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Cayuga County Fire Training Tower (copy)

Cayuga County Emergency Services Deputy Director Niel Rivenburgh, right, is the only full-time employee remaining at the department after sudden resignations Friday night, including that of a new director hired in December.

The resignations announced Friday night that have left the Cayuga County Emergency Management Office with just one full-time employee included the department's new director appointed in December.

Several county officials confirmed Wednesday that Director W. Douglas Whittaker, appointed Dec. 13 last year to serve on a part-time basis, and temporary Deputy Director Maureen Conley had left their positions.

An initial announcement from the county issued Friday said the "unexpected resignations" left the office with one full-time employee and 15 part-time employees, but did not specify who had resigned.

All officials interviewed Wednesday declined to comment on any reasoning behind the resignations, citing confidentiality reasons with personnel matters.

Whittaker was originally brought in to serve in a similar role as Bill Dashnaw, the former St. Lawrence County highway superintendent, who worked as a special consultant while Cayuga County reorganized its highway department into a combined Department of Public Works.

The resignations leave the development of such a plan unclear.

Cayuga County Legislature Chair Tucker Whitman, R-Sterling, said legislators would have to re-examine the department's direction and what they want to do with it.

"There's been the usual chatter and ideas tossed around and I don't think we really have a direction [for the department] yet," Whitman said. "We need to get some ideas together and see what our options are at this point."

As far as bringing the department back to full staffing, which would mean four full-time employees, Whitman said he was of the opinion it wouldn't make sense to do so without knowing what direction is planned.

Legislator Chris Petrus, R-Brutus, who chairs the Judicial and Public Safety Committee which oversees the office, said he had only recently been told of the plan to possibly restructure the department, and preferred replenishing it while taking time to decide its future.

"I'd rather see us staff it appropriately and take a longer, more deliberate approach if we're going to try something like that," Petrus said.

County Administrator J. Justin Woods said the plan would still be going forward, and that Whittaker started the county "down the right path" in areas to focus on, namely working with the Fire Advisory Board and local fire departments to better understand their needs.

"We're looking forward to continuing that work with stakeholders to develop a dynamic Emergency Management office that supports their operations as well as their planning and grant needs," Woods said.

Deputy Director Niel Rivenburgh, who previously led the office since 2017 after former longtime director Brian Dahl became ill, said Wednesday that office staff would "continue to do their missions" in support of operations.

In the meantime, county Planning Director Steve Lynch has been selected to serve as interim Acting Director of Emergency Services. According to Woods, Lynch was picked because of his experience with community engagement, which will be helpful in working with stakeholders.

Whittaker and Conley could not be reached for comment.

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Staff writer Ryan Franklin can be reached at (315) 282-2252 or ryan.franklin@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @RyanNYFranklin

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