Transparency dictate causes friction in county government

Branches disagree on intent behind advisory to department heads


edunnamedNEW CITY – In the most recent spat between County Executive Ed Day and members of the County Legislator, an internal email sent by an executive department director to department heads has been criticized for constituting an effort to undermine transparency between branches of county government.

According to a release by the County Legislature, Day requested on August 10 that all department heads to directly contact him or Deputy County Executive Guillermo Rosa in the event that they are contacted by Legislative leadership on issues concerning their departments. At the time, the two branches were in disagreement over who had the authority to fill vacant positions during the budget process, with the Legislature passing a resolution requiring its approval on hires.

Legislative Chairman Alden Wolfe announced this week in a press release that the recet notice advised department heads to ferry inquiries between the chairman and Day without offering their independent input.

“Under a directive of the County Executive,” The email read, “please be advised that if you are contacted by Leg. Alden Wolfe either by e-mail, letter or telephone regarding any issue concerning your Department, you are to: 1) find out what the issue or question is, 2) inform Leg. Wolfe that you will get back to him, 3) immediately  contact  the County Executive or the Deputy County Executive for a response.”

Wolfe strongly criticized the directive, which he characterized as a new executive policy. He argued the lack of unfiltered information would require the Legislature to expand its review of the referrals, slowing government operations.

“Important items of County government business will undoubtedly be delayed,” Wolfe stated in the release.

However, Stephen Powers, the County’s Director of Public Policy and Intergovernmental Relations, argued the email was not indicative of a broad policy. Rather, it was meant to apply only to advisories to departmental heads by Wolfe in the context of departmental hires.

“They added stuff to [the directive] that appeared to suggest a new policy change,” Powers stated.

Earlier in August, Powers informed department heads that the Legislature had overstepped its bounds by approving the resolution and that Wolfe’s assertion that any departmental hires were tentative should be rejected outright.

“By Charter, the County Executive, not the Legislature, has the responsibility to supervise, direct and control the administration of all Departments of the County government, other than those specifically supervised by the Legislature or other elected officials,” Powers stated.

In response to Powers’ arguments, Wolfe shot back in another public release this week, dismissing allegations from the county executive’s office that he had fabricated the issue when the policy was clearly in place.

“It is absurd to suggest that I would need to create something that already exists,” Wolfe said. “What is even more absurd is that the county executive would cut off any legislator from information that is necessary for them to carry out their duties on behalf of the people they represent. I hope that the county executive will take a step back and reconsider this policy change.”

Conflict over the 2015-2016 budget could be considerable this year with the last-minute announcement that Sympaticare LLC had backed out of its planned lease and eventual purchase of Summit Park’s hospital and nursing care facility.

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