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How to fix county government?

January 23, 2013

The frayed relationship between Sullivan County Manager David Fanslau and the majority of county legislators has been on display in public in recent weeks, as press conferences and news reports made clear that a majority of legislators are working to terminate his employment.

Swept along with the dissatisfaction of some legislators with their manager has also come a proposal from Legislator Jonathan Rouis to switch to a different form of county management. We at The River Reporter wonder if changing the form of county government from a legislature that appoints a county manager to one having an elected county executive is really necessary, or if the current unhappiness in the government center is just a matter of personalities and power. If the latter, we recommend that when the heat of the moment subsides, cooler consideration should be given before institutionalizing a new political office in the courthouse.

It’s not surprising that the legislature sees the need for change. In the past 25 years, all county governments in New York State (NYS) have faced increasingly complex operations, and there’s been a strong trend toward counties exploring different ways of doing things. This includes both investigating new management alternatives and other changes in operations. During these economically challenging times, counties with fewer and fewer resources are still being pressured to deliver the same (or even increased) services.

Currently 31 NYS counties have a manager or an administrator form of government. Seventeen have elected county executives, with Montgomery County set to become the 18th in 2014. In nine counties, the chairman of the county legislative body serves as administrator.