January 26, 2016

League to weigh county administrator post

Associate Editor

A dozen years after it went dormant, a committee of the League of Women Voters of Cortland County will reconvene to explore whether Cortland County needs a paid county administrator.
League members have yet to decide how to approach the issue, said President Alison King, adding it will meet in February to hash that out. The idea, however, is to invite public input on whether a professional administrator should run the day-to-day operations of a $122 million budget for a county of 49,000 people. The league has no legal authority, so any information it gathers or conclusions it reaches are not binding on public officials.
“Our league already has a position on it,” King said. It voted in support of an administrator in 2003. “But we think it would be a public service to provide an opportunity for the public to weigh in.”
The decision comes days after Legislator George Wagner, chairman of the county Personnel Committee, said he would like to eliminate the position, which has been vacant since August 2014.
“We have a (Legislature) chairman who’s doing an excellent job,” said Wagner (R-Marathon, Lapeer). “We have a budget director who’s doing an excellent job.”
The position was created in 2003 with the hiring of Scott Schrader and following more than 15 years of debate and five votes. Duties of a county budget officer were added the same year. Schrader left the job in 2010 after political maneuvering regarding whether he had properly taken his oath of office in 2009. He was followed by Martin Murphy, who left in 2014. The position has been vacant since.
Legislators hired Peggy Mousaw in 2015 to become the county’s budget and finance director, with all the duties of a budget officer and some of the responsibilities of a county administrator. Since then, lawmakers have consolidated many of the remaining administrator’s duties into her office and that of County Attorney Karen Howe. They work closely with the chairman of the Legislature, now Donnell Boyden (R-Homer), who is acting administrator.
“It does seem appropriate to re-visit this,” King said. “We have cobbled together a triumvirate with ill-definedresponsibilities.”
The committee could consider any number of options, King said, including how other counties work — with or without an administrator — or whether an elected county executive position would be effective. It could seek public comment, or even have a debate or panel discussion of the possibilities.
League members expect to consider their options in February, with public events in the spring, King said. “That could accelerate if the Personnel Committee starts making decisions.”

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