February 22, 2008

Thoughts On Our County Executive, er, County Manager

Visit Niagara County's homepage, then check out Orleans and Genesee County, two counties very similar to us. On the Niagara County homepage, County Manager Greg Lewis is prominently featured while the Legislature is relegated to the status of a county department. To the contrary, the Orleans County site hardly mentions the manager and the Genesee site is much the same.

This is just one example of what I think is a bigger problem: Our County Manager, Greg Lewis, thinks he is our County Executive. No one elected him to anything. His job is to run the day to day operations of the county and on that, he's done a decent job.

But Lewis wants to be more. He wants to be the big cheese in Niagara County and takes every opportunity to box in the people we elected. Did you know that no department head can speak to the people we ELECTED without talking to Lewis first? What the hell is that about? Lewis is the one who has proposed massive tax increases each year and only through the work of the Legislature have those increases been significantly introduced.

Lewis acts as if all of his ideas are pure and noble and the minute a legislator attempts to move somehting, he accuses them of being political.

And for someone who wants to be the face of the county, it would be helpful is Lewis actually tried to look the part. His sloppy presentation (his union suit pajamas are becoming the stuff of legend) is an embarassment to all of us. He's makes our county look like a bunch of backwood yokels.

My sources have told me that one reason County Clerk Jim Sobczyk was made County Auditor was to reign in Lewis and to begin aggressively overseeing and auditing the way the county functions. Anyone who knows Jim knows he will be a thorn in Lewis' side.

Word on the street is that only Legislator Clyde Burmaster regularly stands up Lewis and holds his feet to the fire. Props to Burmaster. Now lets see the rest of the legislators follow suit and put Lewis where he belongs...answering to the people we elected.


Rufus said...

This is why I believe in the elected County Executive. The people should be picking a head of government. I'll never forget when Lewis pitched his 19 percent tax increase as being sound and thankfully the Legislature reduced it to a couple of percent.

Anonymous said...

Reduce the Legislature to 5 and get and elected county executive.

Johnny Walker said...

Anon, that was tried in a referendum 6 or 7 years ago and it was very soundly defeated.

Back to the issue, Lewis likes to come come across as apolitical, but he is the most political person in Niagara County. He is much less overt about it.

I've heard the same thing about Legislators not being able to talk to the department heads. That's a damn shame. Too bad so few of them have the sack to actually call Lewis out.

Proud Democrat said...

Believe or not we actully had a County Executive at one time. For about a year and a half at the most back in the late 70`s. Until he was removed through a court proceding.(or something along those lines)

I agree with anon, reduce the Legislature by atleast 5 and elect an Executive. But if I was a Legislator and could not talk with a dept. head because of the county manager. He`d be gone!

Anonymous said...

First, the legislators can speak to all the department heads at committee meetings.

Second, speaking to department heads outside of the chain of command undermines the whole theory of government that the institution of a county manager is supposed to impart.

Third, it is the county legislature as a whole, not individual legislators, who create policy and give direction to the county's management structure.

Burmaster is famous for trying to influence policy through the backdoor. If he has a problem with the management and administration of the legislature's established policies, then he is right to "stand up" to Lewis in the presence of other legislators and perhaps rally a majority to his view of things. Outside of that, legislators should not contact individual department heads.

When legislators feel the need to contact individual department heads, its often because of a desire to influence decision-making outside of legitimate channels, or they're trying to secretly gather information to spring on other legislators or they're trying to influence who gets hired off of a civil service list. None of which is conducive to good government.

As far as budgets and taxes, no matter what the manager recommends, the legislature makes the final decision.

As for Lewis' image, anyone who knows him respects abilities, his intellect and insights on government.

Plus, isn't the legislature on the look out for a public information officer anyway, right? So what's the beef?

Of course, this will be a non-political hire just like the "non-political" hire of Republican party operative mary Jo Tamberline as legislative clerk (a position that Lewis and the other two assistant clerks could handle on a more professional and less costly manner) and former Conservative boss Sobczak as auditor, a position which, btw, was in the past subjected to a search and interview process in order to take politics out of the auditing function.

Sounds to me like Hobbes is harkening back to the good old days when legislators could push politically appointed department heads to do whatever seems politically expedient at the moment.

If you're a real student of county government, then you'll realize that many of the sweetheart deals that unions received were the product of such legislative interference into the negotiation function, certain individuals are entrenched into civil and protected against disciplinary action as well as a multitude of other less than wise policy decisions, from who gets what health care benefits and for how long to questionable long term lease deals on buildings the county doesn't own.

Your political connections are showing here Hobbes

Anonymous said...

The clerk has always been patronage so for anyone to call out that position is just being hypocritical. Lewis is clearly a Democrat because he never pulled have the shit he does now when Dennis and Renae were in power.

And while Burmaster may hold Lewis accountable, everyone knows the only legislator that Lewis fears is Kimble.

Anonymous said...


Your assertions are laugh out loud laughable.

The Dems controlled the leg for about 7 months with Lewis in office. The administrative code that governs Lewis' duties was not even in place yet.

Yes the clerk is patronage, but its an unnecessary position. It exists solely for the patronage.

The two women assistant clerks do all the work with the Clerk not much more than a figurehead gathering a public paycheck. Its a revolving door for pure political payoff with no accountability to the public interest, only the interests of the party in power.

Oliver said...

While I've always supported the City/County manager form of government, Greg Lewis is what you get when you hire on the cheap.

Eliminate 10 seats and use the savings to hire a real County Manager

pirate's code said...

Does anyone know...is Lewis employed under a contract, or does his appointment have a specific term?

The Leg hired him. Presumably, there is a process that allows the Leg to fire him. If the Legislature (at least whatever majority is necessary) feels he is not performing, then use whatever process exists to discipline him, up to and including dismissal.

That said...an elected county exec is the way to go, with a smaller elected legislature, but as another posted pointed out...that sank the last time it came up for referendum. Maybe it is time to resurface the idea.

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that Lewis does have an employment contract in place, and that contract allows for the leg to fire him. However, there is a monetary penalty built into firing him. Not sure how much it is, but I want to say that it basically guarantees the annual salary/benefits he would receive if he fulfilled the full term of his contract.

Anonymous said...

Sure blame lewis for ballwasher sobeck getting a job he has no right doing. hobbs your an idiot, they blew lewis to get him to say.