Change in county leadership is chance to better appreciate and promote the many assets in Orleans

Posted 21 August 2017 at 10:12 am


As discussed in an earlier piece, Orleans County has a great many assets.  Among those that remain are many caring people participating in numerous volunteer endeavors and worthy causes. Their sheer numbers are unknown, but—when combined—the amount of effort being expended by such people is staggering.

This reflects—as Ulster County OFA Director Ann Cardinale once told me—“a very caring community”.

The County’s diverse environmental assets are unlikely fully understood and appreciated by most residents. When unbiased Nature Conservancy researchers found migrating warblers “dripping from the trees” in Lakeside Park a few years ago, it was indicative of our wildlife assets.

Another noteworthy aspect of our richly endowed County is its history.  The more one learns about—and reflects upon—our area’s past, the more striking our historical legacy appears.

Assets are things which have value. For them to continue benefitting us they may, at times, require maintenance. Of course there are times when we have to decide whether something is an asset in need of attention, or merely a liability not worth bothering with. Should we get rid of it or invest in it?

Will providing new leadership for the County Legislature change the way that body views what are arguably County assets? Might the fresh perspective of someone who has certainly heard plenty about what a new quarry in Shelby might mean to one of the area’s signature environmental assets make a difference? Might a new Legislature Chair, working with Ken DeRoller, John DeFilipps and Fred Miller bring greater appreciation for what makes Orleans County special? (We may not have to wait, as DeFilipps has been named Chairperson.)

Under the previous regime, assets such as public libraries were once disdained, though that has changed for the better. The County’s only hospital was treated with indifference. The Continuing Day Treatment Program, the County’s poor, its elderly, our history, and a federally-rated Four Star County Nursing Home were treated as something other than assets.

At one point during budget deliberations in 2009, the “old guard” considered supporting public libraries with $150 each. A proposal to sell our visiting nurse certification to Medina Hospital met with 10 seconds of total silence in a room filled with ten people, five of whom were from the County’s west end. Making the Cobblestone Society Museum into the de facto County museum was evidently not worthy of a response.

Meeting after meeting, the old leadership repeatedly stonewalled Gene Outtersson as he implored us to end the County tax on home heating fuel at a time when fuel oil was $4.89 a gallon.

Marcia Tuohey, Legislature Chair in my first term (2004-2005), was belittled and resented by some, but sliding scale senior property tax relief passed unanimously under her leadership. It meant a lot to an Albion widow living on a $730 social security benefit.  It was based on the premise that such a consideration was well-deserved.

As Chair, Ms. Tuohey—and CAO Stan Dudek—sought to capitalize on another asset, The Villages of Orleans County Nursing Home. Under her leadership, a multi-million dollar capital improvement project to upgrade that asset was undertaken beginning in 2005.

As my second term ended in 2009, Ms. Tuohey’s successor set in motion the sale of the Visiting Nurse Certification to HCR.  Not selling it to Medina Hospital suggested to me that the only hospital left in the County was not considered an asset. Permitting Medina Hospital to buy the visiting nurse certification would have increased its viability and improved its long-term prospects.

About the same time, incoming State Commissioner of Corrections Beilein was made aware that building a new County Jail would bankrupt (my word) the County. Not long after he took over, the new jail issue went away. Yet, Marcia’s successors blamed the State for virtually all our problems.

Under the “old guard”, Orleans County’s history appeared relatively inconsequential as well. It remains a key to a better future and is, unquestionably, of enormous potential value to the people who live here and their sense of who they are.

Once I was defeated in 2009, the still sitting (today) Legislators who have been around the longest got to work changing public perception of the County Nursing Home from that of a jewel of an asset to a liability in need of being dumped. Of course, it may not be coincidental that Stan Dudek was no longer the CAO. Nonetheless, the “buck” stops with the legislators themselves.

But the prospect of a new face, or two, on the County Legislature is encouraging. It may be that someone with Town Supervisor experience—in a Town where history and the environment evidently count for something—may make a difference. Those who apparently covet change might want to consider taking a hard look at someone who, as President of the Orleans County Historical Association, obviously appreciates the County’s history.

But do not hold your breath. Our track record is one which shows the status quo is just fine with most voters most of the time.

Sincerely yours,

Gary F. Kent