The effort by five of the nine county legislators to remove the county manager was finalized February 21 with the announcement that the legislature had voted to approve a separation agreement. A statement issued jointly by county manager David Fanslau and Scott Samuelson, chair of the legislature, read, “Mr. Fanslau and the Sullivan County Legislature have amicably agreed to enter into a Separation Agreement, ending Mr. Fanslau’s position as Sullivan County Manager, effective at 12:01 a.m. on March 2. The legislature thanks Mr. Fanslau for his years of dedicated service to Sullivan County, and wishes him the best in his future endeavors.”
Deputy county manager Joshua Potosek will serve as interim county manager while the legislature begins the search for a new manager.
The announcement came a few hours after lawmakers voted to move forward with a local law that will change the county charter to allow a simple majority of the legislature to remove a county manager from office. The charter was amended in 2007 requiring a supermajority to remove the county manager, and the issue has been a source of tension since June 2012, when five of the legislators indicated to their peers that they would not vote to renew Fanslau’s contract, which expired at the end of the year.
Before the vote, most of the legislators weighed in with their thoughts on the matter. Legislator Kathy LaBuda called the resolution “totally inappropriate” and “disrespectful,” noting that the supermajority rule was recommended by a unanimous charter commission back in 2007.
Legislator Jonathan Rouis agreed, saying that the charter is, in essence, the county’s constitution and changing it should not be done by five legislators, but by public referendum or through a charter commission.
The change is subject to permissive referendum, meaning that if opponents gather enough signatures the public will have an opportunity to vote on the matter. Legislator Ira Steingart said, “I do think we’ll get the signatures, and that it’s going to go to the public.” He added, “I think it’s wrong that five politicians” can make the change.
On the other side of the issue, legislator Alan Sorensen said the revision would restore the original intent of the charter. He also said that the 2007 change was done incorrectly because the public at the time received no notice that the revision was subject to permissive referendum.
Legislator Cora Edwards was one of several legislators who said that as the charter now stands a minority of the legislature can thwart the will of the majority. She said, “Since June, a minority of four has been holding a majority of five in a holding pattern.”
Lawmaker Cindy Gieger said the charter change in 2007 “changed the power structure of the legislature,” and she supported the change to a simple majority.
Public comment on the question was split, with resident Ken Walter opposing the change and resident Star Hesse supporting it.