After the county went more than a year without a historian, the Schenectady County Legislature has appointed Ed Reilly to the post that it’s required by law to keep filled.
“It was just a matter of trying to find the right person, and I think Mr. Reilly was exactly what the Legislature and [County Manager Kathleen Rooney] was looking for,” said Chris Gardner, the county’s attorney.
Reilly, 81, served as president of the Schenectady County Historical Society from 2006 to 2012 and continues to serve on the organization’s board of trustees.
“I want to do my best to promote a greater knowledge of the history of Schenectady County,” he said of his new role. “It’s a very historic county.”
The post became vacant after the Legislature removed the part-time position’s $24,761 salary from the 2013 budget in the fall of 2012, effectively putting Don Rittner, the historian of nearly 10 years, out of a job.
“There was almost a feeling that the prior historian wasn’t getting as much done as the county manager would like, and so this is a new direction,” Gardner said.
Rittner, who could not be reached Friday for comment, had many accolades during his time as county historian, including planning events for the county’s bicentennial in 2009.
He also worked to bring the county’s heritage to a broader audience via national television. In 2008, for instance, he helped to bring the PBS television series “History Detectives” into the city’s Stockade neighborhood.
The county, like all municipalities in New York, is legally required to designate a historian, said Gerald Smith, president of the Association of Public Historians of New York State. Smith said his organization sent a letter to the county urging it to fill the position in the fall of 2012.
“We felt very strongly that it was important for them to fill that position because it ensures continuity,” Smith said.
Reilly will work part-time under a professional services contract, so he won’t be on the county payroll, and will earn $12,000 a year, Gardner said. That contract hasn’t been finalized but is expected to be for one year of work.
“I expect it will be executed very quickly,” Gardner said.
Part of Reilly’s job will be to meet periodically with the county’s municipal historians, and he will have office space in the Schenectady County Public Library. “So I can hold some office hours and meet with anybody who wants to talk to me,” Reilly said.
Reilly was born in Troy and has lived in Niskayuna — where he served as town supervisor from 1970 to 1979 and from 1989 to 1997 — for the past 50 years. He retired from teaching computer science at the University at Albany in 1991.
In addition to serving the Historical Society, he serves on the boards of the Schenectady County Public Library and the Edison Tech Center. He also writes a Sunday column for The Daily Gazette.
Legislators sang Reilly’s praises before unanimously approving his appointment Tuesday night.
“He’s a classy individual,” Legislator Thomas Constantine said.
Vice Chairwoman Karen Johnson noted his role in securing 25 additional acres of land on the Maybee Farm in Rotterdam Junction as president of the county Historical Society. Part of that land was used for the George E. Franchere Educational Center, which opened in 2011.
“He took on a lot of problems, and I’m sure that he is ready to bring all of the historians together and help us celebrate our history more in a more lively way,” she said. “And thank you, Ed, for being willing to serve in this way.”