Hugh Reynolds: Mike the Knife

For me, the news last week that Ulster County Executive Mike Hein was targeting another 200 county workers for pink slips conjured up memories of 1968.

Former New York City mayor John Lindsay, even more strikingly handsome in person, gave serious consideration to running for president that year. So serious was the Silk Stocking Republican liberal that he paid a visit to what used to be Sportsmen’s Park in Rosendale (currently the town’s recreation center) to plead his case. So out of touch with reality was Lindsay that as a bragging point he compared himself to conservative Republican Ronald Reagan, whom he referred to as “that new guy in California.”

“New York City, as you know, has the biggest budget outside of the federal government,” he said to a curious gathering of local reporters. “Well, this new guy from California, what’s his name, Reagan, passed us with his first budget. With a stroke of the pen, I got us out front again.”


Ah, the good old days. They’re long gone.

The day after Hein announced his reduction in staff, I was sitting in a diner chatting with a guy I just met. The older former IBMer said he was working on his second career. It paid about a third of his top salary at Big Blue, which went south in 1994.

“The difference then was you could walk next door or the place after that and get a job. Now, there’s nothing,” he said. Soon, for a bunch of county workers, there will be even less.

Hein dropped the bomb on workers, the public and legislators without notice last Thursday morning. Coincidentally, the news hit the papers the day of his birthday fund-raising party. The plan, or at least those elements Hein chose to announce last week, offers some 200 workers in at least a dozen departments a $12,500 buyout bonus. They have to commit by the end of the month. I can only imagine the working conditions for those who do not commit after officially having been declared surplus.

The executive himself indicated how this fourth round of layoffs — in four executive budgets — might be received in predicting that only about one in ten workers would accept his terms. If he’s right, the county workforce would be reduced by only 20 employees.

That the county workforce was bloated under legislative rule — with Hein as the county administrator who drew up those last three budgets — was apparent even then, circa 2008. While figures were vague — this is government accounting, after all — the county payroll was probably around 1,850 in 2009, compared to the 1,550 (in round figures) the executive says are now on the workforce.

To many in the public, Hein’s taxpayer-first strategy is headed in the right direction. For reference, a percentage point on the county tax rate is worth about $800,000 in spending or saving. Hein is like the new CEO on the block, downsizing — IBM preferred the sanitized “right-sizing,” which in Kingston eventually meant zero — his operation to where income matches expenses, with perhaps a small profit.

Less becomes less

Doing more with less works to a certain point, beyond which less is less. Remember how computers were going to make us all more efficient?

When does Hein get to what he considers the right number for county government employment?

Among his numerous targets for layoffs, notably excluded were his executive department and legal departments. We may have not heard the last word on that subject.

Meanwhile, some legislators seem to have bought the Kool-Aid, despite being blind-sided by the executive for the umpteenth time. Majority Leader Ken Ronk, the legislature’s leading advocate for rebalancing government, declared his support for an ill-defined plan he said he only read about in the papers. “We need more information, but it’s a great plan,” he told me the day after, apparently channeling George Orwell.

Personnel committee Chairman Bob Aiello, one of the more critical legislators, seemed nonplussed by another round of layoffs. “I don’t think he’s going to get that many,” he said.

Neither does Minority Leader Dave Donaldson of Kingston, outspoken champion of the working class and union flag-waver. “I’m not really OK with it,” he said, “but I’ll support the early retirement end.” Translation: Hein has the votes.

Legislature Chairwoman Terry Bernardo of Accord seems to have accepted the state of communication between the executive and the legislature. “I got zero calls from county exec about this,” she told me. “I found out about it the way we usually do, either from a press release in the paper or a call from a reporter.”

Legislative leaders planned to meet with the executive, she said. The meeting could be contentious, since Hein gives little ground after he declares a policy.

County Comptroller Elliott Auerbach weighed in after the announcement with questions regarding reserve funds to pay for severance. Typically, a county employee with more than 20 years of service walks away with at least a year’s salary. And that’s before this year’s proffered bonus.

It was mere coincidence that the day Hein declared the latest round of layoffs, the state labor department reported the unemployment rate in Ulster County had risen above 9 percent. For those facing executive action, this was the worst of news.

Saugerties honors Hinchey

If it’s free beer, I’m here,” Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum quipped at a welcome-home picnic for retiring congressman Maurice Hinchey at Cantine Field in Saugerties on Sunday.

Slideshow photo by Dan Barton.

There is one comment

  1. Mex

    It worked when Pelosi said ‘we should pass it so we can see what is in it’…..right?,Hugh.
    P.S. isn’t Hinchey the guy who thinks Bush created 9/11…..something close to that if I remember. I once saw a pic of Hinchey’s district….when you encapsulate all the college towns he had with Ithaca/Cornell as the crown jewel it is no wonder he won…..sort of like West in NP(let West try his routine in Gardiner) Saugerties=great place……Hinchey=crap politician.

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