After years of dysfunction, Schoharie County hires its first administrator

Above: Photo by Doug Kerr, via Flickr. 

After more than twenty months of debate, interviews and political maneuvering, Schoharie County has hired its first administrator to oversee the day to day operations of its county government.

At a meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 8, the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors hired Steve Wilson as the county's first full-time administrator. Wilson will receive a salary of $100,000 and will begin the job no later than October 1.

The hire comes at the end of a long journey for county's elected leaders, who have been arguing over the county's need for a full-time administrator since January 2014.

Town of Schoharie Supervisor Gene Milone has spearheaded the effort, insisting that a professional administrator is necessary in the wake of a 2013 investigation that found widespread dysfunction in Schoharie's county government. But other supervisors have questioned the wisdom of adding another layer of bureaucracy to local government.

Until yesterday, Schoharie County was one of only three upstate counties in New York state without a full-time administrative officer, according to a report drafted by a committee tasked with investigating the feasibility of hiring an administrator. One of the other two counties without a full-time administrator is neighboring Delaware County, also in the Catskills.

Long journey

Milone first proposed hiring a professional administrator in the spring of 2014, but his proposal was rejected by the full board on May 16, 2014.

The Schoharie County Board of Supervisors then authorized a study committee to examine the issue and to submit a full report with recommendations.

Headed by freshmen Supervisor Bill Federice of Conesville, the committee and its members traveled to different counties across the state in 2014 to interview and observe existing county governments. Impressed by counties with administrators at the helm, the committee presented a report urging the hiring of an administrator in Schoharie County on September 19, 2014.

Months of public hearings about the idea of a county administrator followed, where a majority of the people attending hearings in Carlisle, Cobleskill, Middleburgh and regular county board meetings were in favor of the idea.

In February 2015, the county board narrowly voted to approve a county administrator position. After the vote, the board remained deeply divided, with many supervisors remaining in doubt over the cost and effectiveness of the idea.

However, with approval in hand, the study committee was revamped to manage a search process, which included several weeks of advertising for applicants and then months of interviewing candidates through a rigorous and multi-tiered schedule, according to Conesville Supervisor Bill Federice.

The Schoharie Board of Supervisors interviewed two candidates for the position at its August county board meeting, Federice told the Watershed Post.

"We are hopeful the person selected will be able to start as soon as possible but recognize it might take some time for them to get their affairs in order and leave their present positions," Federice said.

Longtime EPA employee

The new administrator is expected take over the responsibilities of budget officer and head of county economic development, positions that have been filled by Schoharie County Treasurer Bill Cherry. Cherry announced earlier this summer that he would no longer perform those extra roles. 

Cherry, however, has agreed to continue in the capacity of budget officer until the new administrator takes his place, Federice said.

Although Wilson's hiring was approved, it was far from a unanimous decision. While nine supervisors voted to approve the hire, six voted against it.

Fulton Supervisor Phil Skowfoe, one of the supervisors who opposed the hire, argued that neither of the candidates interviewed were qualified and called for re-advertising the position to get a new crop of applications, stating, "there's no shame in taking a step back."

Federice retorted that all three of the candidates who applied for the position could do the job, warning that he was "concerned we'll hear an outcry from our citizens to dissolve this board" if a decision was not made on Tuesday night.

Wilson, a longtime employee of the Environmental Protection Agency who manages a $13.5 billion annual budget, will be hired for a term of two years and is subject to a probationary period upon his official hiring.