Horrigan navigating the hurdles

It has been an extended honeymoon for Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan. Since taking office in January, the Republican’s efforts to forge partnerships between area leaders seems to be making progress.

Horrigan, much like former County Executive Mark Thomas, has done a commendable job of making the rounds and discussing collaborations for now – and especially the future. Take Tuesday and Wednesday as an example. The Bemus Point resident made a stop at Nestle Purina, was on hand for a ribbon-cutting at the county airport in Dunkirk and was the keynote speaker for the annual meeting of the League of Women Voters at the White Inn in Fredonia.

He’s keeping a very tight schedule – and winning support. In the meantime, there have been plenty of bumps in the road.

In February, he spear-headed a controversial effort to get the Legislature to agree to sell the Chautauqua County Home to VestraCare. Despite some minor protests after the vote, there is a clearer picture moving forward. VestraCare has announced plans to beef up hiring and is considering the construction of a new complex on the property.

“Since that decision was made, I have spent three to four days a week (at the Home),” he said during the League event on Wednesday evening. “You can realize that once a decision is made from the Legislature, it’s now all about those 230 residents, it’s about 260 employees, it’s about morale, it’s about quality of care. … I will tell you the transition is going very well.”

March was Horrigan’s most trying month. Within a week, ConAgra announced it would be closing Carriage House facilities in Dunkirk and Fredonia, and county Industrial Development Agency executive director Bill Daly announced he would be retiring.

With 400 jobs being lost in the closing, Horrigan knows this is one of his and the county’s greatest challenges. “Right now, we’re working closely with (ConAgra). … We want that facility to be sold and transformed to where another business is coming in and creating jobs,” he said.

Horrigan was even willing to assist 700-resident Forestville in its financial meltdown, praising the county legislators for approving the $150,000 loan to the cash-strapped village.

“Our population is … clearly something that is driving change,” the executive said. “We are in a declining population. That is a big problem. We have to turn that around. We need more taxpayers.”

Still, despite the crises, there is a patience Horrigan has been granted from lawmakers, officials and residents. Some of it is due to his ability to work with others, but another large part is his ability to really listen to both sides of an argument.

After his speech to the League, he took questions from the audience. Many focused on the implications of global warming, but one member, a Democrat noting she was “very liberal,” said she was impressed with the non-partisan and cooperative efforts Horrigan continually emphasized.

“If you look at our government right now, the Legislature, you’re not going to find a lot of politics,” he said. “We’re trying to get the job done. We’re working hard. I’m very optimistic that you’re going to see good government. Government that gets stuff done – at all levels.”

That is an aggressive agenda. But strong partnerships could make it a reality.

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