Press-Republican

December 4, 2012

Essex County manager, board clerk leaving

By LOHR McKINSTRY
Press-Republican

---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — In a surprise action Monday, Essex County Manager Daniel Palmer and his wife, Clerk of the Board of Supervisors Deborah Palmer, both announced their retirements effective at the end of the year.

Mr. Palmer has been county manager since August 2008, and his wife was appointed board clerk in September 1996.

County officials were informed of the decisions on Monday morning.

’NO VALUE’ IN STAYING

Mr. Palmer and his staff had recently devised a three-year plan to restore Essex County to solvency. The plan, which would have had 26, 16 and 3 percent tax hikes for the next three years before stabilizing, was apparently rejected by the County Board of Supervisors at a budget workshop last Thursday in favor of a combination of cuts, reductions and greater use of the county’s fund balance to get to a 2.6 tax-levy increase in the proposed 2013 budget.

“I promised myself when I took this job if I felt it was turning into an adversarial relationship between myself and the board I would not remain in the position,” Mr. Palmer said Monday. “There’s no value in doing that. I feel like I should have some positive impact. I value my integrity.”

Before he was named county manager, Mr. Palmer was county personnel officer, and before that he served as Minerva town supervisor.

The retirements are effective Jan. 1, 2013.

BOTH ‘DEDICATED’

Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay) said it was with deep sadness that he learned of the Palmers’ retirements.

“They have been truly dedicated public servants for many, many years. They both will be dearly missed.”

He said he spoke with Mr. Palmer on Monday, as well as Supervisor Roby Politi (R-North Elba), the vice chair of the board, about ensuring a smooth transition.

“We’ll weigh all our options. The plan of action at this point is to not make any quick decisions as we decide how best to deal with these vacancies.

“In the meantime, I have spoken with Deputy County Manager Mike Mascarenas and Deputy Clerk of the Board of Supervisors Judy Garrison about their willingness to help us through this process if a final determination is not made by Jan. 1, 2013.”

Mr. Palmer also served as head of the County Information Technology Department.

“I will also call the staff at the IT Department to make sure we have no issues in this department during the transition,” Douglas said. “I will call a department-head meeting soon to meet with them to share concerns as we move through this process.”

DIFFERENCES

Douglas said he regretted that there were such sharp differences of opinion between the board and Mr. Palmer.

“But the board has spoken, and we have to move forward.”

Douglas said a 26 percent tax increase was too high, despite the eventual budget stability Mr. Palmer said it would provide.

“People wouldn’t support it. I couldn’t support it. My people here (in Jay) went through hell after the (2011) floods. I have people paying taxes on homes they can’t live in. I owe it to them to keep taxes as low as possible.”

TIME TO GO

Mrs. Palmer has 38 years of service with Essex County. She started as a clerk in the County Attorney’s Office, moved to deputy clerk of the Board of Supervisors and finally clerk of the board when Peter Mends retired.

“It is time to retire,” she said Monday. “It’s time to move on. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m sure I’ll do something else.”

The Palmers reside in Minerva, where he was elected town justice in the 2011 elections.

DISAGREES

Mr. Palmer said he can’t support the board’s decision to make major changes to the tentative 2013 budget he had filed.

“I don’t agree with the direction the board has chosen to go with the budgets. That’s not ultimately my choice. My choice is to change my personal life. That’s what I’m doing.”

He said he could withdraw the retirement paperwork before the due date but doesn’t feel he’ll be swayed to do so.

“That’s not my intent.”

POSITION NEEDED?

Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah), who chairs the County Finance Committee, said the Palmers' decision was unexpected.

“I was a little surprised. I wish them both the very best in their retirement.”

Scozzafava has long insisted the county does not need a county manager.

“The Board of Supervisors, instead of filling the manager position, we need to take a look at the position. I’ve always said I didn’t feel it was needed. An administrative assistant to the chair might be all that’s needed. There’s different options here. You have 18 supervisors and an appointed county manager; it ain’t working.”

Mr. Palmer said he’ll decide after the first of the year what he wants to do with his life.

“I’m not retired from work. I’m just activating my retirement. I asked for Jan. 1, 2013.”

Mr. Palmer was also unhappy that the Board of Supervisors removed department-head raises from the new budget since he believed they were doing a first-class job despite a fiscal crisis in the county.

“I would like to add that I feel very strongly that Essex County has some of the best department heads and management employees working in New York state. Over the last four years, no one in the state has been asked to do more with less than our departments, and I am proud of what they, as a group, have accomplished.

“I appreciate the many years of service that I had working for Essex County, and I hope I had a positive impact.”

Email Lohr McKinstry: lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com