June 7, 2013
Legislators rehash Rules of Order
Impasse continues over county administrator’s role in naming dept. heads
Cortland County legislators reached no consensus Thursday on the issue of the county administrator’s role in appointing non-elected department heads, a point that has been a stumbling block for officials for years.
A special workshop was held to discuss the issue but it was not voted on.
Legislators John Troy (D-1st Ward), Amy Cobb (D-3rd Ward), Tony Pace (D-7th Ward), Larry Cornell (D-Marathon and Lapeer) and Danny Ross (R-Cortlandville) were absent.
The question of whether the county administrator should be able to recommend candidates for appointment to the Legislature has been a source of contention on the Legislature for years.
Officials are in the process of reworking the Rules of Order and the role of the administrator in the appointment process is one that legislators are trying to reach consensus on. But Thursday the only point that the 14 legislators present agreed upon was that the Legislature should have final appointment authority over all non-elected department heads.
Some legislators are concerned that giving the administrator recommendation authority of candidates for department heads takes power away from the Legislature and these candidates should instead be recommended by a committee of select legislators with the administrator’s input but no vote. Others think the administrator should play a central role in appointments since he oversees these positions on a daily basis.
The local law creating the administrator position states the administrator recommends to the Legislature the appointment and or dismissal of all non-elected department heads, a fact County Administrator Martin Murphy pointed out Thursday.
Those who favor the administrator’s role in the appointment process include Legislature Chairman Mike Park (R-Homer) and Troy. They say the administrator handles day-to-day operations of the county and is the most familiar with the department heads so should have a key role in their appointment.
But Legislators Kathie Arnold (D-Cuyler, Solon and Truxton) and Susan Briggs (R-Cortlandville) are among those opposed to the administrator having recommendation authority beyond simply giving his opinion on candidates. Briggs, Arnold and Sandy Price (D-Harford and Virgil) drew up proposed revisions to the Rules of Order, governing the administrator’s role in appointments.
They propose that the standing committee of the Legislature to which the department head reports, be the body to interview candidates and make a recommendation to the Legislature. For example, the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee would interview the probation director and other candidates for department heads that report to that committee.
The revisions also propose that five biennially appointed positions — public defender, Legislature clerk, county attorney, county auditor and veterans service officer — be considered by a special committee composed of six selected sitting legislators. Briggs said these positions must be treated differently because they report directly to the Legislature. Arnold said she would not mind if the public defender and veterans service officer are removed from that group and treated as the other department heads.
But Park’s counter proposal treats all non-elected department heads equally, giving the administrator along with two representatives from the standing committee of the Legislature to which the department head reports, the recommendation authority.
Legislator Dave Fuller (R-Cincinnatus, Taylor, Freetown and Willet) said after the meeting he sat on two such interview panels to appoint the director of Weights and Measures and the new director of Emergency Communications. Fuller finds no fault with the current system.
“It keeps it non-political, and anybody can sit in on an interview and they can all go look at the resume,” Fuller said of his fellow legislators’ opportunity to weigh in on the process. He said allowing the administrator to have this recommendation authority is “the way it should be and the way the law reads.”
But Briggs said the standing committee is the best body to pick a candidate for a post which will be reporting to the committee monthly. The administrator can sit in on interviews and give input, she said, but the Legislature should not be divested of its authority by having to rely on his recommendation.
“We want him to make a recommendation but we should also be able to make our own and place who we want there, we are elected officials and he is not,” Briggs said.
Since no consensus was reached Thursday, Park said another workshop may be held on the topic in coming months. Or the issue may play out through the committee system, he said.
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