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CAYUGA COUNTY

New Cayuga County law separates social services, mental health oversight

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Ray Bizzari

Cayuga County Director of Community Services Ray Bizzari 

Seven years after adopting a law that combined the positions of social services commissioner and community services/mental health director, the Cayuga County Legislature has passed a new law that makes them separate again.

With the pending retirement of Ray Bizzari as Cayuga County director of community services, the Legislature at a special meeting this week approved a law that sets the stage for him to be replaced by two people.

Bizzari has been the only person to serve in the community services director role under the 2014 law that put that position in charge of the county's mental health and social services departments. At the time, the Legislature and the county administrator believed consolidation made sense because there was considerable overlap in the client base served by both departments.

But as Bizzari has prepared to transition out of county employment, he recommended re-establishing the separate posts: a social services commissioner and a community services director who would oversee the county's mental health services, including its clinic on North Street in Auburn.

"With a combined budget of $47 million and 200 employees, both departments need and require full-time leadership," Bizzari wrote in a column about the local law published by The Citizen in October. "Much has changed in those departments since my 2014 appointment to lead both so I support this part of the proposal because it provides for proper full-time leadership which, in the end, best serves our county’s residents. Because of various reimbursements, this staffing pattern has little financial impact to taxpayers."

The county Legislature was originally looking to hold a public hearing and vote on a new local in October, but an issue with the wording in that local law generated concern from the Cayuga County Community Services Board, an appointed body which under state law hires the community services director.

The October version of the local law included language that would have given the county Legislature the authority to establish a separate mental health director post that it would hire.

In the same column in which he supported the broader concept of separating social services from the mental health department, Bizzari stated his opposition to the idea of splitting the mental health director and community services director positions.

Legislator Elane Daly, who chairs the county's Health and Human Services Committee, said the intent of the original wording was to preserve the Legislature's ability to take control of the mental health clinic oversight should a problem arise, since the position is an official county government department head post. Lawmakers did not plan to hire two different people immediately for those functions. "It was really more of a 'what if,'" she said of the language.

But in order to alleviate concerns, the local law was reworded to remove that language and re-introduced in the November legislative cycle. A public hearing was held at a special Legislature meeting on Wednesday, and after no members of the public spoke, the local law was passed in a unanimous voice vote.

Daly said the county can move forward with its social services commissioner search and the Community Service Board can do the same for the director of community services post. Officials are hopeful to have replacements board by Jan. 28, which is when Bizzari is scheduled to depart.

The new local law does not establish salaries for either position. That decision will be made the Legislature as it controls the county budget.

While the Community Services Board has the authority to hire or fire a director of community services, the law states that it must consult with the Legislature on the matter.

"Because the position also serves as a department head under the County Legislature, the CSB shall include the Legislature or such delegate(s) as the Legislature may choose in the recruiting process, and shall make a good faith effort to obtain the Legislature’s concurrence regarding the candidate selected," the law states.

Jeremy Boyer can be reached at (315) 282-2231 or jeremy.boyer@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenBoyer

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