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Supervisor Dresser’s Letter To Seneca Board

After Sharon Secor was reappointed county manager on January 3rd, I indicated that I intended to write an open letter to the Board and the community to share information and observations that might be helpful in the future in avoiding the difficulties we encountered with her reappointment. Now that Sharon has announced her decision to retire at the end of this year, it is appropriate that I deliver my letter. It is divided into three sections: information, observations, and recommendations. The information section is in the form of a chronology.InformationMarch 15, 2005: Chairman Shipley reported that he was asking the Government Operations Committee to begin a formal review and discussion of the proper process for appointing a county manager/administrator and to consider other options, such as having an elected county executive or a full-time board chairman. With respect to a full-time board chairman, the Finger Lakes Times quoted Mr. Shipley on this date as saying, “If the Board requests that I serve, I would be honored, but that is premature at this time.”June 28, 2005: The Board’s Personnel Committee met in Executive Session with all board members present and voted unanimously to recommend Sharon Secor’s appointment as county manager, for a term extending until December 31, 2005. Sharon indicated at that meeting her interest in serving as manager for two years thereafter.July 12, 2005: The motion to appoint Sharon as county manager was pulled from the agenda of the Board without notice or explanation at the request of Chairman Shipley. Although the Majority Leader and the County Attorney were also aware of the reasons, no explanation of this action has ever been given to the Board, in Executive Session or otherwise, despite numerous requests from Board members.July 26, 2005: The Board of Supervisors unanimously appointed Sharon Secor Seneca County Manager for a term extending until December 31, 2005. According to a State Attorney General’s opinion, sought by our county attorney and rendered in February 2005, such appointments may not extend beyond the terms of a majority of the board, thus the short period of Sharon’s appointment, despite our local law specifying a four-year term for the county manager.December 12, 2005: Amid rumors that Sharon would not be reappointed county manager, Chairman Shipley requested a 5:30pm meeting with Sharon in her office on this date, the meeting to be attended by several other supervisors. Mr. Shipley did not invite me, but I attended, unannounced, at Sharon’s request; Supervisors Shipley, Barto, Mooney, and Smith were present; Mr. Kaiser, though invited, was not. At the meeting an agreement was reached regarding Sharon’s continued service as county manager – one that was acceptable to the six of us, to be put in writing, and to be kept confidential.December 21, 2005: Sharon was called to a meeting on this date, and with Supervisors Shipley, Barto, and Mooney present she was informed by Mr. Shipley that the agreement reached on December 12th was not acceptable to “the powers that be.” Sharon had felt it best that I not attend this meeting, but she told me that evening that a proposal had been presented to her that she continue as county manager for three months, possibly extendable to six, to which she had responded that she would have to think about it, because it meant not only a loss of salary but also retirement income.December 30, 2005: A 22-item agenda for the January 3, 2006 Re-organizational Meeting was e-mailed to board members, but it contained no item for the appointment of a county manager. A different, 17-item, agenda was sent to the press, with six appointments collapsed into one category so that it was not evident to the press and therefore the public that the appointment of a county manager was not on the agenda.January 1, 2006: I sent an e-mail message to Chairman Shipley with a copy to all board members asking him why the appointment of a county manager was not on the agenda and requesting him to have it added to the agenda. I then called him at home to be sure he got the message. His response was that he would not put the item on the agenda because he was negotiating with Sharon in her best interest and the best interest of the county. I told him that the terms he was negotiating were not in the best interest of either Sharon or the County and that he should tell “the powers that be” to back off.January 2, 2006: Sharon refused to answer repeated telephone calls from Mr. Shipley and Mr. Kaiser, because it was a holiday, because she was still undecided about what to do, and because she was angry at Chairman Shipley for refusing to put her reappointment on the board agenda. She and I agreed that I would spend the next day, Tuesday, in her office, and that she would call Supervisors Kaiser and Shipley in that order in the morning.January 3, 2006: Sharon called Mr. Kaiser at about 9:30am and Mr. Shipley shortly thereafter, informing each that I was listening on the speakerphone. Sharon told Mr. Shipley that she could not accept the three-month proposal, at which time I indicated that the only way I could see out of the predicament was to return to the December 12th agreement, which I informed him had been put in writing and shared with Sharon’s attorney. Mr. Shipley responded that the document would then have to go to the county attorney, which was understood and agreed to. During the afternoon Attorney Getman worked out the wording of the agreement with Sharon’s attorney and prepared a waiver of liability to protect the County against a lawsuit, both of which Sharon agreed to sign. The Re-organizational Meeting began at 4:00pm, and at the end of it, by prior agreement with Chairman Shipley, I made a motion that the Board enter Executive Session to discuss a personnel matter. During the Executive Session Attorney Getman explained the terms of the agreement (which was the full board’s first knowledge of it), Sharon indicated that the terms were satisfactory, and the chairman was authorized to sign the agreement. When the Board returned to open session, I made a motion that Sharon be appointed county manager until December 31, 2007, and the motion was approved unanimously. At the end of the meeting I commended Sharon for her fortitude, courage, and integrity and indicated that I intended to write this letter. After the meeting Mr. Kaiser told me he considered my remarks to be “political grandstanding.”Observations1. Mr. Kaiser, as chairman of the Government Operations Committee, has taken no action on Chairman Shipley’s request of last March to have his committee consider the process for appointing a county manager/administrator and look into the options of having an elected county executive or a full-time board chairman. There appears to have been and may still be interest on the part of “the powers that be” in discontinuing the position of county manager and replacing it with a full-time board chairman. Mr. Shipley has publicly expressed interest in such a position.2. Chairman Shipley had no business negotiating with Ms. Secor regarding her continued employment without the knowledge and authorization of the full Board of Supervisors. His inclusion of selected board members and not the Personnel Committee was equally out of order.3. Mr. Shipley also had no business discussing the terms of Sharon’s future employment with “the powers that be,” which is his term for the Executive Committee of the Republican Party of Seneca County or members thereof. Mr. Shipley, who was first elected board chairman as a freshman supervisor, appears to be beholden to party officials and therefore constrained from operating under what might be his own independent and better judgment. I should add that other members of the board are in positions where they most likely feel similar pressure.4. The result has been that a faithful, 38-year employee of our county, who is an honest, hard-working, and reliable administrator, has been treated in a despicable, inhumane, and degrading fashion and subjected to excruciating personal stress, all of which was unnecessary. The irony is that I do not believe any member of the Board bears any ill will towards Sharon, in fact I believe that most if not all of us respect her for the professional she is and the excellent job she is doing.5. So how could this happen to a loyal, experienced, and successful county manager? It happened because we do not have open government in Seneca County, and it is time that we did. I want to make clear that this is not a partisan statement on my part. I would be just as upset, adamant, and outspoken if there was a Democratic political machine here crossing the line between party and county business. I also want to make clear that I have no personal differences with any member of the board, including the chairman. It is their behavior that I am criticizing.6. Citizens of Seneca County should realize how close we came to a governmental crisis on January 3rd. “The powers that be” and cooperating members of the board may have thought that Sharon Secor would continue to work without a contract, so to speak, but I can tell you that after the way she was treated she had no intention of doing so. Further, I would point out that discontinuing her service, especially without even 30 days notice and without a performance evaluation, would have left the county at serious risk of a lawsuit – for two years of salary, for lost retirement income, and for pain and suffering, which I can tell you is well documented in the over 100 e-mail messages between Sharon and me between December 12th and January 3rd.7. There is an existing local law, on the books since 1995, which calls for Seneca County to have a county manager. That law was passed after a required public hearing, so it stands as representing the will of the community. If “the powers that be” wanted to do away with the position of county manager, there was plenty of time last year for the board to hold a public hearing and try to change the current structure, since Republican supervisors outnumber Democrats 10 to 4. As indicated above, the Board’s Government Operations Committee did not even take up the matter of alternate forms of administration. Therefore, the threat not to reappoint Sharon as county manager, and the effort to cut short her term of service, flaunted existing law and the expressed will of the people of Seneca County. Doing so in December in the absence of any alternative was sheer recklessness and could have plunged the County into administrative chaos January 3rd.8. Even now the County has been deprived of a year of her service. Sharon felt under such pressure from “the powers that be” that she compromised her wishes to continue as county manager for two more years and agreed to retire at the end of this year. She did so, despite the loss of a year’s salary, because it would still allow her to get full retirement benefits, and most importantly, it would allow time for the County to conduct a search for her successor, which a three-month extension would not have done. So, after her reappointment, when I commended Sharon for her “amazing fortitude, tremendous courage, absolute integrity, and unwavering commitment to this county,” this is what I meant. By saying no to “the powers that be” she was willing to risk it all for the sake of the County, and she deserves our enduring thanks. RecommendationsFirst and foremost, I call upon all Seneca County Republicans who are disgusted by the involvement of their party in the governmental affairs of this county, as illustrated by the efforts of “the powers that be” to limit the service of Sharon Secor as county manager, to call for a change. I consider the involvement of “the powers that be” in this matter to be a disgrace to the local Republican Party and a disgrace to Seneca County, and I believe that all Republicans who agree with me should take action through their town committees and otherwise to see that such involvement in county government and administration does not continue.Second, I call on Mr. Shipley to step down as chairman of the Board of Supervisors. As far as I am concerned, Bob, you have betrayed the trust of the Board and the community, by withholding information that should have been shared with the full Board, by placing pressure on Sharon to agree to less than two more years of service as county manager, and by representing “the powers that be” in doing so. Bob, I asked you two weeks ago in private to consider stepping down so that I did not have to make all this public, but you have not done so, so I must ask you now to resign your position as chairman of this board.Third, I call on Mr. Kaiser to step down from his position as Majority Leader. David, you have also withheld information from the full board that it had a right to know, you were aware of the discussions between Mr. Shipley and Sharon, and you were chairman of the Government Operations Committee, yet you appear to have done nothing to head off this disaster, and your inaction contributed to the unfortunate mistreatment of Sharon Secor and the near crisis we faced in county government and administration. I am not a Republican, and I realize that it is up to your caucus to decide who the Majority Leader is, but I think that you should recognize that you did not show leadership in this important matter and that you should therefore resign as Majority Leader. Your comment that my remarks on January 3rd constituted “political grandstanding” indicates to me that you do not understand the gravity of this matter.Fourth, in light of Sharon’s announcement that she intends to retire as county manager, effective December 31, 2006, I ask the Board to rescind the written agreement that she do so, on grounds that it was entered into under duress. It seems to me that this is the least that this Board can do to compensate Sharon for the grief she has been put through by our chairman, some other members of the Board, and “the powers that be.” It would also be an expression of our confidence in her and our thanks for a job well done. Under Robert’s Rules of Order, a motion to reconsider an action requires prior notice if it is to be passed by a simple majority, so I will not make this recommendation a motion until our next meeting. This gives us two weeks to think about it and it allows each board member time to consult their conscience and constituents. It will also give Sharon two weeks to think about whether she wants to retire after one more year or two as county manager, if she is given that choice. Fifth, and last, if the Board does not release Sharon from her agreement to retire at the end of this year, or if she, given the opportunity to serve for two more years, chooses to serve for only one, then I recommend that the Board immediately constitute a bi-partisan committee to conduct a search for Sharon’s successor. Specifically I recommend a seven-person search committee, composed as follows: two members of the Board, one a Republican chosen by the Republican caucus and one a Democrat chosen by the Democratic caucus; two members of the county staff, each acceptable to both caucuses; and one community member acceptable to both caucuses. Last Saturday morning I talked with Dr. M. Richard Rose, a Republican resident of Varick, the former President of the Rochester Institute of Technology, and the chairman of the search committee for our former county manager. Dr. Rose is willing to serve on and chair such a committee, and I respectfully suggest that he would be an excellent choice to chair this important, bi-partisan committee. ConclusionIn closing, I want to say to Bob and to David that I take no pleasure in asking you to resign from your respective positions. Unfortunately, you are caught in a political party web from which you cannot extricate yourselves, and so I must ask you to step down for the good of the County. To all of you on this Board I want to say that as elected county officials and public servants we should be free to make decisions in accordance with our own best judgment, based upon the most pertinent data that can be assembled, based upon input from our constituents, and based upon our own personal principles. We will not always agree on individual issues, but we can agree to resist inappropriate outside influences, to share all relevant information, and to confine our decision making to this building. I call on each of you as supervisors to join in an effort to see that we work together as a collective Board. Finally, to all the citizens of Seneca County, I want to say that our county is at a crossroads. We can move forward into a new era of open government, or we can remain subject to “the powers that be.” I trust that you will agree that a political party should NOT run a county government from behind the scenes. Therefore I call upon all concerned citizens of Seneca County to see that “the powers that be” become “the powers that were.”Date: February 28, 2006To: The Seneca County Supervisors and CitizensFrom: David L. Dresser, Supervisor, Town of OvidRe: “The Powers That Be”

 

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