Executive post a losing proposition

Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards’ surprising announcement that he would not be seeking a third term has put area Democratic and Republican party leaders in a frenzy. More than one week ago, nobody saw Edwards’ decision coming.

Maybe history had something to do with it. For recent county executives, seeking a third term has not been a charm. In 1997, incumbent Andrew Goodell was knocked off by Mark Thomas. Eight years later, Thomas was surprisingly defeated by Edwards.

Since then, our executive has worked tirelessly to improve this county. He is honest. He is a family man. And, of significance to those he served, he seemed to always return phone calls or react to the comments of many county residents. He appreciated hearing their views.

That is not always the case with a number of leaders.

His communication skills with the media were just as polished. Whether it was myself or a reporter, he always returned messages in a timely fashion.

An event in 2010 made a major impression on me. Edwards in May 2010 had just accepted state gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio’s request to run as lieutenant governor. After a whirlwind trip around the state, Edwards was back three days later in Chautauqua at the Athenaeum for the League of Women Voters’ 90th anniversary celebration in which I received an honor.

Edwards took time to congratulate the League on its success and also congratulated all the award winners that evening, introducing himself to my parents and wife as well. He was a class act.

But as is often the case between politicians and journalists, we have had our disagreements. I have never been fond of the “us vs. New York state” tone that he and many other local leaders sound when they have to raise taxes or increase spending. I also do not agree with pinning the blame on Albany for the high cost of Medicaid when the tax burden in this county is in the Top 10 nationally. High taxes breed rising poverty levels no matter how you look at it. With that being the case, Medicaid costs will not be going down locally.

In those examples alone, Edwards must see the big picture. Even if he was elected to serve another four years, what can really be done to turn this county around? Though residents complain about the taxes that drive people out and keep the outsiders away, they rarely want to give up anything that has a local connection and drains our dollars.

We have seen this attitude for years with overpriced and teeny school districts, but it is quite evident on the county level as well.

To his credit, Edwards is still trying to market the Chautauqua County Home. In the meantime, some residents debate the real cost of the money-losing facility – and everything is for sale at the right price. If that price happens to be $16.5 million, then that is the facility’s worth. End of discussion.

Besides the public’s opinion, the other obstacle facing the executive is the group of legislators, which can be hardheaded at times to protect their “local identity” even when it is to the detriment of the county.

Decreasing the number of these territorial hounds from 25 to 19 will not make the next executive’s job any easier.

“I have been blessed with the chance to do important work helping the people of this county, and I have made many close friends that will always be a special part of my life,” Edwards said last week. “But I did not begin this work with the intention of making it my career.”

And career politicians – far too many in this region – are what keep Chautauqua County in the doldrums. It is time for a county manager.

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John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.