AUBURN — The Cayuga County Legislature appointed a Victor man to the vacant county administrator position at a special meeting Tuesday night.
J. Justin Woods will start his four-year term as county government's chief executive some time prior to Jan. 1, 2018, and will receive an annual salary of $135,000. The pay is $40,000 more than what the county was paying former administrator Suzanne Sinclair and about $10,000 more than the county's highest offer in its advertisement for the position.
The Legislature passed a resolution 13-1 hiring Woods, with Legislator Joe Bennett opposed and Legislator Andrew Dennison absent.
Woods is currently a professor in the Master of Public Administration Program at Pace University, teaching some online classes and at times commuting from Victor. In the past Woods has served as planning directors for Ogdensburg and Big Flats. He also served as a private consultant for the city of Binghamtom and other clients in the Southern Tier.
"I've spent most of my career as a department head or working with municipalities as a consultant or non-profit community economic development role," Woods said in a phone interview Tuesday night. "I thought that was a good fit for some of the experience I had. I'm really excited to be coming."
Bennett said he could not support the hire because of the salary increase, calling it an "injustice" to county taxpayers. Other legislators said they, too, were unhappy with the salary package but still supported the hire.
"I'm hoping it's a sign of his intelligence that he can apply for a job and instantly get a pretty sizable raise, and hopefully that's a sign he'll do great," said Legislator Tucker Whitman.
In his absence Dennison sent a letter in support of Woods, though he, too, expressed his concern about the salary. Dennison was on the body's hiring committee and said that despite the salary qualms, Woods was his top choice.
"I hope he proves me right," Dennison wrote.
After the meeting Legislature Chairman Keith Batman and Majority Leader Aileen McNabb-Coleman said Woods is worth the investment. Batman said Woods' salary is still less than those of the Cayuga County district attorney, the president of Cayuga Community College and many public school district superintendents.
"It's not as much as a lot of people that are in charge of a $145 million corporation are paid," Batman said, referring to the approximate size of the county budget.
"We're all thinking long-term," McNabb-Coleman added, "way beyond ourselves and our seats. I think that's fantastic, and I'm thrilled."
McNabb-Coleman and Batman said they hope Woods will stay longer than four years, considering there's an opportunity to renew his contract. Besides the salary, Woods will receive health and dental benefits, disability and life insurance, New York State retirement, four weeks of vacation and county holidays off, and an employment security fund. He will be provided a county car for business travel and his commute. The county will also pay him up to $12,500 for relocation expenses, though that will have to be paid back if Woods voluntarily leaves employment within his first two years.
While he's not sure yet when he will arrive in Cayuga County, Woods said his first plan is to sit down with elected officials, department heads and members of the community to learn what issues to prioritize and how people work. He has not yet found a place to live, but Woods said he's looking at the city of Auburn. He plans to move with his wife, Jillian, and their three children, who are between the ages of 2 and 6.
Besides his work experience, Woods has a varied educational background. He earned his undergraduate degree from Green Mountain College in Vermont and his Master of Public Administration degree from Pace University. He also holds a Juris Doctor and Master of Laws degree in Environmental Law from Pace Law School in White Plains.
Woods is the fourth person to take on the county administrator position, which has seen a considerable amount of overturn in the past approximate decade. The position has been vacant since March, when Sinclair submitted her resignation, though she had not been working since Feb. 3.