Monday was the new Ulster County executive’s first day on the job. Pat Ryan won a special election April 30 following the departure of the county’s first executive, fellow Democrat Mike Hein, who joined New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration.
Ryan, who was sworn in June 7, said his first day started well.
“I actually started the morning greeting the whole county workforce out in front of the building starting about 8:15 as they were coming into work, which got some nice smiles from folks on Monday morning,” says Ryan.
Then he visited the county’s 1.9 megawatt solar array on the former Town of Ulster landfill that become operational in May 2018, producing some 20 percent of all the electricity used by Ulster County government.
“So a big part of my goal is to expand that and get us to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, which is aggressive but doable,” Ryan says.
It will be one of Ryan’s priorities — implementing a Green New Deal. Ryan says he will look at other sites in the county for expansion.
“The other piece of the plan here is greening our fleet, for example. That’s a huge part of our energy footprint, transitioning the fleet,” Ryan says. “One of the nice surprises for me taking over was I actually get a hybrid car to drive around and do some of the business of the county to try to reduce my own personal carbon footprint. I actually didn’t know that was part of the job, so that’s been a nice, a nice benefit.”
In addition to implementing a Green New Deal, Ryan has four other priorities.
“Another is driving economic growth and diversifying our economy while making sure we do it in an equitable way. Third, we’re going to tackle the opioid epidemic. Ulster County is the worst right now of all 62 counties in New York state from an overdose perspective, so we have to tackle that. It’s ripping apart our communities and our families, and I’m going to tackle that head on,” Ryan says. “Fourth, we’re going to make our government more responsive and responsible, so increasing how we deliver our services, using technology to better deliver services, and increasing our commitment to doing business with integrity. I’ve committed to take no, no campaign donations from any, any corporate entities, whether they’re doing business with the county or not. I think it’s critical that we eliminate any, any concern about conflicts or ethics there.”
Today, in response to a growing outbreak of measles throughout New York City and the lower Hudson Valley, Ryan directed Commissioner of Health Dr. Carol Smith to issue orders requiring measles vaccination or immunity for all campers and staff, except those with a valid medical exemption, who wish to attend or work at day or overnight camps in Ulster County. Also today, he had planned to meet with all the department heads together to lay out a vision and how best to execute it. And Ryan plans to soon sit down with the legislative leadership to talk about working together.
“And then I’m going to get out across all the, we’ve got over 40 different county buildings and facilities spread out across Ulster County,” Ryan says. “So I’m going to show up sometimes announced, sometimes unannounced and just check on how everybody’s doing.”
Meantime, the Ulster County legislature is holding a special session tonight on a resolution appointing an interim county comptroller to serve until the end of the year, with an election to be held in November. The post is open because Elliott Auerbach left in mid-May to serve as deputy comptroller for the Division of Local Government and School Accountability in the state comptroller’s office. The appointment is controversial, with different stakeholders touting their choices. Ryan says he’s steering clear.
“I think it’s really important from an ethical perspective that I not have any involvement in what may come in terms of electing the person who’s going to hold me accountable, as they should, from the position of comptroller,” says Ryan.
Ryan, the runner-up in the 19th Congressional District primary last year, will hold his first public hearing Thursday on the licensing of electricians.
“Obviously, the idea is to make sure that when we’re doing any kind of work in the county we do it in a safe way to protect folks, and that anyone who’s operating has proper certification,” says Ryan. “So I’m excited to hear feedback from the community on that. I know there are, there’s feedback both sides, and I’ m looking forward to hearing that. And that’ll help me assess the right way forward there.”
Ryan served two combat tours in Iraq as an Army intelligence officer.
“At the end of the day, what this is all about is honoring a rule that I was taught as a young Army officer that we don’t leave anybody behind,” Ryan says. “That was the rule leading folks in combat, and that’s the same ethos that I’m going to apply that I’m going to ask every single county employee to guide their ethos, that we’re here to serve the 180,000 people of Ulster County. And so that’s how I want us all to operate.”
Ryan will again face Republican Jack Hayes in November’s general election. Ryan says he has six months to build a record and be held accountable.
“In particular, doing 24 town halls over the next six months in each of our towns and villages and our one city, that’s a great way for me to really… just like I did today with coming out to the, to our solar facility, to just get my, understand and hear and speak and feel and smell and sense what’s going on on the ground," says Ryan. "That’s so critical to have that connection to… The issues out in Denning are very different from the issues in New Paltz. And it’s critical that I’m on the ground in each of those places hearing from leaders and residents.”
Hein’s chief of staff Adele Reiter had been serving as acting county executive since February.