It has been a very busy start for Chemung County’s new Executive and Legislature. With votes on numerous department-head positions and committees set to take place this Monday, there are many important issues facing our community. In addition, an unfortunate situation is unfolding in West Elmira involving its Fire Department, discussed in detail below.

The Appointments

The Agenda for Monday night’s Full Legislature meeting has not been published yet, but should appear here by the end of the day. The meeting will be held at 7:00 pm on the Hazlett Building’s 5th Floor. Members of the public are permitted to speak for up to 5 minutes on any matter at the start of the meeting. Prior notice does not need to be given to the Legislature in order to speak. I will again livestream the meeting to the Chemung County Matters Facebook page.

The resolutions addressed at last Monday’s Committee Meetings will all presumably be included on the Agenda for the Full Legislature Meeting. This includes appointments to numerous department-head positions (and their salaries) as well as many committees.

As I set forth in a blog post earlier this week found here, Chemung County’s Charter gives the Legislature the power to confirm most appointments made by the Chemung County Executive as well as set salaries for county employees:

The power to confirm County Executive appointments is found in Section 309:

The power to fix salaries is found in Section 203(h):

The Legislature will likely vote on the following appointments Monday night unless the body feels it needs more information before rendering a decision.

Committees and Boards

The name in parentheses indicates where the appointment originated, i.e the Legislature (Chairperson Manchester) or the Executive (County Executive Moss):

  • Leg. Drake and Leg. Strange to the Chemung County Transit Committee (Manchester)
  • Leg. Strange to the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chemung County Board of Directors (Manchester)
  • Leg. Sweet to the Chemung County Property Development Corporation Board of Directors (Manchester)
  • Leg. Burin to Chemung County Quality Assurance and Assessment Committee (Manchester)
  • Leg. Burin to the Chemung County Compliance Committee
  • Leg. Brennan to the Chemung County Board of Health
  • Chairperson Manchester to the Chemung County Jury Board
  • Leg. Woodard to the Chemung County Water Quality Strategy Executive Committee (Manchester)
  • Leg. Pastrick and Mark Watts to the Chemung County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board (Manchester)
  • Joe Valaent to the Catskill Regional Off-track Betting Corporation (Manchester)
  • David Boor, Joel Klose, Thomas Rhodes and Richard Gunderman to the Chemung County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Directors (Moss)
  • Michael Collins, Ernest Hartman, Randy Reid and G. Thomas Tranter, Jr. to the Southern Tier Central Regional Planning and Development Board (Moss)
  • Joe Colletta to the Chemung County Planning Board (Moss)
  • Ronald Panosian, Henry M. Dalyrmple, Mary Jo Yunis, Robert L. Lewis to the Chemung County Planning Board (Moss)
  • Donald W. Zeigler to the Chemung County Sewer District No. 1 Administrative Board (Moss)

Department-heads and salaries

All appointments were made by County Executive Moss:

  • David Sheen as Deputy County Executive; salary reduction of $145,188 to $123,332 (10%)
  • Mohammed Hussain as County Attorney; salary of $74,973 with no change
  • Steve Hoover as Director of Budget and Research; salary reduction of $127,728 to $114,623 (10%)
  • Tom Freeman as Interim Director of Aviation; salary reduction of $127,728 to $114,623 (10%)
  • Steve Wilbur as Director of Information Systems; salary reduction of $102,620 to $92,358 (10%)
  • Andrew Avery as Commissioner of Public Works; salary 
    reduction of $130,382 to $117,344 (10%)
  • Vincent Azzarelli as Director of Public Information; salary increase of $56,586 from $72,925 (29%)

There are several additional positions that will be likely voted upon Monday night involving positions within the Sheriff’s Department and Treasurer’s Office. Information about them can be found here.

Request for additional information

At last week’s Committee meetings I moved to table all appointments aside from those involving Legislators as I felt we did not have enough information about the appointees or the salary changes. Although the motions were not entertained, Leg. Marty Chalk, Chairperson of the Personnel Committee, requested Chairperson Manchester and County Executive Moss provide additional information ahead of this Monday’s meeting.

As of 2:30 pm on Friday (the time this post is being published) the legislators have received some of it, though none of the information has been made public yet. Specifically, we have received:

  • Background information about the department-head appointees. This has been provided to the Legislature. The Chemung County Legislative Attorney is reviewing the submissions to see if they are suitable for public disclosure.
  • Background information about people appointed to Committees and boards by County Executive Moss. This has been provided to the Legislature. It is my understanding that the information will be included with the Agenda for Monday and therefore be made public.
  • A copy of the 2018 County Salary Survey and Benefits compendium by the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC). This is available to the Legislature and public for review on the Hazlett Buildings’s 5th Floor. It is a list of the salaries earned by all county employees in New York State.
  • A packet of information with annotated resolutions. This has been provided to the Legislature. It will also likely be included with the Agenda and therefore be made public.

Letter requesting additional information

I wrote a letter yesterday to Personnel Chairperson Chalk requesting additional information. It appears most if not all of the background data has now been provided, but still leaves significant questions unanswered pertaining to Tom Freeman, the appointee for Airport Director, as well as the salary changes.

My dealings with Tom Freeman have always been very positive and he been successful in many business endeavors. However, Tom Freeman’s deep and varied connections to many aspects of the private aviation industry as well the Elmira and Binghamton airports raise a lot of questions related to potential conflicts of interest and the appearance of impropriety that must be answered before we take a vote.

Additionally, there are many unanswered questions related to the requested salary changes. Simply looking at what people holding similarly titled positions in other counties does not necessarily provide an accurate salary comparison, particularly where multiple shared services agreements and additional duties are involved. I suspect everyone on the Legislature recognizes the critical need to save money and protect taxpayer dollars, but we also need to make sure the process is fair to all of our employees.

I will do my best to share additional information as it becomes available.

The Industrial Development Agency (IDA)

On Wednesday County Executive Moss announced his appointments to the Chemung County IDA. As with other appointments, these will need to be approved by the Legislature.

We met this morning for our first public meeting for organizational purposes where we selected officers:

  • Chairperson: David Sheen
  • Vice-Chairperson: Dawn Burlew
  • Secretary: Christina Sonsire
  • Treasurer: vacant

There is one unfulfilled seat on the IDA board that will ideally be held by someone from Chemung County with ample experience in banking, accounting or finance. Please let me know if you are interested, or if you know someone with a good skill set for this role.

I am very excited about the opportunity to serve on the IDA, a body that has the power to help generate the kind of economic development our area needs. For too long this part of our local government has operated outside of the public view, but I am certain things are about to change. If today’s meeting is any indication, we are headed in a really good direction.

City-County Relations

On Wednesday Leg. Burin wrote a letter to County Executive Moss, Elmira Mayor Dan Mandell and Elmira Manager Mike Collins addressing many pressing issues in an attempt to forge an improved relationship between the two entities:

The West Elmira Fire Department

Finally, a disturbing story is developing concerning the West Elmira Fire Department. According to a WETM article found here as well as several postings on social media, at least 12 firefighters, most of whom are volunteers, resigned last night.

Image: OOCities

The details of what is happening remain somewhat unclear as they involve a personnel matter. The personnel matter was decided by West Elmira’s Fire Department’s Board of Directors, a wholly separate entity from the Town of Elmira Board.

Members of the public can be assured that West Elmira residents still have amble fire and emergency coverage. Along with West Elmira’s paid staff, municipal aide agreements with the City of Elmira, Golden Glow, Elmira Heights, Chemung County and others exists to insure that public safety remains intact.

More to come on all of these issues soon!

Christina Sonsire