Nearly half of department leaders in county government are women

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 14 December 2017 at 10:27 am

Percentage is much higher than women serving in elected roles

Photos by Tom Rivers: Melissa Blanar, director of the Orleans County Office for the Aging, speaks to senior citizens on Wednesday about the Yellow Dot and Vial of Life programs that include information about emergency contact numbers and medical histories. Blanar is one of 12 women leading a county department.

ALBION – In Orleans County, only 3 of the 15 elected officials for county positions are women. That 20 percent rate mirrors the state-wide average of 21.7 percent. (There are 257 women in county elected positions out of 1,187 total, according to the New York State Association of Counties.)

However, the Orleans County government’s leadership has a much higher percentage of women in leadership roles. The county has 26 department heads and women are serving in 12 of those jobs or 46 percent of the total.

John DeFilipps, chairman of the County Legislature, said the county looks at the qualifications when picking a department head. Women often are the top candidates for the job.

He noted the recent hiring of Joanne Best as the county’s public defender. She succeeds Sandy Church, who was elected county judge. Best stood out among many qualified applicants, DeFilipps said.

The management team members for the county government who are women include:

Nadine Hanlon, clerk of the Legislature; Karen Lake-Maynard, county clerk; Janice Grabowski and Kathleen Case, election commissioners; Lynne Menz, tourism director; Kelly Kiebala, Job Development director; Melissa Blanar, Office for the Aging director; Lucille Welch, Probation director; Joanne Best, public defender; Dawn Allen, director of Real Property Tax Services; Kimberly DeFrank, county treasurer; and Jocelyn Sikorsky, Youth Bureau director.

The management team members who are men include:

Gerald Gray, county high and buildings and grounds superintendent; Chuck Nesbitt, county chief administrative officer; Edwin Moss, director of computer services; David Schubel, county attorney; Joe Cardone, district attorney; Dale Banker, Emergency Management director; Matt Ballard, county historian; Mark O’Brien, director of Mental Health Department; Jack Welch, personnel/self insurance director; James Bensley, director of the Planning Department; Paul Pettit, director of Public Health; Randy Bower, sheriff; Tom Kuryla, director of Department of Social Services; and Earl Schmidt, director of Veterans Service Agency.

Legislator Lynne Johnson, pictured during a County Legislature meeting in January, is the only woman on the seven-member Legislature.

“When we interview department heads, it’s a very intense interview,” said Lynne Johnson, a county legislator. “We go by qualifications and the best candidate for the job. It has nothing to do with female versus male.”

Johnson is the only woman on the County Legislature, which includes seven members. Since the Legislature replaced the former Board of Supervisors nearly 40 years, only two women have been elected to the body: Johnson and Marcia Tuohey.

Johnson said local politics can be difficult.

“Thin-skinned can not be part of your makeup when you run for an elected position,” she said.

She said the local political parties would welcome more women as candidates.

“It’s open for anyone to run,” Johnson said. “I would hope anybody who wants to throw their hat in the ring does. It has nothing to do with your sex or color of your skin.”

Johnson said the county has been fortunate to have many dedicated and qualified department heads.

“For a small county we’ve done extremely well with the department heads we have,” she said. “We’ve had the cream of the crop turn out.”

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