October 9, 2009


Legislators weigh full-time county attorney

County will study issue further as committee backs having advisory committee select candidate

Staff Reporter

The Cortland County Legislature’s Personnel Committee Thursday examined making the county attorney a full-time position as it further studied recommended changes to the Legislature’s Rules of Order.
The committee forwarded two Rules of Order changes to the Legislature for consideration on Oct. 22 that would select candidates for the county attorney and legislative clerk positions through advisory committees.
The county Law Office Review Advisory Committee suggested the changes after meeting over the past several months.
The changes are an attempt to remove political patronage from both positions.
The county attorney has been appointed by a nomination from the caucus of the majority party. County Attorney Ed Purser was recommended by an advisory committee and legislators want to continue the practice.
The Personnel Committee made no formal recommendation on making the position full time, saying more time is needed to study the change.
The attorney is now a three-quarter-time position for a two-year term, said County Administrator Scott Schrader. The term cannot be extended because state law forbids the attorney’s term from exceeding the length of the Legislature’s, which is also two-years.
Making the county attorney full time is problematic because a two-year term might not entice candidates to leave their practice for a full-time position.
Purser agreed this would be problematic and instead suggested the county could explore increasing the attorney’s hours, but not to full time, and eliminating one assistant county attorney.
Schrader is going to report back at the Nov. 5 Personnel Committee meeting with what it would cost the county to hire a full-time county attorney as well as the savings of eliminating an assistant county attorney.
Purser’s annual salary is $53,666. Assistant county attorney Liz Burns is paid $29,952 and assistant county attorney David Hartnett is paid $28,800 for the half-time positions.
Purser thinks the workload could be manageable if an assistant county attorney is eliminated.
“There can be certain times that are difficult and other times that are not so difficult but I think it would be manageable,” Purser said.
The advisory committees used to recommend candidates for the Legislature clerk and the county attorney positions would consist of the county administrator, personnel officer and three legislators-elect from both parties. The role of these committees is to evaluate and recommend candidates to the incoming Legislature.
The legislative clerk and county attorney would then be appointed by a majority vote of the Legislature.
The advisory committees would not necessarily be composed of the same individuals because the legislators would be selected for each committee by legislators from their respective party.
Although officials had initially included the county clerk in the legislative clerk advisory committee, Thursday they recommended removing that position from the committee. The county clerk works closely with the Legislative clerk, who is also historian and record keeper and works with county documents.
Larry Cornell, chairman of the Law Office Review Advisory Committee, said members decided the clerk could give input on the candidates without being a member of the advisory committee.
Fellow Law Office Review Committee member Legislator John Troy (D-1st Ward) said the recommendation was made because the advisory committee already had so many members.
“We felt the committee was kind of large,” Troy said. He added that keeping the clerk out of the committee could also help remove politics from the appointment. County Clerk Betsy Larkin is also Republican Party chair.
If the Legislature approves these changes Oct. 22, they would be formally included in the Legislature’s Rules of Order.


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