Call for a Higher Standard of Government Service

Columbia County is appointing people without interviewing candidates and appointing people without reviewing track record.

November 7, 2018

Thank You To All Who Serve

I would like to extend my gratitude to everyone who offers their time for public service. Our government, and our community, relies on people to step up and participate. These are important roles and I think we need to appoint the best available candidates. And I want to be clear that I’m grateful to all candidates, even those that I don’t think are the best candidate.

Skipping the Interview

At a special Public Safety Committee meeting on August 8, 2018 the committee passed a resolution to appoint an interim County Coroner. Supervisor Peter Cipkowski urged the committee to interview the candidates, but several members of the committee stressed that they were already familiar with one of the candidates. But knowing someone is not the same as knowing that someone is the best candidate. After 5 or 10 minutes of discussion, the decision was made. Minutes later, the resolution came before the full board. There was no discussion, just a roll call vote, and the resolution passed—appointing a coroner with no professional medical experience.

The Board missed an opportunity to vet the candidates and demonstrate a thoughtful process of identifying the best candidate. The Board should have spent more time reviewing Bernadette Powis for Coroner - who I believe is the most qualified for the position. She has worked as a nurse for over 35 years. She worked in a high-intensity hospital, prescribed medicine, and diagnosed patients. She learned to communicate in an emotionally supportive way while simultaneously looking for and processing subtle pieces of information, all in a high-stakes environment. Her broad and comprehensive medical and psychiatric background form a solid foundation to be Columbia County’s coroner.

On November 6, 2018, the coroner decision came before the voters. The voters made a different a decision than the Board—choosing medical experience. 78% of Hudson’s 3rd Ward voters joined with the majority of Columbia County voters and elected Powis as Coroner.

Rewarding Absences

This nominee has been absent or late a third of the time over the last year. That gives me pause.

Michael Chameides
April 11, 2018 statement against resolution 149

The August Coroner appointment wasn’t the first time I saw a rushed appointment process. At the March County Government Committee, there was a last minute proposal to appoint a member to the Planning Board. At the meeting, I was told the appointment is time sensitive because the Planning Board was having trouble getting a quorum. With no time to research, I voted in favor because I understand that the planning board is integral to the proper functioning of business and of development. However, upon further research, I found that the nominee had been absent or late one-third of the meetings over the prior year—according to the official minutes. I didn’t feel confident that this appointment is the proper solution to our quorum problem and that full board, I voted no.

The resolution passed by one vote. Watch the Planning Board appointment debate.