Employing the now-familiar late-Friday news release — fewer people read, view or listen to Saturday stories — the Mike Hein administration announced the fourth departure of a senior staffer in Ulster County government in a 17-day period on Friday the 13th.
The latest was budget officer and former county administrator Art Smith. The county’s premier numbers-cruncher for more than three decades, Smith joins Deputy Executive Marshall Beckman, Finance Commissioner Paul Hewitt and Social Services Commissioner Roberto Rodriguez on the sidelines.
It is not known whether Smith, Beckman and Hewitt jumped or were pushed. The Hein administration is notoriously secretive about its internal operations. The rule of thumb for the media is you’ll know it when we tell you, if we tell you.
Rodriguez was in effect fired. Hein announced in a terse 54-word press release over the holidays that Rodriguez would not be reappointed when his term ran out in early January. A “nationwide search” for a successor is now under way. I suspect the search won’t get much further than the corner of Fair and Main in Uptown Kingston, the site of the county office building.
Other than the usual cocktail party and diner speculation, not much was made of the not-unexpected departure of Rodriguez. A competent administrator, the product of a genuine nationwide search when Democrats controlled the legislature, Rodriguez wasn’t very good at politics either within his sprawling $120 million organization or with the powers that be in the county office building.
The sudden departure of the other three, however, is something else.
It is not unusual for executives, be they presidents, governors or at the county level, to make key personnel changes as they begin second terms. First terms are all about getting things started. Second terms are about getting things done. Or, sometimes, getting out.
As noted, the Hein administration doesn’t like to talk about personnel, and if they do the talk is not particularly enlightening.
I guess the question comes down to whether Hein is coming or going. Is he girding his loins for a tough four-year slog — does anybody really believe things are going to get better in the next few years? — or is he telling his main minions at those Monday morning staff conferences that they better start looking for the best deals they can get?
Inside players like the recently departed trio probably have more than a guess about who might succeed Hein should he take the train (to higher office), and maybe they don’t relish it. Or maybe they’re just burned out after three years of working under the demanding, hard-driving “70-hour-a-week” county executive.
Weep not for Rodriguez. He was a big-time hospital administrator when he came here five years ago and could command several times the $102,000 salary he was paid as social services director. It’s interesting to note (now) that Rodriguez’s name was nowhere to be found in the executive budget issued in late September. Wish I’d picked up that clue then, as in “where’s Roberto?” Clearly, this was no knee-jerk decision on the part of the administration.