After nearly 10 years as county administrator, Joe Mareane announced in July of 2017 that he would be stepping down from the position. Originally scheduled to leave his position in February of this year, he retired several months early citing medical leave. In December, the Tompkins County Legislature announced Mareane’s successor: Jason Molino, the current city manager for the City of Batavia. Molino’s official start date is Jan. 29. Tompkins Weekly spoke with Molino this month to learn more about Tompkins County’s incoming administrator. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tompkins Weekly: How has your experience prepared you to become county admin?
Jason Molino: I’ve served as the chief executive officer and the chief fiscal officer for the City of Batavia now for 12 years. Batavia is a full-service city, so we provide water, sewer, police, fire, public works, every service for the most part, and run a workforce of about 140 people. I managed a budget for about $25 million and another $25 million capital budget, and have been able to work through some financial challenges in the past and have been able to manage the budget and manage the operations, work on a variety of different elements all at the local level, anywhere from housing to economic development to community engagement. So, I think the breadth and the depth of my experience has helped me to advance my career and be considered for this position.
TW: Why join local government?
JM: Sometimes I ask myself that question, depending on the day. But it’s interesting, when I was getting my undergraduate degree – I got it in Political Science – and I didn’t really know 100 percent what I wanted to get into, growing up in Saratoga Springs, and my advisor said ‘You know, Albany has a great Masters in Public Administration program.’ Which is kind of the equivalent to an MBA – Masters in Business Administration. I remember looking at it and I said ‘You know this is kind of a focus on leadership’ and I said ‘I could pursue this and if I wanted to get into the public sector, great, and if not, it would probably still translate into anything I wanted to do.’ So, when I started, Bob McEvoy at the time was the retiring Schenectady County manager and I had taken a class – he was an adjunct – and I had taken a government class with him and after that I was hooked. For whatever reason local government has always appealed to me. It’s always a new day every day. It’s definitely got its excitement, and you’re working toward benefiting the community that you live in, which is always exciting. That’s how I got hooked on local government and have been here ever since.
TW: What made you apply for this position?
JM: Tompkins County has a great reputation across the state of New York. It’s viewed as a leader in government. The departments are recognized as leaders across the state in their area and it’s known as a very progressive area. The legislature is well respected across the state, and the administrator positions is well respected as well. When the opportunity came up, being from New York originally – I grew up in Saratoga Springs – my wife is actually from the Batavia area, and her family lives in the Batavia/Buffalo area, my mother still lives in Saratoga Springs, we said we’d like to stay in New York if that’s possible. Sure enough, this opportunity opened up and it just is very appealing to work for a progressive community, progressive organization with some of the best in the business, so that’s really what attracted me to the area.
TW: What are you looking forward to with this position?
JM: I think first is just getting familiar and working with the legislature. There’s new legislators on board, which I think is exciting. And getting familiar with them and what their priorities are moving forward over the next year. Sitting down with the staff and learning how I can best support them and progress forward the missions of their department. And lastly, just meeting with the community. Ithaca and Tompkins County is very special in terms of the amount of higher learning institutions that are very influential in our community. They’re important players in advancing the community forward. So, getting familiar with them, understanding what’s important to them. Understanding the other agencies, what’s important to them and how I can be supportive of them and how the county can be supportive in their success long-term.
TW: What are some of the challenges that you expect to face?
JM: I think everybody’s kind of waiting with baited breath over the governor’s budget and at the municipal level, and the city level, the governor’s budget sometimes impacts us. It doesn’t seem to impact us as much at the county level. So, with rumors of excessive deficits at the state level we’re all kind of concerned at the local level as to what that means for us and what we’re going to have to do to react or respond to that. So, I think that may be a challenge. It may not be. We’re all looking to see what comes from it. The county has taken a very progressive approach to alternatives to incarceration in an attempt to try to address the jail variance. Believe it or not, Genesee County is one of the eight communities also in the state that has a jail variance. So, I’m somewhat familiar just with the issue itself. But, Tompkins County is really taking a progressive approach. So, learning those issues. Learning how to advance the initiatives forward that have been funded through this year’s budget, and how to implement the program or systems of implementation, and monitoring them with the right metrics and performance measurements will be exciting to work on. But challenging at the same time. The housing initiatives are I think – again – exciting but a challenge. A lot of the housing market is a challenging market, to a certain extent, with respect to trying to compliment the variety of housing opportunities for residents and how do we further the housing needs assessment we’ve done in the year 2016, and trying to reach those goals and those objectives in it. So, I think those are some of the initial challenges that will be at the forefront.
TW: What do you want people to know about you?
JM: Local government is my career choice, it’s something that I’m passionate about and for me, coming to a new community like Tompkins County, is very exciting. In terms of being a professional challenge and trying to contribute to a community that’s doing great things. I guess the only thing that I would put out there is that I’m looking forward to really hitting the ground running. Getting out and leading the community members, the agency members, and seeing how I can help them move forward and achieve their mission, their objective and their goals in my role as the county administrator.