Gregory D. Lewis said Tuesday that his first priorities as Niagara County manager will include learning about the county budget and filling the vacant position of risk manager.
Lewis, who started work Tuesday as the first-ever county manager in Niagara County, also said he wants to learn quickly about the county-owned nursing home, the state of technology in county government and his relationship with the department heads he has inherited.
Lewis said he met Tuesday with Human Resources Director Charles J. Naughton and was briefed on the county's contract negotiations with its two largest unions and on the issue of filling the risk manager vacancy. Naughton and Assistant County Attorney Vincent R. Ginestre are sharing the duties of risk manager until the position is filled.
According to a local law, it is up to Lewis to appoint a risk manager for confirmation by the County Legislature.
Lewis said his preferred practice in filling jobs is to have "team interviews" by staff members who have knowledge of the area in question. Once the team chooses a candidate or candidates, Lewis said, he reads all the team's comments and then interviews the prospects himself.
He said he is not sure whether any legislators will be involved in the interview process. Legislator William M. Davignon, D-North Tonawanda, said he thinks that members of the Legislature could be left out "unless they have expertise in that area."
Davignon said the Legislature has the prerogative to conduct its own interviews of whomever Lewis might choose. "I personally would be more than willing to accept his recommendation, as long as the reference checks and background checks come out OK," Davignon said.
Minority Leader Gerald K. Farnham, R-Lockport, said he does not think that legislators need to be included on the interview team. "I personally would like to sit in on one interview and see a resume so we know something about the person," Farnham said. "But let (Lewis) do his job."
Lewis said he plans to meet soon with Budget Director Jacqueline A. O'Lay. "I want to know everything the budget director knows," said Lewis, who is officially responsible for preparing a 2004 budget proposal to submit to the Legislature.
The new county manager quickly met with several department heads Tuesday and toured the Brooks Building, the County Courthouse, the Golden Triangle Plaza and the new Social Services Department headquarters. Among those he met were County Attorney Morton H. Abramowitz, County Clerk Wayne F. Jagow, Social Services Commissioner Anthony J. Restaino, Planning and Development Commissioner Samuel M. Ferraro and Legislature Clerk Sean. M. Smith.
Lewis said he needs to learn quickly about the estimated $775,000 upgrade of the county's financial and payroll computer software, which the Legislature agreed to pay for with a bond issue. The installation is to begin in July. He also said he needs to familiarize himself with issues regarding Mount View Health Facility, the county-owned nursing home.
While working as administrator of Beltrami County, Minn., Lewis presided over the sale of that county's nursing home. He said he has done some research into New York laws regarding nursing homes. The Buffalo Niagara Partnership's "Who Does What?" Committee recommended last week that the county close Mount View.
Lewis said he intends to attend most or all Legislature committee meetings.
"It is still government by committee, whether we like it or not," Davignon said.
Lewis, 56, has never worked east of Minnesota during his career in law and local government, and said he has no connection with anyone in the Niagara County Legislature, which voted unanimously to hire him May 6 for a four-year term at $95,500 a year.
Until last week, Lewis was administrator of Lyon County, Minn. He worked there for nearly two years and before that put in 10 years as administrator of Beltrami County.
He took over the former office of retired Budget Director Sharon Sacco on the first floor of the Philo J. Brooks County Office Building. One of Sacco's staff members, Sandra Sherman, has been assigned as Lewis' administrative assistant.