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December 09, 2016
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Rouis calls for change of government; opposition calls for separate legal representation

The bipartisan coalition in favor of hiring a new county manager are Alan Sorensen, left, Kitty Vetter, Cora Edwards, Cindy Gieger and Gene Benson.

At a news conference at the government center on January 3, Legislator Jonathan Rouis, the former chairman of the legislature, called for the establishment of a charter revision committee to study the notion of changing the county government to one that would have a county executive as is the case in Orange and Ulster counties.

In a reference to recent turmoil at the government center, Rouis said, “While I believe that on some level all my colleagues have the best interest of Sullivan County at heart, our current governmental structure has hampered our ability to make meaningful change and move the county forward for the betterment of the residents. Members of our legislature have become bogged down with managing staff and personal agendas, and are unable to focus the best of their efforts of policies that will move our county forward economically so that our residents can prosper.”

Rouis said he was not interested in becoming the county executive. He said the process of making the change would take at least two years, and in the meantime, he proposed that county manager David Fanslau be offered a new contract through the end of 2014.

But Fanslau’s tenure at helm of the government has been the subject of serious division among the legislators, and after Rouis’ remarks, five members of the legislature, a majority, each took to the podium and addressed the issue.

Alan Sorensen said that five members of the legislature, a bipartisan coalition, had decided back in July that there needed to be a change in the county manager’s office. Sorensen said he was not necessarily opposed to investigating a change to a county executive form of government, but the issue of the current county manager needed to be addressed soon.

The county manager’s first term of office ended on December 31, 2012, but his agreement, or contract with the county, runs through the end of 2014. In 2007, the county charter was changed to require that six of nine legislative votes are needed to remove a county manager from office, but because legislators did not vote to grant Fanslau a new term last July, there are disagreements as to whether his employment with the county can be ended by a simple majority.

Sorensen said, and the four other lawmakers echoed the point, that because county attorney Sam Yasger represents the legislature and the county manager, the five legislators want to retain outside legal counsel. This, they said, would avoid putting Yasgur into a conflict situation.

Legislator Cora Edwards said that the residents of the county would have to decide whether there would be a switch to a county executive form of government, though it’s not certain at this point if the matter has enough traction to get that far.

The other lawmakers who supported a change in the county manager’s office were Kitty Vetter, Cindy Gieger and Gene Benson.

In the audio clip, Jonathan Rouis speaks first, then Alan Sorensen.