Nothing gets done in Belmont without the committee system
By Andrew Harris
If you are new to how local government works, or hopefully interested in “how the sausage gets made,” here is a brief overview of the committee system:
Possibly the most consequential decision that the Chairman of Allegany County, now W. Brooke Harris, makes when forming a new government is committee assignments. Those chosen to lead the committees, especially committee chairman, are delegated both power and responsibilty for a certain sector of county government.
For example, Public Safety Committee Chairman Steven Havey from District 4(Wellsville/Andover,) is charged with supporting multiple key positions: District Attorney, Sheriff, Probation, and Emergency Management. Should the District Attorney need to hire a new clerk or attorney, this committee has to approve that request before it moves forward for a full legislative vote. As the request moves through the county government toward approval or denial, Havey and this committee pull the levers.
*This years committee assignments are listed below with commentary:
- HUMAN SERVICES:
Chairman: Burdick Vice Chairman: Ricketts-Swales
Committee Members: Cyr, Hanchett, Healy, Root, Rumfelt
*Jan Burdick, Legislator from District 5, has been a longtime public servant as the Town Clerk in Alfred and begins her second term in office. As a fellow District 5 representative of Board Chairman Harris, Burdick clearly has his trust and support. Sophmore legislator Jennifer Ricketts-Swales will be Vice-Chair, indicating that her first year of work established her as an effective leader.
Chairman: Rumfelt Vice Chairman: Ricci
Committee Members: Burdick, Hanchett, Havey, Ricketts-Swales, Root
Special – Negotiations Liaison Committee (Sub-Committee of Personnel)
*The county has hundreds of employees, from doctors to entry-level positions. From policy to paychecks to hiring and firing, this committee is responsible. It is not surprising that sophmore legislator from District 4, James Rumfelt, was tapped to chair this committee. As a police chief, EMS guru, and expirienced manager, Rumfelt seems to be a great choice for this job. John Ricci from District 3, who held the committee chair previously, will be an asset to Rumfelt and the committee as Vice-Chair.
- PLANNING AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT:
Chairman: Root Vice Chairman: Hanchett
Committee Members: Barnes, Curran, Havey, Ricci, Ricketts-Swales
*Planning and economic development become a clear focus for the county in 2022: The plan to develop the Crossroads/I-86 area for the future is underway, and a new county office of economic development has been created. This committee has a very big job and longtime Chair of the committee from District 2, Deb Root, will continue with the work on current progress. Root has played a significant role in the plan to spend millions on developing land near I-86 into a “shovel ready” location for hotel, a sit-down restaurant, and a fast food restaurant. The committee leadership has a big asset in the Vice-chair position. Legislator Gretchen Hanchett from District 3 has worked in tourism and economic development in Allegany County for many years.
Chairman: Havey Vice Chairman: Cyr
Committee Members: Barnes, Demick, Healy, Rumfelt, Stockin
*An essential committee because, absent public safety, the basic functions of government fail. Chair Steven Havey returns to the post after ‘cutting his teeth’ during the last year serving as Chair. The job requires leadership and a diplomatic skill considering some of the offices which fall under the committees purview: The County Sheriff, The District Attorney, The Public Defender, Emergency Services; all crucial to the county public safety. Havey will have sophmore legislator from District 2, Adam Cyr, as the Vice-Chair. Cyr has a passion for keeping Allegany County safe and a close working relationship with newly elected Sheriff Scott Cicirello. That combination of experience, enthusiasm, and communication should make this a very effective committee.
- PUBLIC WORKS:
Chairman: Fanton Vice Chairman: Demick
Committee Members: Barnes, Curran, Cyr, Healy, Stockin
Special – Space Needs Committee (Sub-Committee of Public Works)
Chairman: Demick Vice Chairman: Healy
Committee Members: Cyr, Fanton, Hanchett, Havey, Root
*Just like public safety is key to a functioning government, the Public Works committee has some very large responsibilities. Consider some of the consequences if our county doesn’t have a strong public works department. You can’t get to work if the bridge is out. School buses can’t run the route if the road isn’t plowed, or if the culvert which diverts water fails. The examples go on and on of why this committee must be well run and with experience. Returning Chairman Dwight Fanton from District 2 is a veteran, four-term county legislator and has been the Chair of this committee for much of that career on the board. Sophmore legislator from District 1, “Fred” Demick brings another wealth of experience as the Vice-chair being a longtime highway superintendent in Angelica.
This committee has formed a sub-committee to manage a growing county government called, “Space Needs.” This committee will be charged with addressing both the current needs of the county but planning for the future. Many county agencies and departments are long overdue for improvements in their working space. In the not so distant future, county buildings will need to be updated, possibly relocated or rebuilt to adapt for the future. That massive project and planning will fall to this sub-committee and will be led by Legislator Demick.
- RESOURCE MANAGEMENT
Chairman: Curran Vice Chairman: Cyr
Committee Members: Barnes, Demick, Fanton, Hanchett, Ricketts-Swales
*While a fairly vague term, Resource Management covers a lot of essential departments and agencies. For one, this committee oversees the county Historian, currently the legendary Craig Braack. That responsibilty is very wieghty, or as another legend, Bob Marley famously wrote: “In this great future, you can’t forget your past.” Water and Soil, fall under this committee and I think we all know that without wise stewards of water and soil, society comes to an ugly ending. The Youth Bureau is another big job for this committee as many can make the case that we only have one future. As a county with a rich agricultural history, and still home to many family farms, providing resources and support to our ag sector is paramount. Allegany County Cooperative Extension falls under this committee’s purview and that partnership with the county is key to the health of our agriculture community. You’ve seen the bumper stickers: “No Farms, No Food.” Alfred’s Phil Curran will be the Chairman of this committee with the help of District 2’s Adam Cyr as Vice-Chair.
- WAYS & MEANS:
Chairman: Stockin Vice Chairman: Root
Committee Members: Burdick, Demick, Havey, Healy, Ricci
Special – Budget Committee (Sub-Committee of Ways & Means)
Chairman: Burdick Vice Chairman: Barnes
Committee Members: Curran, Fanton, Ricci, Rumfelt, Stockin
*Very few can disupte that the Ways and Means committee is the most powerful in the legislature. Without a well run Ways and Means committee, the work of every other committee is mute. Committees can not make legislation, they must approve the work before them and then refer that to the Ways and Means committee for approval, before any resolution can be brought before the full legislature. For example: If Probation Department wants to create a new position they must ask the Public Safety Committee to approve the measure and refer that to the Ways and Means Committee. That new job can’t be created until approved by both the Ways and Means, and the full board vote. In other words, you aren’t getting anything done without this committee. That amount of power has been trusted to outgoing county Chairman Phil Stockin. Phil’s decades of service in local government and long career on as a legislator from District 1 make him the ideal leader for the role.
Not only does Ways and Means control the purse strings, but they also draft the budget via a sub-committee. The Budget Sub-Committee has been lead by new county Chairman W. Brooke Harris(the Chairman doesn’t serve on any committee,) since 2021. With his acension to the county Chairman’s seat, fellow District 5 legislator Jan Burdick takes the reigns of the Budget Committee. Burdick has served on the committee prior to taking the lead and as mentioned before, brings a library of experience as a public servant.
Hopefully this gives you some idea of the mechanisms of Allegany County government, but also the people who make the system work. Legislators in Allegany County are paid a part-time wage for a full time job, and receive more complaints than thank you’s. County residents: Let’s all do our part by being more involved in county government in 2023. Democracy isn’t a spectator sport, it requires our participation.
Remember you can watch all Allegany County legislative sessions on the county Facebook live-stream video, both the archived meetings and live public session. You do not need to be a Facebook user to access this page: https://www.facebook.com/alleganycountyny/videos