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Politics & Government

Onondaga County Lawmakers Give Executive Broad Authority on Workforce Decisions

Scott Willis

A divided Onondaga County Legislature Tuesday gave county executive Ryan McMahon and his administration broad authority to make decisions on furloughs and layoffs as part of a series of austerity measures.  It's the latest in a series of tough choices by Onondaga County government to overcome shortfalls in revenue caused by COVID-19 closures.

While there aren’t specific job reductions in the resolution, chairman Dave Knapp says executive flexibility will save county jobs.

"The normal way we do this is the county executive would come over with a big layoff resolution.  He has to assume the worst.  Hope for the best, plan for the worst.  We'd be looking at [cutting] 200, 250 jobs.  This way, the county executive and his team, in coordination with us, can react in real time."

Meaning, for example, if sales tax and other revenues improve, fewer jobs will be impacted.  Some last minute adjustments were made to the resolution, including adding “furloughs” versus layoffs.   Legislator Jim Rowley pushed for the change.

"I've gotten the message as a legislator; I think the administration has gotten the message that we would prefer furloughs.  I have every confidence that the administration will act on that."

Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
Legislator Vernon Williams and all democrats voted "no" on the austerity measure, saying it amounted to giving the county executive a "blank sheet" to make decisions without including lawmakers.

Fellow legislator Vernon Williams wanted more assurances against layoffs.

"Yes, you're right, the word 'furlough' is in the resolution.  But it says 'may furlough."  So, that means they may do it.  They may not do it.  To me, if the administration was serious about furloughs, we wouldn't be having this conversation now; they would have been talking about furloughs with the union, and coming up with a strategy to have furloughed workers."

Williams and other democrats still feel lawmakers are giving the executive branch too much power.  Union officials agreed.  Tammy Honeywell is Executive Vice President of CSEA Local 834, which represents most of the rank and file county workforce.  She told lawmakers before the vote that departments are too top-heavy with administrators, while fewer and fewer lower-level employees struggle to keep up with increasing workloads.  Honeywell worries worker families won’t be the only ones impacted by any job cuts or furloughs.

Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
CSEA Local 834 Executive VP Tammy Honeywell tried unsuccessfully to convince enough lawmakers to vote down the plan that could result in layoffs or furloughs of county workers.

"Ryan himself was focusing on poverty as one of his initiatives, yet now we're talking about layoffs; one that will not just affect the county employees that will lose their jobs, but the community that will feel the effects of this, as well.  Unless the cuts come from the top."

In the end, most lawmakers said the county was out of options, and that the workforce had to be the next in a series of very difficult austerity measures.  The vote was 9 to 7.