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Headwell set to seek 2nd term as Montgomery County chairman

Headwell set to seek 2nd term as Montgomery County chairman

Another interested; legacy of former Montgomery County supervisors' board chairman 'King Barone' hangs over process
Headwell set to seek 2nd term as Montgomery County chairman
At least two candidates are seeking to lead the Montgomery County legislature for 2019.
Photographer: Stock images

In an unprecedented move, Montgomery County Legislature Chairman Robert Headwell has announced his intention to run for a second consecutive term as leader of the board.

Headwell, who represents District 4, said he's been proud to spearhead a greater effort to provide recognition for county employees — often in the form of proclamations or awards given at the start of legislature meetings — during his chairmanship in 2018.

Headwell said he'd like the chance to continue, and will seek to break with precedent in pursuing a second term at the legislature's organizational meeting Tuesday.

"I am going to be putting my hat in for another term," Headwell said.

Montgomery County has only had its new form of government since 2014. Voters in 2012 approved doing away with the old Board of Supervisors system, and replacing it with an elected county executive and a nine-member county legislature.

But during its four-year existence the legislature has maintained a practice first begun by the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors in 2003 of changing the leadership of the legislative body annually.

It's been 15 years since any elected official has successfully attempted to lead Montgomery County's legislative body for two years in a row.

The current practice was started after Amsterdam 3rd Ward Supervisor Ron Barone, a Republican, held the chairmanship of the Board of Supervisors for four consecutive terms from 1999 until 2003, when he was defeated by newcomer Democrat Bethany Schumann.

During his tenure leading county government, Barone earned the nickname "King Barone" and became a lightning-rod for controversy.

One low point for Barone was when a member of his own party, then Canajoharie Supervisor Robert McMahon, in 2003 attempted to introduce legislation to limit the number of terms supervisors could serve as chairman to two. McMahon argued that it was unfair to have a city supervisor lead the board, contending that more rural interests of the county ended up being neglected.

McMahon's legislation failed. But after Barone was defeated by Schumann, an unofficial rotation of the chairmanship of the board of supervisors began between the eastern and western parts of the county, with no supervisor daring to attempt two terms and attracting comparisons to Barone.

Headwell said he believes politics have changed and professionalism of the county's governing body has evolved since the days when Barone held the gavel.

"I don't think we're in the same kind of circumstances as we were back then because the fact is we have [elected County Executive] Matt Ossenfort," Headwell said.

"He's in charge, we're just underneath him," Headwell said. "So, back then the chairman of the supervisors ran the whole show. Now, we're working under Matt, and we're just policy people. We're under the executive. We already have a lightning rod, and that's Matt."

Headwell has experience with serving multiple years in a leadership position, having been mayor of the village of Fultonville for 15 years between 2000 and 2015.

District 2 Legislator Brian Sweet, who also served on the Board of Supervisors before its dissolution, said he'd like a crack at being chairman.

"I'd like to have a shot at it," Sweet said. "It was always the feeling when I was a supervisor, and I think it might even be the feeling of most of the legislators now, that if there was another person who is willing and capable of doing the position then that's what should happen."

"It was always just kind of an unwritten rule that the next person would have a chance to do it," Sweet said.

Sweet said he disagrees with Headwell's view that the legislature serves "under" the county executive.

"I think the branches of the county government are co-equal," Sweet said. "We write the laws, the executive branch enforces them, and that's pretty much how it goes. I don't think we serve under the executive branch."

District 3 Legislator Roy Dimond, who served as chairman of the legislature in 2017, said he intends to support Headwell.

Dimond said he disagrees with those who were critical of Barone for serving multiple terms. Dimond said he thinks Barone did a good job and had enough support to be elected to the position year after year.

Dimond said Montgomery County's legislative districts span town and city lines, so there is no longer justification for rotating leadership of the county's legislative body. He said he would have considered a second term as legislature chairman, but he's very busy with his full-time job working for the New York state Thruway Authority.

Dimond said any legislator who has the time to devote to the chairmanship should feel free to run for it as many times as they want.

"It's a lot of work," Dimond said. "If you're going to do the job correctly, it's very time consuming."

Headwell, a retired teacher receiving a pension from his employment at the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District, said he has the time to devote to the chairmanship. Headwell said he would like the chance to continue projects begun under his chairmanship, like relocation of the county's DPW building into the Glen Canal View Business Park.

"Being retired, I have plenty of time to dedicate toward the job," Headwell said. "I've got a pretty good handle on the job, and I've got a great relationship with the department heads. I've had a really good year, and I'd like to continue what we've been doing."

District 6 Legislator John Duchessi, a Democrat who lost, his reelection bid for mayor of Amsterdam the same year Barone was defeated, said he used to be opposed to multiple consecutive terms for county legislative leaders. But he's going to support Headwell, Duchessi said.

"I actually felt that way, initially, about not repeating. But I'm very comfortable about this particular chairman," Duchessi said. "So, rather than base my decision on some abstract notion of whether someone should repeat, I'm basing it on the job he's done."

District 9 Legislator Robert Purtell said he is opposed to a repeating chairman.

"I feel that Brian would make a great chairman," Purtell said. "I believe that no legislator should serve more than one consecutive term as chairman."

District 8 Legislator Joseph Isabel said he remains undecided.

"There are pluses and minuses to both of them," Isabel said. "Brian is a fresh start, but Bob is experienced. So, I haven't made up my mind, and I think the board is split about four to four, so I think I'll make up my mind about Tuesday night."

The Montgomery County Legislature organizational meeting is set to start at 6 p.m. Tuesday at legislative offices in Fonda. 

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