Schoharie County government will soon enter a new era.
In a historic vote Friday morning, a deeply divided Board of Supervisors approved the hiring of a county administrator. Eight supervisors voted in favor of the measure, six against and two absent.
Though a majority of the 16-member board did not agree to hire an administrator, the measure gained the support of the supervisors of the three most populous towns in the county: Cobleskill, Middleburgh and Schoharie and therefore garnered enough weighted votes to pass.
After the local law was approved, board Chairman Dick Lape asked the members of the committee who recommended the hiring of an administrator to establish guidelines for the position as well as a timeline on the appointment of an administrator.
In the end, the eight supervisors who voted in favor of the local law to establish the position of an administrator were: Carl Barbic of Seward, Gene Milone of Schoharie, Jim Buzon of Middleburgh, Sean Jordan of Jefferson, Leo McAllister of Cobleskill, Bill Federice of Conesville, Shawn Smith of Blenheim, and Mr. Lape.
Voting against the measure were: Larry Bradt of Carlisle, Sandra Manko of Sharon, Phil Skowfoe of Fulton, Tony VanGlad, of Gilboa, Earl VanWormer of Esperance, and Harold Vroman of Summit.
Supervisors Amber Bleau of Wright and William Smith of Broome were absent for the vote. Ms. Bleau, who was on the exploratory committee, has spoken in favor of the local law while Mr. Smith has been vehemently against it.
Those in favor of hiring an administrator pointed to several factors, including saving the county from minor problems that turn into large ones such as the streambank project and the report on discrimination and harassment in the county which ended up in a lengthy and expensive disciplinary hearing against the county's personnel officer.
"It seems like we drift from one disaster to another," Shawn Smith observed.
The cost of those issues, and others "was greater than an administrator," argued Mr. Federice, who headed the exploratory committee.
An administrator, he added, should be able to save the county money in the long run, contended supervisors in favor of the law.
Any executive "worth their weight" should bring back enough savings to cover their salary, added Mr. Federice.
The cost for the position was a major problem for those against the measure.
Mr. Skowfoe said that in the end, the cost for the position will be about $250,000, money he felt would be better spent in the highway budget.
"We don't have that kind of money," stressed Mr. VanGlad.
"An administrator isn't necessary and an additional expense," said Ms. Manko.
If the members of the board did their jobs as intended, she added, the county would not need an administrator.
"We have a system here that works when it's allowed to work," argued Mr. Vroman.
The county's form of government does work, argued Mr. Skowfoe, who noted that up until the flood, Schoharie County was one of the few in the state without any debt.
He noted that several of the supervisors who have been on the board for slightly longer than a year supported going to an administrator, while past chairmen such as himself, Mr. VanGlad, Mr. Vroman and Mr. VanWormer, were against it.
Mr. Vroman also noted that though several supervisors said the position should not be political, "it is very political."
Mr. Federice pointed out several other reasons that the county should have an administrator.
Currently, the county's department heads are not being evaluated, he noted.
Though the county will retain its Board of Supervisors, a full-time "go-to" person is needed, Mr. Federice argued.
Having just supervisors and a chairman may have worked in the past, but the demands on county government have increased.
"Times have changed. "This isn't 1952."
He noted that 54 of the other 56 counties in the state (not including New York City), have full-time chief operating officers.
Mr. Barbic added, "We're here to set policy, not run everything." With an administrator, "you're going to have professionals working together."
The issue, which was debated by the county board in 1994, was re-introduced by Mr. Milone last January. The members of the exploratory committee came back with their recommendation in September. A series of public hearings were held at various locations in the county.