Mouth That Roars

Bill Liblick has made a name for himself of National TV Talk Shows where he spouted his outspoken views from the front row. Now he offers you his opinion every week in the "MOUTH THAT ROARS" Column in the Sullivan County Post.

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July 25th, 2013

Should Hunt for County Manager Cease with Ira Cohen?

It appears that acting county manager Josh Potosek will not be our next County Manager. Although Potosek was one of the top four under consideration, legislators decided they want someone with more experience and diverse background to run Sullivan County.

A head-hunting company is being sought to assist them in finding the perfect match to run the County. Personnel Officer Carolyn Hill has begun putting together a list of agencies specializing in recruiting managerial executives.

The process could take months and a new County Manager might not be in place until 2014.

A proposed budget will soon be unveiled and it’s anyone’s guess how good or bad things will be. With no County Manager, no Planning Commissioner, the David Sager saga, and very little leadership, unity, or plan of action coming out of the County Government Center, we most certainly are a government in crises.

Those who are fortunate enough to be chosen members of the
“Old Boys Club” have been successful in their mission in convincing and leading those in power down a continual destructive path in order to protect their self serving beneficial interests.

A perfect example is the organization underway to push for passage of a casino referendum. Instead of the initial organization coming from Sullivan County’s government, the group was formed elsewhere, and some legislators are complaining that they are being ignored from participation while others are not.

Many of those who could also bring a great deal to the table have been discarded from participation in the organizational meetings. When this group is “ready to allow” the general public in to participate they say they will.

The casino push should be run by the legislature if they are convinced passage of a referendum will be the catalyst we need to save Sullivan County. It speaks volumes about our leadership when they allow others to do the job they should be doing.

Possibly the best alternative for all of us is for the legislature to place another referendum on the ballot this November to amend our charter to create the elected position of a County Executive. This way the voters will decide who will lead our government, and that person will be accountable to all of us.

Obviously, we are not moving in that direction and a County Executive referendum will not happen this year. So what is our alternative?

Perhaps, County Treasurer Ira Cohen is the person we need to move back to the second floor to get our county back on track. Cohen knows our government like no one else, he has the skills to get the job done, and he knows how to lead and bring diverse people together.

Thanks to backroom politics, none of us should hold our breath and expect Cohen to be hired anytime soon.

A case in point as to why Cohen would be a perfect fit for the job is his recent explanation to critics as to why it was proper for the majority of the legislature to remove the supermajority clause from hiring or firing a County Manager.

If you recall legislator Ira Steingart sued Sullivan County because the majority of his colleagues voted legally to revert the charter back to its original intent. Even Supreme County Justice Stephan Schick ruled that the majority of the legislature acted within their rights.

But, yet there was criticism.

Angered over that criticism and displaying his support for an elected County Executive, I would now like to share with you Cohen’s written response to a recent Times Herald Record editorial supporting the supermajority clause.

Perhaps – you will conclude that the hunt for a County Manager should cease, and Ira Cohen should be hired.

Below is County Treasurer Ira Cohen’s Response

A recent Record editorial declared that the ability of a “mere majority” of Legislators to amend Sullivan’s Charter was hasty, emotional and bad governance, and that only the public should have the power to amend the Charter. It expressed concern that the amendment would deter qualified job applicants for the Manager position, and that it would further deter an appointee from acting boldly and with vision, due to perceived lack of job security. These views are not only contrary to the clear intention of Sullivan’s Charter, but contrary to State law as well.

The original Charter approved by the public at a mandatory referendum in 1994 required that a Manager be hired with six votes (a supermajority), but required only five votes, (simple majority), to terminate without cause. The clear intention of the Charter’s drafters was that the Manager serve at the pleasure of the Legislature, with no job security whatsoever. That provision never deterred scores of qualified applicants for the position, initially in 1996, in 2006 and again in 2013. Furthermore, the three Managers that have served have all been professional, intelligent and bold.

A Charter review board in 2006 made many good recommendations to amend the Charter, but, unfortunately, some that were not so good, as well. One example of the latter was an amendment that expressed their desire to have the number to appoint and the number to terminate be consistent, so instead of recommending five and five, they recommended six and six. Consistency was the primary motivation, as opposed to a well-reasoned determination that a supermajority was somehow more democratic or would result in better governance. In fact, the experience that resulted in the termination of David Fanslau clearly demonstrates the major flaw in the belief that a supermajority is better. It enabled him to become entrenched in the position even though a majority of his bosses wanted to replace him. He was able to wield enormous amounts of power even though only four of nine Legislators approved. Government by the will of the majority is so basic and fundamental in the United States, and has been since 1776, that it amazes me that anyone could argue that it is unfair, unwise or undemocratic, and that only a supermajority could assure those qualities.

As for amendments to the Charter, both the Charter itself and State law provide for amendments to be made by a majority. The State law clearly authorizes many, if not most, amendments to a charter to be made by a majority of legislators. For some matters, however, specifically delineated, the law requires an additional step—approval by a majority of the public voting at a referendum. Some referendums are discretionary but some are mandatory, depending on the substance of the amendment. The editorial’s title contending that “changing the charter should not be so easy” is erroneous both factually and philosophically. The current statutory scheme confirms the very essence of our representative form of government—we the People elect representatives to make policy decisions on our behalf. We imbue them with the power to make, and to change laws. The fact that our State law carves out some exceptions requiring that certain specific matters be also approved by a majority of the public is both reasonable and more than adequate to assure a democratic process.

I have long advocated for an elected chief executive as opposed to an appointed one, but those counties, like Sullivan, that still have an appointed Manager, will function more effectively by permitting the age-old democratic principal of majority rule to flourish. This will empower and protect the will of the elected representative, and therefore, the will of the people.
Lets move on

Ira J. Cohen
July 22, 2013

Bill Liblick has made a name for himself of National TV Talk Shows where he spouted his outspoken views from the front row. Now he offers you his opinion every week in the “MOUTH THAT ROARS” Column in the Sullivan County Post

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