MAKING HIS MARC: Early in tenure as Dutchess County executive, Molinaro already having impact
POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. — It’s been a little more than four months — 133 days, to be exact — since Marc Molinaro took the helm of Dutchess County government, becoming the county’s first new executive in 20 years.
Since then, Molinaro — who began his political career 18 years ago as an 18-year-old village of Tivoli trustee — has begun laying the foundation, as he said in his State of the County address, to confront the “perilous frontier” the county faces.
So far, the Republican has created the position of Dutchess County deputy commissioner of strategic planning and development and appointed Ron Hicks to the post. Hicks has been charged with launching the county’s economic development effort to reform, retain, reinvest and recruit, dubbed “4R Future.”
Molinaro also has implemented his Fiscal Accountability and Strategy Team, or FAST, which has begun meeting regularly to identify efficiency and cost-savings measures, and he has all but imposed a hiring freeze, filling only vacant jobs that are critical and would result in increased costs to the county if left unfilled.
He also received legislative support for a charter change to create the position of deputy county executive, which he said will allow for a smooth transition of duties when the executive is out of the county. Molinaro’s chief of staff, Bill O’Neill, was given the job.
And Molinaro has held a number of meetings with labor, business and community leaders to get a handle on the needs of a county government struggling under the weight of a lingering economic downturn and threatened by a $40 million budget deficit.
“I’ve learned a lot about the structure of county government, the individuals who work for county government and the challenges facing county government that impact both my decision-making and how we will confront problem solving moving forward,” Molinaro said.
“I’ve inherited a 20-year-old structure, and we’re going through some growing pains,” he said. “In a very short period of time, we’ve attempted to realign the economic development apparatus countywide and make sure we have the highest return on the investment.
“In very short order, our realignment has taken hold; people have seen it as beneficial, he said.
“It’s been fantastic to see how he’s jumped right in and started putting key people in key positions,” said county Legislature Majority Leader Dale Borchet. “One of the most important things is his focusing on economic development. ... Continued...
“There is a strong recognition that the businesses in our community need to succeed; that when businesses succeed, people are employed,” said Bochert, R-LaGrange.
Perhaps the most significant change Molinaro has brought about in his short time at the county’s helm is one that, while not readily apparent to the public, could have the most long-lasting impact.
“The immediate thing that I see Marc has brought to the government is a working relationship between the legislative branch and the executive branch,” said Barbara Jeter-Jackson of the city of Poughkeepsie, the Legislature’s Democratic minority leader. “The atmosphere on the sixth floor (of the County Office Building) has drastically changed, and it’s one I’m very impressed with.”
That’s a sentiment echoed not only by the Legislature’s Republican majority but by other minority legislators and even the president of the Dutchess County Civil Service Employees Association, who say communication and cooperation between the two branches of government were all but non-existent when Molinaro’s predecessor, fellow Republican William Steinhaus, was in office.
Even Borchet, one of the few county legislators who said he “got to meet with (Steinhaus) once in a while,” said there is an “openness” with Molinaro that didn’t exist previously.
“He works with you,” Borchet said. “You have a question, you get an answer.
“There’s just much more back-and-forth interaction; there’s no drama,” he added. “It’s always positive — how do we fix a problem, how to work together? There’s no one-upmanship.”
Borchet said that since Molinaro took office, the executive and legislative leadership have begun meeting once a month, and department heads are coming to meetings and answering questions — things he said didn’t occur under Steinhaus.
“He (Molinaro) has an open-door policy to us,” said Dutchess County CSEA President Liz Piraino. “I had a meeting with him in his first 100 days about the obstacles facing Dutchess County, and we had some discussion about how we can work together to combat those obstacles.
“I don’t think we’re going to agree on everything, but I think we’re going to be treated with respect, and I believe we’re going to have a good, decent relationship,” she said. Continued...
While the openness between the two branches of government may be something unfamiliar to most county legislators, Molinaro said that, for him, it is standard operating procedure.
“It’s not a strategy, it’s not a secret plan, it’s the way I personally like to confront problem-solving,” Molinaro said. “By being pragmatic and practical, rather than engaging in political wrangling, we can be efficient and effective in our problem-solving.”
It is a philosophy Molinaro developed while mayor of Tivoli, a small Hudson River village in Northern Dutchess. The youngest mayor in the country when he was elected to the office in 1995 at age 19, he led the community for 12 years and also served as a county legislator before becoming a state assemblyman and, ultimately, county executive.
“Village government taught me the value of being personal in the service we provide, he said. “Some people have suggested the county executive is the governor of the county. I want to be more like the mayor of the county, where we succeed together, take missteps together and manage together.”
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