By Rick Miller
Cattaraugus County lawmakers re-elected Olean Republican James J. Snyder as County Legislature chairman during a reorganization meeting Jan. 2.
Snyder was nominated by his son, Legislator Joseph Snyder, R-Ischua, who accidentally nominated himself to the laughter of his colleagues. Both legislators’ first names are James, but the younger Snyder goes by the first name of Joseph.
Republican Dan Hale of Portville was elected vice chairman. He succeeds Democrat Susan Labuhn of Salamanca, who for the past year was the first Democrat to hold the position.
Republicans control 12 of the 17 Legislature seats, but last year four Republicans joined the five minority Democrats in a bipartisan coalition to elect James Snyder chairman over Donna Vickman and Labuhn as vice chairman.
Under pressure from rank and file Republican Party members, County Republican Party Chairman Robert Keis Sr. met with GOP lawmakers in November to urge them to elect a Republican as vice chairman. That apparently worked.
Vickman, R-Farmersville, was re-elected majority leader, Howard VanRensselaer, R-Randolph, was named assistant majority leader and Joseph Boberg was named majority whip.
Democrats named Labuhn minority leader. David Koch, D-Salamanca, was named assistant minority leader and John Padlo, D-Olean, who served for the past year as majority leader, was named minority whip.
Legislative leaders echoed praise for department heads and County Administrator Jack Searles and his staff.
Labuhn said she called last year’s bipartisan coalition “common sense.” She added: “We still have obstacles.”
The biggest obstacle this year is that 2019 is an election year when all 17 seats are up for election.
Three legislators will be term-limited, meaning they have served three four-year terms and cannot run again for Legislature for at least a year: James Snyder, Vickman and Padlo.
The most controversial resolution of 54 legislators acted on at the reorganization meeting was one that grants the four elected county coroners health insurance benefits. The measure, which will cost more than $54,000 this year, had been raised two years ago and was turned down as publicly unpopular. Chairman Snyder and Vickman were sponsors.
Labuhn raised several questions and urged it be referred to committee. That motion lost on a voice vote.
The coroners could end up with health insurance for life if they serve 20 years, Personnel Officer Julie Carr said. The county administrator said the long-term costs of the resolution had not been calculated.
The coroners are salaried and do not have set hours, Labuhn said. She didn’t know if they had opted into the New York State Retirement System.
On the 11-6 roll call vote, the following legislators voted yes: Robert Breton, R-Franklinville; Vergilio “Dick” Giardini, D-Allegany; Hale, Richard Helmich, R-Delevan; Frank Higgins, R-Olean; Richard Klancer, R-Gowanda; Norman Marsh, R-Little Valley; Joseph Snyder, VanRensselaer, Vickman and James Snyder.
Voting no were: Boberg, Andrew Burr, R-Gowanda; Barbara Hastings, D-Allegany; Koch, Labuhn and Padlo.
Labuhn questioned after the vote whether VanRensselaer should have voted since his son Howie VanRensselaer is a county coroner. County Attorney Eric Firkel said later that since VanRensselaer had no financial interest in the issue it was proper for him to cast a vote.
Labuhn said VanRensselaer works for his son and had previously recused himself from voting on resolutions involving the coroners.
Democrats voted to change their official newspaper from the weekly Salamanca Press to the daily Olean Times Herald, which also serves as the official Republican newspaper.
County legal advertising goes in the political party’s official newspaper.