COOPERSTOWN — Otsego County’s Board of Representatives is on schedule for a December vote on a local law to establish a county administrator position. 

The board’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee held its monthly dedicated meeting on the subject, Tuesday, Sept. 24, at the county offices at 197 Main St. in Cooperstown, and spent three-quarters of the two-hour meeting polishing a potential job description for a civil service position, which would be filled in 2020. Personnel Director Penny Gentile and board Vice Chair Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, joined the committee members to discuss language for the job listing. 

“(The board has) been discussing this since the 1990s, and we personally have been working on this for one year and three-quarters, so I feel like we have done our due diligence,” said IGA Chair Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick, New Lisbon, Milford. 

At the end of the meeting, County Attorney Ellen Coccoma gave the committee an update on the drafting of the local law to create the position, and a timetable for finishing the process by the end of the year. 

“You really want to have the local law on the desks (of the representatives) by the November meeting,” Coccoma said.

The county administrator would be a term-appointed job. County law does not allow the Board of Representatives to appoint someone to a job term longer than the two-year term served by the representatives, so the administrator would have to be reappointed in even-number years when a new board takes office.

A county administrator would report to the board chair and greater Board of Representatives. The administrator would not “diminish the authority of the county Board of Representatives,” according to the draft of the job requirement, but would instead act as a day-to-day overseer and manager of county affairs.   

The job descriptions on the draft are grouped into categories: department management and labor relations; financial management and budgeting; and administration and communications.

One job requirement the committee discussed was having the administrator give an annual “State of the County” speech or presentation to the Board and the public. Board chairs are allowed to make a similar presentation, but it is not a requirement, and most have declined the option. 

Although the 2020 budget process is just beginning, the IGA committee has already approved putting money in the 2020 budget for the position, which would have an annual salary of about $100,000 and require about $50,000 more to cover benefits, including health insurance and pension. The money is tentative; not only would it require board approval via the budget vote in December, but it could be returned to the general budget if the administrator position is not approved. In addition, it is unlikely the full salary would be paid in 2020, as county officials anticipate it will take about six months to hire someone after the local law and budget are approved. 

The draft job listing calls for candidates to have a master’s degree in business or public administration, or a related field, and six years of experience in public or business administration, or a bachelor’s degree in business or public administration, and eight years of experience in public or business administration. 

The job listing says the candidate does not need to be an Otsego County resident to be hired, but must move to Otsego County within 60 days of appointment to the position.  

Kennedy said the meeting was effective in building out the job description, and the process has been effective for teaching the representatives on the committee the history of Otsego County government and the way it is different from other counties in the state.  

“We’re learning how the county works and how it is supposed to work,” she said. 

According to the committee members, the county first explored the administrator position in 1993. Establishing the position has been a campaign issue in recent years, and, according to Coccoma and Koutnik, in past decades as well.

The recent push to create the position originally included looking at the possibility of an elected county executive instead of a subordinate administrative position. However, that plan would have required voter approval, and possibly changing the county’s charter, both of which would have taken much longer, and the committee abandoned that idea early in the process.

The IGA committee will have its next dedicated meeting on the topic at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29, in the board meeting room at 197 Main St. in Cooperstown. By then they should have a near-finished version of the job description and a draft of the local law, which would be presented, Wednesday, Nov. 6, at the board’s November meeting. The board would then have to schedule a public hearing before voting on the law. The vote would take place at the Board’s December meeting, Wednesday, Dec. 4, or at a special meeting annually held in mid-December to handle year-end events. The mid-December meeting has not been scheduled yet.

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