When majority Democrats in the Schenectady County Legislature handed Ed Kosiur an $80,000 a year job as head of the county Youth Bureau Jan. 1, they promised he would make the agency “more robust.”
Nearly five months into Kosiur’s tenure, several youth-service professionals in the community are wondering whether the well-respected bureau has instead gone bust.
“You mean the defunct youth bureau?” asked Nancy Jones, a member of Schenectady’s Promise, which had close contacts with the youth bureau through former director Shane Bargy. “Realistically, I am still waiting to see what he will do,” she said. Schenectady’s Promise is a collaboration of agencies and people seeking to provide education and job-training skills to youths at risk.
They and other youth-service professionals said Kosiur appears more focused on providing direct-service programming and athletic events, such as a pitch, hit and run competition, than on running established programs that empower youth in the community and teach them leadership skills and job competencies. These programs, they said, in the past gave the Schenectady Youth Bureau a statewide reputation.
Matthew Beck of the state Office of Children and Family Services called the Schenectady County Youth Bureau “one of the best, if not the best, youth bureau in the state.”
Jones agreed: “Shane really beefed that bureau up and it had a name. He was involved in everything and with helping everyone. He made it a part of the community in all different aspects,” she said.
Kosiur was named to a brand-new position, assistant to the commissioner of social services for youth development, which majority Democrats created after eliminating Bargy’s civil-service position, director of the Youth Bureau. County officials then moved Bargy to the new position of director of temporary assistance and employment services, a field he had no experience in. Bargy resigned from the county April 30 and is now director of the Boys and Girls Club in Atlantic City, N.J.
In a written statement, Kosiur said he believes he is the best-qualified person for the job. “The real issue is commitment, dedication and enthusiasm,” he wrote. He cited his years of employment with the Boys and Girls Club and his prior experience as a Schenectady County legislator.
“In January, the County Legislature renewed its commitment to our county’s youth and set a goal of developing a more robust youth services program. I have dedicated my career to working with youth and have been working diligently to implement the county Legislature’s vision,” Kosiur said.
County Attorney Chris Gardner said Kosiur is bringing innovative programs to the forefront and is continuing existing programs. “I think you will have a lot more activities for your youths throughout the county that will help a number of situations,” such as reducing the number of children arrested for delinquency issues, he said.
Schenectady County Youth Board member and past chairwoman Elaine Troy said it’s early to judge Kosiur. “The more-qualified person being removed was unfortunate, but Ed has certainly invested a lot of himself in this job,” she said. Troy said she intends to advise Kosiur in his new role, ensuring that “the legacy that Shane left, which is one of strength and innovation, remains, and to see that all of the programs that benefit the youths in the entire county continue.”
That approach may put her at odds with the Schenectady County Legislature. Chairwoman Susan Savage, D-Niskayuna, said Bargy “delivered a lackluster performance while at the youth bureau.” Savage said Bargy resisted changing and expanding programs to make the youth bureau more relevant and did not want to increase its role in serving young people in the community. “We had years of the same old tired initiatives at a time when your county was looking for change and innovation,” she said.
Bargy said “those ‘same old tired programs’ they are talking about, they cheered about.” The programs were all added by Bargy. And County Manager Kathleen Rooney gave Bargy an outstanding evaluation on his last performance review, documents show.
Bargy and other youth-services professionals said Kosiur has set back the youth bureau’s efforts by at least a year. “I think the strategy we put forth — youth empowerment — has definitely taken a hit. It was a strategy developed with the United Way and Schenectady’s Promise and other groups,” Bargy said.
The manner in which Kosiur was appointed to the position remains a point of contention. Republicans on the county Legislature said Kosiur, a Democrat, got the high-paying job as a consolidation prize after losing the 105th Assembly District race last summer to Republican George Amedore Jr.
Kosiur had to resign his District 2 seat on the county Legislature, thereby forfeiting a $14,000 annual stipend, to run for the Assembly seat. He was working at the time as a director with the Boys and Girls Club in Schenectady, earning approximately $30,000 annually.
Bargy believes the Democrat-controlled county Legislature tailored the job specifically for Kosiur. They changed the job’s minimum qualifications to include six years professional or paraprofessional experience working with children and eliminating the prior job’s requirement for a master’s or bachelor’s degree. Kosiur does not have a college degree; Bargy does.
Rooney did not return a phone call for comment on why the job specifications were changed.
Deborah Kerr-Rosenbeck, executive director of the New York State Association of NYS Youth Bureaus, said state regulations are ambiguous on job requirements for youth bureau directors. “It says they must have educational and experience qualifications commensurate to the duties they discharge. It leaves it wide open,” she said.
Another significant change was that Kosiur was hired without having to appear before a screening committee, and no other candidates were considered for the post.
Kosiur earns more than most upstate youth bureau directors and, at $80,000, is one of the higher-paid administrators in county government. Bargy earned $56,000 as director.
This time last year, Bargy was spearheading Student Solve in the schools, had chaired several committees on National Youth Service Day and had performed a job shadowing program for students, among other initiatives.
Kosiur said he has been enhancing the summer youth employment program, Student Solve and National Youth Services Day. But people with knowledge of these programs say Kosiur’s contribution to them has been limited or non-existent.
The Schenectady Job Training Agency runs the summer youth employment program and did all the legwork this year to secure funding. Kosiur said he wrote a grant for the program, but there is no grant, these people said. Savage said he created the program; Bargy says former SJTA Director Fran Ricci created the program and that Kosiur helped expand it as a county legislator.
Kosiur said he will launch Student Solve in the fall. The program engages high school students in solving real county problems; it traditionally begins at the start of the school year, with student responses submitted to the county Legislature in May or June.
And Kosiur was not involved in National Youth Services Day at all this year, according to Jones. He sent a letter to Schenectady’s Promise, which organizes the annual event, saying his supervisor indicated he could not devote time to the program, she said.
As more than 600 youths fanned out across the county April 25, cleaning areas and planting trees, Kosiur sought media attention for an Aquafina Major League Baseball “Pitch, Hit and Run” competition. Bargy said that competition would have occurred with or without the youth bureau’s connection; the Rotterdam Boys and Girls Club sponsored the same event during the same week the county did.
“He claims credit for all these activities, but when you drill down to the details there is no substance there. He is a politician through and through and has fooled a lot of people,” said a county official familiar with Kosiur’s current efforts. The official did not want to be identified for fear of retribution.
Kosiur also claimed credit for adding “fresh new programs,” including the “Stranger Danger Program” and the Police Athletic League’s sleep over at Center City. Savage said Kosiur has added at least five new youth programs to the schedule for this year.
But Jones said Stranger Danger is an existing, mandatory program in school.
Kosiur said he submitted an application in conjunction with Northeast Parent and Child for a $750,000 grant through the Governor’s Office of Small Cities.
The county did submit the application as lead agency, but Kosiur had little to do with the actual grant, according to Peter Stoll, vice president of career development for Northeast and author of the grant. He said Kosiur got involved in the grant a week before it was to be presented to the county Legislature.
To be sure, Kosiur can put his own stamp on the youth bureau, as the state grants youth bureau directors wide leeway, Kerr-Rosenbeck said. “It varies by county. The main mission is to coordinator youth services. Some do provide direct services. It’s a local decision,” she said.
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette: