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County manager a worthy idea Giambra call has attractive aspects and charter group should consider it

One thing to say with certainty about Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra's proposal to adopt a county manager form of government is that it's absolutely worth exploring. It has legitimate prospects for injecting professionalism into the county while draining some of its venomous, budget-bloating politics.

The concept is not new, and many counties and cities that have it swear by it. It comes in an almost infinite number of varieties, but it basically means hiring a professional manager who draws up the budget, hires and fires department heads and runs the county's day-to-day operations. Elected officials set policies that the county manager, as CEO, implements.

Giambra proposes a form that would retain the position of county executive as the county's lead planner and policy-maker, but it doesn't have to work that way. The position could be abolished, leaving the Legislature as the policy-setter. Or the internally elected leader of the Legislature -- currently its chairman -- could be vested with some or all of those roles.

The question is what works best. With this county's political diversity -- not to mention its animosities -- it is possible that some kind of broadly elected leader would be advisable, but that doesn't mean the position has to pay the current $103,000 a year. Something in the vicinity of the $42,588 base salary of county legislators might do just fine.

The advantages of a county manager are obvious. With a contract that extends longer than the terms of elected officials, the manager would be largely freed from the yoke of politics, able to limit jobs to those that are truly necessary and to hire for them based on merit, not political pay back. And while a county executive must, by definition, come from within the county, a manager could be the subject of a nationwide search. With more choices comes a better chance of hiring excellence.

This proposal comes while a commission considers revisions to the county charter. It should review this idea thoroughly, and then either reject it or propose a form that it believes would better suit this distressed county.

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