Extension chief gets a two-fer

Columbia, Greene offices tap Andrew Turner as single director

CLAVERACK–Consolidation is the buzzword these days in organizations ranging from school districts to municipal governments. And while the goal of creating efficiencies can be easier to envision than achieve, one local service agency has taken a step in this direction starting at the top.

The boards of directors for Cornell Cooperative Extension offices in Columbia and Greene counties have appointed Greene County Director Andrew Turner executive director for both organizations.

The two boards began discussions on having one director for the two organizations last year and reached an agreement in December on a one-year trial period for the arrangement.

Mr. Turner will divide his time between the office in Claverack and the Greene County office in Cairo.

Reached at his Columbia County office Tuesday, January 5, his first day in the new post here, Mr. Turner called his position “almost a research project.”

A press release announcing Mr. Turner’s appointment says that the goal of the agreement is to reduce administrative costs overall for both offices and to explore other ways to share administrative and program resources. “We want it to be a win/win for the folks who use the office,” said Mr. Turner.

He has been executive director for the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) in Greene County since 1998, and led the development of the organization’s new headquarters at the Agroforestry Resource Center in Acra. He has also worked with the statewide leadership for Cooperative Extension at Cornell University in recent years.

Mr. Turner said the CCE offices in Columbia and Greene counties each have about 15 employees and annual budgets ranging between $800,000 and $1 million. But he said the strengths and focus of each office are very different, with the Greene Extension focused on natural resources and forestry and Columbia County having noteworthy programs in nutrition and for young people and families, particularly its active 4-H program.

He also said the offices in the two counties are funded differently, with Columbia County supporting half of the budget for its office, while Greene County contributes less than a third of the budget there. The state supplies a small amount of direct aid, so state cutbacks may not have a large impact at this point, but the state makes a major contribution by allowing CCE employees to participate in the State University of New York benefits program.

Joe Hanselman Jr., president of the Columbia County CCE board, confirmed this week that the new agreement is intended to last for a year, though he could not immediately recall when discussions began. He also confirmed that the board expects to realize savings from the plan.

As for cutting costs, Mr. Turner said that the two offices already share the services of one finance manager and there will be a “healthy conversation” between the offices and the boards about resources. He said decision making at both offices is “participatory” and that whether there will be any downsizing may well depend on the level of government support the offices receive.

Despite the challenges posed by the recession and a state government barely able to pay its bills, Mr. Turner is optimistic about the future of the extension offices, seeing “tremendous opportunities” from a reorganization at the U.S. Department of Agriculture that has created the National Institute for Food and Agriculture. He said the new institute will fund grants for CCE offices to work on solutions to major problems like childhood obesity and global food security.

Mr. Turner, 44, comes from Livingston County south of Rochester. He attended Cornell University and worked for a decade in Rockland County before coming to Greene County. He said this work runs in the family, “My father was a 30-year Extension agent.” His grandfather was a “dairy agent” in New Hampshire, and his parents met while both worked for an Extension program.

For further information, call Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia County (518) 828-2246 or click on www.cce.cornell.edu/Columbia. The Cornell Cooperative Extension of Greene County is at (518) 622-9820 and www.agroforestrycenter.org.

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