HUDSON—Roy Brown (R-Germantown), chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, thinks the county is long overdue for someone to run government more efficiently, though he doesn’t want that job for himself. Instead, he’s pressing for the county to hire a full-time administrator, and this week a key committee of the board agreed to help him fast-track his proposal.
Mr. Brown publically introduced his plan Tuesday, August 24, at the meeting of the Board of Supervisors County Government Committee, presenting a report he created with data from the New York State Association of Counties. The report shows that Columbia is one of only nine counties in the state that still delegates the day-to-day administrative chores of running county government to the leader of the county board rather turning over those tasks to an appointed, professional administrator or an elected county executive. There are 62 counties in the state counting the five boroughs of New York City.
Columbia County’s annual budget is $147-million, and the county hundreds of employees. Members of the Board of Supervisors, including the chairman receive part-time salaries.
Mr. Brown chairman said the current system of 15 separate county committees, each responsible of direct oversight of specific county functions, is slow, inefficient and wasteful. What’s more, he said, county officials have been discussing a switch to a full-time administrator for 20 years without taking any action that would address the situation. Despite that record of inertia, he said the switch could be accomplished within six months and possibly by the end of this year.
Although Mr. Brown said it would be up to the subcommittee and the County Government Committee to recommend both the specific tasks and responsibilities of a county administrator, his report contains examples of how other counties of similar size have defined the position. He has not recommended a salary for the post, but he said that the amount would be determined by the salaries for administrators in other counties, figures that are available from the Association of Counties.
While the committee was generally receptive to the concept, two Democrats questioned some aspects of his specific request for a subcommittee to draw up specific recommendations for the full board to adopt. Supervisor William Hughes Jr. (D-Hudson, 4th Ward) asked why Mr. Brown recommended creating the position of county administrator by local law.
Mr. Brown said the alternative was to draft a charter for the county that included provision for either an appointed administrator or an elected executive, but he said that approach would take at least two years, because it requires a referendum. And he reiterated his concern that the process not get bogged down in discussion as it has in the past.
Robin Andrews (D-Claverack) asked for examples of the types of savings the county could expect from having an administrator. Mr. Brown said he did not have estimates, but he cited one case he had witnessed in which the purchase of computer equipment was delayed by the cumbersome bureaucracy of the committee system, leaving county employees temporarily unable to do their work but still on the payroll.
Committee member Lynda Scheer said she expected to see savings because hiring an experienced administrator would permit the county to use fewer consultants or use consultants for shorter periods of time.
Mr. Brown said that if the experience of other counties that have made similar changes is any guide, the number of standing committees could be cut almost in half. If that change led to a reduction of time supervisors need to spend governing the county, he said he would be willing to consider whether the supervisors should cut their own salaries.
During his 40-minute presentation to the committee, the chairman repeatedly emphasized that regardless of the authority delegated to an administrator, the Board of Supervisors would remain responsible for all decisions and actions of county government.
The one contentious issue that emerged from Tuesday’s meeting involved Mr. Brown’s recommendation for a five-year contract with an administrator. He said a long term would help make the job “non-political,” though he advised the committee that the county attorney is investigating whether the board has the authority to commit to an agreement lasting that long.
Mr. Hughes questioned why the term of an administrator shouldn’t run for two years, the term lengths of many members of the county board.
Mr. Brown said that would be “too short,” but he added that if the county created the position of administrator by adopting a local law, the Board of Supervisors could eliminate the position by the same means.
Supervisor Valerie Bertram (R-Stuyvesant) introduced a resolution supporting the creation of the subcommittee sought by Mr. Brown and calling for the subcommittee to make recommendations on the plan. The motion received the unanimous support of the committee.
Mr. Brown said the subcommittee would have between seven and nine members, including two from the County Government Committee, the head of human resources for the county and the county attorney working on the proposal. The subcommittee will also have two members representing the public. Its meetings will be open.