Word reaches us this morning that last night’s meeting of the Niagara County Legislature’s Administration Committee was testy—and in a way that should make county residents happy.
Apparently, Administration Committee Chairman Keith McNall, a fairly conservative Republican from Lockport known for his quiet but direct style of management, put county department heads and our old pal, County Manager Greg Lewis, on notice, announcing what can best be termed a soft hiring freeze.
Under McNall’s directive, no new hires, transfers, or personnel changes will be allowed on the Administration Committee’s agenda unless mandated by the state. As chairman of the committee, McNall alone controls what is placed on the agenda, so he has the power to carry through on this directive.
McNall told department heads and fellow lawmakers that this new policy is needed because of uncertainty about the county’s budget situation as Albany drops its funding of one state mandate after another in response to its own fiscal crisis, as well as a desire by several Majority Caucus lawmakers not to tie the next county manager’s hands with the final actions of an embittered Lewis playing Santa Claus for his loyalists.
We’re told this isn’t just fanciful thinking, and that a recent spate of personnel moves being greenlighted by Lewis had raised concerns within the Majority Caucus that Lewis, now having nothing to lose, was going for broke to stick it to the county’s taxpayers and reward his allies.
Apparently, though, McNall’s directive, as well as a newfound ballsiness by several Majority Caucus legislators, didn’t set well with some of our local bureaucrats.
When the Administration Committee’s members grudgingly took up a few departmental transfers being proposed by the county’s Mental Health Department, since they were already on the agenda, 45 minutes of hilarity ensued. We hear that Antoinette Lech, the bloated director of the Mental Health Department—a woman who has made a career out of running taxpayer-funded methadone clinics and providing taxpayer-financed head-shrinking for Niagara County’s non-working population—actually objected to questions posed by Majority Leader Rick Updegrove, who asked her to justify her personnel moves. A bemused Updegrove was forced to remind her that the elected representatives of the county’s taxpayers—and not the bureaucrats—run county government. This is not the first time Ms. Lech has run afoul of county lawmakers, but maybe it should be the last. Maybe she should be keeping Greg Lewis company in his forced retirement.
Despite the umbrage of county department heads, we’re really pleased with McNall’s action, and applaud it heartily. We only hope county legislators have the guts to make it stick at least through the end of Lewis’ run.