of familiar faces will take their spots — minus Dan Quail, who is stepping away from his position as 5th Ward alderman.
Quail, who served as a city alderman for 12 years and deputy mayor for two years, has been on the council during tumultuous years. It all started when Quail, 54, decided it was time to try to enact the change he wished to see in his community.
“If you’re going to bitch and complain, get involved or shut up,” Quail said, of his reason to run. “If you can’t add value to the process, get out of the way.”
When Quail won his first alderman election in 2001, he was part of a 5-3 Republican majority, including Tom Michales (R-8th Ward), who also won his first race.
Quail, a comptroller with Pall Corp., defeated Denise Bushnell to claim the seat vacated by Kari Strangeway in a closely contested general election.
In his first campaign, Quail suffered negative publicity for his popcorn and patriotism campaign strategy with the close proximity to Sept. 11.
Hotly contested until the end, Quail took the seat he would hold until the end of 2013.
During Quail’s initial term, the city code was overhauled with then city attorney Mark Suben. Quail also opposed the addition of fluoride to the city’s drinking water.
Determining whether to put fluoride in the water was a contentious issue, with many residents against the measure. While Quail said he did not hold any strong conviction against fluoridation, his constituents and the broader city did.
“You have to really listen to the people,” Quail said.
Quail is quick to admit, however, that it is difficult to keep the people you represent satisfied with the work of an elected official.
“You’re never going to make 100 percent of the people happy,” Quail said. “As a matter of fact, in several of the elections my opponent did nothing ... and they got nearly 40 percent of the vote.”
Another pearl of wisdom Quail discovered during his 12 years in office was the point that the residents making the most noise about something might just be a vocal minority.
Finding that distinction is important to being an effective legislator.
“Sometimes the vocal naysayer, the reason he’s being vocal is because he knows he’s the minority,” Quail said. “In some cases you have to turn a deaf ear to that and stay focused and try to communicate as much as you can with your constituents.”
Quail said he thinks his greatest disappointment as an alderman came when the city was cited for having significant deficiencies in financial control from a 2007 state audit.
Being one of the most senior members of the Common Council, Quail said the other aldermen have sometimes looked to him as a leader due to his years of experience.
Mayor Brian Tobin served with Quail for four years on the council and two more years as mayor. Quail’s ability to make difficult decisions and analyze numbers made him stand out, Tobin said.
“His opinion was always given rationally,” the mayor said. “He always made decisions that were in the best interest of the community.”
Alderman Linda Ferguson (D-7th Ward) said Quail’s financial expertise and lengthy experience on the council will be difficult to replace.
His knowledge of the city and its running means he will be missed terrifically, she said.
“I call him our money man,” Ferguson said. “We’re going to have a lot of catching up to do.”
Some of the reliance on Quail and his abilities are self-created, something the out-going alderman was willing to take responsibility for.
“Sometimes I don’t think I did them justice by not allowing them to take a leadership role,” Quail said. “I’m sure one of them will grow into that role.”
The connection between Quail and Michales, both Republicans who have served their entire terms together, runs deeper than party affiliation or their shared tenures.
“Over the years Dan and myself have developed quite a friendship,” Michales said. “I’m going to miss that closeness sitting on the council together.”
While Quail served during difficult financial times, including a period where the city had no general fund balance, the future may be similarly bleak. A major change in the way the city does business may be required, Quail believes.
“At some point, the dynamics of this community have to change,” Quail said.
Among the changes Quail believes the city will need to make is consolidation of professional fire and police services at the county level.
Having career staff in public safety positions spread throughout the county could improve services and spread out costs.
Those challenges, especially dealing with rising health care and retirement costs, will be faced by the seven returning council members and newcomer Clifton Dutcher (R-5th Ward).
For Quail, it does mean more time with family, having missed many Tuesday nights handling city business and council meetings. With two children who were involved in music and sports, some concerts and games were missed.
“Tuesday nights were basically given up for Common Council,” Quail said.
While Common Council meetings are no longer mandatory for Quail, he as already made himself available to assist the current members as they seek his opinions, and said he will attend the meetings occasionally.

 

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