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New chairman of Niagara Legislature sets fiscal, management goals

LOCKPORT – Niagara County Legislature Chairman W. Keith McNall said in his first State of the County address Tuesday that the Republican-controlled Legislature will remain on the path of fiscal stability and will select a capable county manager to help reach those goals.

The Lockport Republican told his colleagues, “A year ago, my honorable predecessor, Bill Ross, told you all, and this is a direct quote, ‘The County Legislature believes in smaller government, less spending, and lower taxes.’ I believe we still do.”

The county has 16 percent fewer employees than it did when the Republicans took control of the Legislature in 2004, and the countywide average tax rate is lower by $1 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

McNall said a top priority is finding a good successor to County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz, who is resigning as of March 31 after slightly more than five years in office.

McNall said the top department heads will be reviewed, too.

“It is critical that we find an individual that brings the right combination of experience, leadership and vision to be our partner in administering this county government,” McNall said. “Our next county manager must also have a team committed to this Legislature’s vision for our county’s future, and for that reason, we must initiate a careful examination of the staffing of our top government leadership posts. We must ensure that the right people are doing the right work, and have the right vision and the right leadership skills to make that vision a reality.”

Several of the county’s major department heads – including Budget Director Daniel R. Huntington, Human Resources Director Peter P. Lopes and Risk and Insurance Director Jennifer R. Pitarresi – were hired by the county’s first manager, Gregory D. Lewis, in 2004. Glatz kept all of them in place.

Applications for the position of county manager are due by Feb. 3, and the applicants are to be screened by a search committee of six legislators and two community members, with Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane, as chairman. The panel will recommend a new manager to the Legislature.

Sent to the Administration Committee, which meets Feb. 8, was a Democratic measure to bar legislators from obtaining county jobs until they’ve been out of office for two years. There has been speculation that former Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, may be a candidate for county manager.

The Legislature also ratified a new contract Tuesday with its largest union, the Civil Service Employees Association. Some CSEA members, unhappy with the deal, have alleged that the Jan. 6 union ratification vote was not conducted properly.

But that didn’t stop the Legislature from acting on the deal, which runs through 2019 and by the final year will force all CSEA members hired since 2002 to pay 10 percent of their health costs.

Glatz said, “I had discussions with the president and vice president of CSEA, who, after conversations with their higher-ups, suggested going forward.”

CSEA regional spokesman Ove Overmyer said the union’s contract administration office in Albany has 30 days to review the complaints. “The ratification vote by the Legislature has nothing to do with the process,” he said.

Glatz said he didn’t think that there was anything wrong with the Jan. 6 union vote. “CSEA is a reputable organization,” he said.

A Republican proposal to create a county office of public integrity was sent to the Administration Committee, but not before Wilson resident Cathy Ellis spoke out against it, saying she would rather file complaints with out-of-county law enforcers.

“If I have a complaint, I want it as far away from the county as I can,” Ellis said. “It stinks, but that’s the way it is.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com