August 13, 2010
County seeks to validate 4-year term
Local law proposed to give county administrator term longer than legislators’
Cortland County legislators at Thursday’s Personnel Committee meeting passed on to the full Legislature a proposed local law that would allow the county administrator to have a term of up to four years.
The term of County Administrator Martin Murphy, hired in May, runs until the end of 2011.
At the Aug. 26 Legislature session there will be a public hearing on sending the law to a countywide referendum on the November general election ballot. The Legislature will vote on the action after the hearing.
If it passes, the proposition will appear on the ballot in November.
County Attorney Ed Purser said the law must be passed by referendum to allow the administrator to have a term that extends beyond the term of the Legislature.
The Legislature could always fire an administrator under the terms of the administrator’s contract, which could require paying severance. Murphy’s contract calls for 30 days notice of termination and four months severance pay.
Purser said he did not sign former County Administrator Scott Schrader’s contract last year because it called for a four-year term, which went beyond the two-year Legislative term. The Legislature had approved the contract in June.
Purser said he always believed the law needed to go to referendum to be valid.
Purser provided an informal opinion from the Office of the Attorney General given in 2005 that said the Seneca County Board of Supervisors could not create a position of county manager longer than the term of the supervisors.
That decision references a Utica law the courts invalidated in 1988 that granted water board members five-year terms when the city mayor had a four-year term.
“The relevant portion of the local law was invalidated because it had not been submitted to a referendum as required by the Municipal Home Rule Law. That the law was invalidated on these grounds suggests that a local law that had been approved by referendum would be valid,” the decision states.
Legislators think the four-year term will be more enticing to administrator candidates than the two-year term but want to ensure it is established legally.
“It takes a year to get yourself acquainted with how the county operates. I feel a three- or four-year term should be in place and this is the way to do it legally,” Legislator Larry Cornell (R-Marathon and Lapeer) said after Thursday’s meeting.
But Legislator Sandy Price (D-Harford and Virgil) said she is not sure she would support the term.
“At this point, I think a two-year term is sufficient. If he is good, then four years is fine but if not then keeping him would be too long,” Price said, speaking generally.
Price said if the administrator is doing a good job then the Legislature would reappoint him anyway so there is no need to have the law establishing a longer term.
Legislator John Troy (D-1st Ward) said he wants the public to know the law does not really change anything since the county had previously hired Schrader for a term longer than that of the Legislature.
“If we want to attract a quality candidate to the county that is not subject to politics, a four-year term is a good thing. A two-year term is too short,” Troy said.
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