Elections and Transitions

Rocking the Boat or Staying the Course?

Article Contributed by
Walt Pickut

Elections can rock the boat. In fact, that is why democracies hold elections. The people take regular turns at the tiller to make sure the ship of state goes where they want it to go. It is called “Voting”. The best politicians respect the process.

This week the Jamestown Gazette looks at the recent 2017 elections with special emphasis on what may happen at the helm in Mayville and local communities.

Campaign promises become policies in the winner’s administration. The transition to a new administration is an ideal time for voters to examine those promises and policies as they are being put in place. Following are a few highlights taken from a wide ranging conversation with one of the winners.

Parties or Personalities
Chautauqua County voters selected some parties over the others and replaced some personalities with another across the county and in the County Seat on November 7. The importance of party differences in practical terms, however, was called into question by George Borrello [County Executive-elect].

“In my entire time in the County Legislature [8 years] I can recall only one vote out of hundreds of resolutions that divided cleanly along party lines,” Borrello told the Gazette. “As far as I am concerned there were no partisan considerations. We have done whatever we think is in the best interest of all the people.” Nevertheless, strong opinions often differed on which directions to take and which methods to try.

“But I don’t think we can lose this year,” said a local citizen named Bill [last name withheld] at one of the major party election night gatherings. Similar observations were heard in both camps in spite of strong favorites. “We can’t really lose this time because both are really good men, though Republican George Borrello and Democrat Mike Ferguson definitely do have different ideas about how to run this county.”

As a result, personalities may be as important as political parties in setting the course Chautauqua County will follow in the next 4 years even though the party at the helm remains the same. We investigated how much Borrello’s election might “rock the boat” in transition from County Executive Horrigan’s programs and his tenure at the helm.

“The whole idea of the transition is to maintain stability…[even if] you change to a policy direction of the winning candidate,” says Stephen Wayne, a professor of government at Georgetown University.

Chautauqua County Executive George M. Borrello

Transition Team
“Some people have the impression that when somebody wins an election they go away on vacation for a month and a half,” Borrello said, “and then they show up on day one, January 1, 2018 and say, “OK. Here I am!”

“Anyone in my position, and I am sure Mike [Ferguson] would say the same, actually starts working with individuals and committees and commissions on the very first day after the election. It takes a whole transition team just to be ready to take the job.”

According to political scientists, the best practice for a transition team following an election is to ensure governing is completely separate from campaigning.

“One of the problems with keeping your campaign team on to govern,” Borrello said, “is the pressure for patronage, pressure to reward campaigners or campaign donors with positions of influence or power in the new administration. I am totally opposed to that. If somebody in a certain position is already doing an outstanding job, no matter which party they belong to or who else wants that job, they are staying.”

“We have changed the temptation to do whatever is in the best interest of politics to the commitment to do whatever is in the best interest of the people,” he explained.

To Keep or Kill
Transitions can be tainted by shifts in and out of programs, by ending some, keeping others and starting entirely new ones.

“At this point there is not anything that I have seen that I would bring to an end,” Borrello said. “But there may be ways I would like to realign resources. There are certainly things that County government is involved with, certain initiatives that I wanted to achieve as a legislator, that as County Executive I may need to realign resources to achieve.”

“Realigning resources” naturally translates as shifting money and personnel in the minds of many voters and county employees. “That doesn’t mean that I may end certain programs that we have already made the focus of certain programs and initiatives,” Borrello said. “Vince and I have already worked together for four years, along with his entire term. That’s going to make it a lot easier, in my opinion.”

“There is the Countywide Alliance for Enforcement and Rehabilitation (CAER) initiative which will fight the ongoing and growing drug crisis, for instance, and some of the other initiatives that I have wanted to start,” Borello said. These appear to be an expansion rather than a change in programs already put in place by Horrigan. “I am talking to people now who can advise me on who should be put in some of the positions for that program,” Borrello added.

Business Plan
Chautauqua County is a nearly $280 million annual operation with approximately 1,260 employees. Candidates and voters on all sides of the political spectrum, at least six political parties are active within the county, agree that this must be run well, efficiently and economically.

“I look at this as being the CEO of Chautauqua County. The legislature is the Board of Directors and the people of Chautauqua County are the shareholders,” Borrello explained. “As the CEO our responsibility is ultimately to the shareholders. Even though this is not a business there are business fundamentals that are important to successful operation of any organization, including Chautauqua County.

Though Republicans and Democrats are the only parties represented in the County legislature just now, many of the elected officials have also been endorsed by other parties as well. Voters and candidates who favor Women’s Rights, Working Families, Conservative, Independent or other Parties agree with this basic model or prefer a different structure or philosophy may wish to use the transition period to contact the winning candidates who also had their support.

“In the case of this transition period, I’ve already begun talking to a cross-section of people, not only the people in our current government,” Borrello said.

Top 10 Lists
County administration in Mayville will definitely change in 2018. “I’m going to be meeting with the county department heads,” Borrello said. The County Executive has asked them to each give me a “top 10 list” of issues that they would like to see me and those department heads work on right at the beginning. A new executive should have a good understanding of where they are right now in day-to-day operations.

“Our goal is to control the budget,” Borrello said. “The people doing the job are in a good position to report on the accomplishments and the needs for resources.

County/Town Collaborations
“The county needs to take, as we have, a leadership role in better, more efficient government in the cities and towns,” Borrello said when asked whether he sees a county role in issues like the difficulty Jamestown and other municipalities are having in preparing a balanced budget. “Consolidating and sharing services is the quickest path to saving money for the taxpayers. You do that by reducing the cost of government.”

Some expensive promises were made, for instance in the case of pensions and health benefits, in the past by Jamestown, “…but those promises have to be kept,” Borrello said. “That is out of Jamestown’s control. But what is in their control is service delivery in a more efficient and regional manner.” This is a complex issue, but Borrello sees a pro-active role for the county in helping to resolve such matters.

Last Thought
“On the whole, I believe we are on a good path and now we just have to take it to the next level,” Borrello said. “But there are initiatives we can take that might require realigning resources to do that. Even though government is different from business, in both places you work with people you can trust. And some of the biggest allies I have had, actually, are people other than Republicans.”

“It is the interest of the people that unites us more than political dogma. I am optimistic about what we will all achieve together.”

Stay Tuned
Jamestown Gazette readers are invited to stay tuned to http://www.co.chautauqua.ny.us/ and to stay engaged with elected officials throughout the county. Promises made need to be checked for promises kept to steer the ship government safely and stay the course the voters set.