After a half-hour, closed-door session Monday, a Niagara County Legislature committee delayed action until next Tuesday on the nomination of the new and presumably last administrator of Mount View Health Facility.
County Manager Gregory D. Lewis attributed the delay to legislators' concerns about bad publicity that could haunt them in the upcoming election campaign.
"This appointment is a good appointment," he said of his choice of Robert E. Sobon, whom he said was "blackened" by disclosures by The Buffalo News last week that he was at the helm of a Williamsville nursing home rated among the worst 10 percent of nursing homes in New York State last year by Consumers Union.
"[Legislators] have concerns about bad publicity," Lewis said. "This time of year, it's very political. People have concerns that people will campaign against them with this."
"He's a little off-base with that," said Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls. "That wasn't our concern at all. My thing was, let's bring him in and talk about it. Let's find out why [his previous nursing homes scored poorly]. We're talking about people's lives and health care here. This isn't politics."
Community Services Committee Chairman Danny W. Sklarski said, "If any legislator does his or her due diligence, they can come to a good decision for the good of the county. This should come before any political ramifications. When we voted to close Mount View, there were a lot of people who thought it wasn't good for them politically, but it was for the good of the county."
Sobon, 39, was Lewis' third choice for the administrator post at Mount View, the county-owned nursing home that the Legislature has voted to close by June 30, 2008. The top job has been vacant since Patricia Weeks O'Connor resigned in February, and Thomas F. Schobert's appointment as consulting administrator is to expire Aug. 10.
Sklarski, D-Town of Niagara, said his panel and the Administration Committee will meet jointly at 5:30 p.m. next Tuesday to discuss the appointment. Sobon, who is to be paid at the annual rate of $89,961, is expected to attend; he did not Monday.
"I'd like to have the opportunity to talk to this gentleman one-on-one," Sklarski said. But he said he accepted Lewis' assurances that he knew of poor state inspection reports at Sobon's previous jobs and was convinced they weren't his fault.
"I think as far as [Sobon] being competent and qualified and well-respected within his profession, they have been addressed to my satisfaction," Sklarski said. "But I want to check those references that were discussed in executive session."
Sobon headed the skilled nursing facility at Wyoming County Community Hospital in Warsaw from 2000 to 2005. The facility was fined a total of $8,000 by the state Health Department for four violations in 2002.
He went from there to Legacy Health Care's Williamsville Suburban in March 2005, a month after the owners filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
A state inspection there in June 2005 found that "significant corrections" were needed in quality of care.
In April 2006, another inspection showed problems in administration and residents' rights were so serious that the state rated Williamsville Suburban as placing residents' lives and health in "immediate jeopardy." A $1,000 fine was imposed two months later. Sobon left in July 2006 -- of his own accord, he said in an interview Friday.
Lewis said that Schobert and O'Connor "think highly" of Sobon."
"I want to see that in writing," Virtuoso said.
Meanwhile, Lewis said the county's application for state aid to pay for Mount View closure costs will probably be submitted Thursday. He said that it will be a "substantial" request and predicted that "people will make a big thing out of it."
But the county manager said he is going to request every sort of aid he can think of because this is the county's only chance to apply for such a grant. "We won't get what we ask for. Nobody will," he said. "Then we'll work like the devil to reduce our expenditures."
Lewis also said he will probably recommend that the county sell the real estate at Mount View. He said that it is not a good choice for a new county office campus because there is not enough road access. It would not be a good choice for the new county highway garage, he said, because the area is too residential and residents there have complained about big trucks going to the nearby Delphi plant.