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County manager questioned in storm's wake

ELIZABETHTTOWN Although the Valentine's Day blizzard happened six weeks ago, repercussions stormed the Essex County Board of Supervisor's chambers earlier this week. At the center of the controversy was County Manager Cliff Donaldson, whose performance during the blizzard was viewed an inadequate by some members of the board. Donaldson, a Democrat, is a frequent figure of controversy, often receiving criticism from Republican members of the board. Supervisor Ronald Jackson (Essex - R) brought the topic up at the March 26 Ways and Means Committee Meeting, stating his discontent with Donaldson's actions before, during and after the blizzard. Since the storm was predicted, he felt not enough work went into the preparation. I think that was the time our county manager should have stepped up to the plate - perhaps closed the county preemptively, said Jackson. Jackson said that on the day of the blizzard, Donaldson didnt come in or call in. Additionally, he said a meeting after the blizzard should have been called to evaluate how the county had reacted to the event. Im very disappointed that there hasn't been participation by the county manager and leadership in this area, said Jackson. Donaldson said the snowstorm in February was typical of North Country weather, and said the storm was being use as a political tool. He said people knew where he was and how to contact them. All the sudden a snowstorm in February becomes a major issue for someone to use as a hammer. I find it very odd, and very convenient, said Donaldson. Donaldson said he held a discussion on Feb. 12 with county board chairman Noel Merrihew (Elizabethtown - R) regarding the countys actions. A decision was reached at that meeting to try to keep the county open. Our conclusion was we were not going to close the county if at all possible, said Donaldson. Merrihew said he didnt recall that meeting. Some supervisors expressed frustration with the recurrent criticism of Donaldson. Supervisor Shirley Seney (North Elba - R) tried to stop the discussion by moving to adjourn. Supervisor Anthony Glebus (Lewis - R) concurred with Seney, calling the discussion dirty laundry. He said addressing the situation in the countys backroom would be more appropriate. County Attorney Daniel Manning said it would be inappropriate to end the session at that point since there was still business that needed to be addressed. The matter was also inappropriate for executive session, he said. Lets get on with the regular meeting and end this discussion right now, said Seney. Merrihew said the discussion was appropriate to evaluate how the county had acted, and it wasnt politically motivated. I believe its everybodys best interest anytime you have an incident or state of emergency to review what happened, said Merrihew. Supervisor Daniel Connell (Westport - D) thought it was another political ploy. Are we ever going to stop this, and get down to the business of the county and stop this foolishness? asked Connell. Supervisor Joyce Morency (St. Armand - R) said she didnt see the issue as a partisan one, instead, she said she wanted to get the truth out about Donaldsons job performance. She said Donaldson had problems with absenteeism and lack of interest in his position of county manager. Earlier in the meeting, Donaldson had come under criticism via a letter sent by Mineville/Witherbee Fire Chief Paul Tromblee to Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (Moriah - R) on March 12, which stated his discontent with some of Donaldsons comments aired on a local television station during the storm. For Mr. Donaldson to state that if a person had made reservations to ski at Whiteface, then they should ignore the state of emergency, was very unprofessional, wrote Tromblee. The letter was passed onto Donaldson, who fired back on March 14. As to the statements contained in your letter, I have to question if we were even watching the same television news program. To set the record straight, at no time in my interview with WPTZ-TV did I ever say or imply that individuals should ignore the state of emergency. You are Mr. Tromblee, 100 percent WRONG in your baseless, false, misleading and bogus claims, Donaldson wrote.

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