Herkimer County officials are hoping to hire a public health director who lives just over the county line, despite a current state law stating the position must be filled by someone who resides in the county.
A resolution sent Feb. 15 asks state officials to introduce legislation that would allow the county to expand that residency requirement for that position, opening it up to anyone “who resides in Herkimer County or an adjoining county.”
Herkimer County Chairman Vincent Bono, R-Schuyler, said the county interviewed several qualified candidates — the majority of whom resided in the county — but the one who came out on top happens to live over the county line.
That candidate – who he wouldn’t name – “blew everybody out of the water,” he said.
Several counties in New York have requested and received similar adjustments in the past.
“I have put the question out and so far seven out of eight counties say that some of their department heads live outside the county,” said Mark LaVigne, spokesman for the New York State Association of Counties.
Some, he said, have passed local laws and one requested and received home rule authority.
Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica, said he spoke with Bono after receiving the resolution at his Albany office, but wanted more information before moving forward.
“I’m going to have some discussion with some of the other Herkimer County representatives and move forward from there,” he said. “I’m not sure of the specifics with this request. Generally, I want to be supportive of it if the county is supportive with it.”
Brindisi added he hadn’t seen this type of legislation before, but he was aware of a number of upstate counties looking into shared services for a public health director.
Assemblyman Marc Butler, R-Newport, said he had not yet received the official request, but he was aware Herkimer County had a candidate they were interested in who didn’t meet the residency requirements. He said he’d be willing to discuss the issue with county officials.
“If the county wants us to look at changing the law, we’d be open to that,” he said.
In the end, he added, it’s up to the county to provide an explanation of why this should be done and to argue that candidate’s superiority over the others.
Bono said one argument in favor of the out-of-county candidate is that he or she knows the system and the employees.
“We feel comfortable,” he said. “It’s a smooth transition.”