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Transition at the top

The New Year’s holiday causes us to look forward to 2012 with anticipation, but also to reflect back on the previous year. With the transfer of power from County Executive Bill Steinhaus to newly-elected Marc Molinaro, Dutchess County government has also been looking both forward and backward. The Legislature recognized Steinhaus for his long service to county government at the final county legislative meeting in December. First elected in 1991, he served as county executive for 20 years and as county clerk for 13 years prior to that. We also honored four departing legislators, including Suzanne Horn (R-Pleasant Valley) and Sandra Goldberg (D-Wappingers), both for 20 years of dedicated service. High-ranking staff retirements included Legislative Clerk Patty Hohmann, after 38 years at the Legislature, and Steinhaus’ chief of staff, Nancy Giordano. In many ways it is an end of era, not to mention the start of a new one.Steinhaus spoke about how he was inspired to enter public service through his freshman political science course at Dutchess Community College. At the time his professor, Jack Lippman, was chairing the committee that produced the county charter — the instrument that today provides the framework for county government. Hohmann, who began clerking for the Legislature in the 1970s, reflected on how things have changed including when legislative meetings were dominated mostly by men smoking big cigars. At retirement parties the walls were adorned with photo collages depicting the progress and evolution of Dutchess County in the last few decades. It seemed to underscore perfectly Steinhaus’ advice to legislators as he reflected on the close of his county career, “Democracy works.”Documenting and recalling history is important. Filling a void in historical scholarship the County Legislature appropriated $25,000 in the 2012 county budget to appoint a county historian. Provided for in the charter but vacant for some time, the historian position is intended to record our history and heritage because history and heritage is central to maintaining and understanding our identity as a county.When appointed, the new county historian will take his/her place on the County Heritage Committee that was formed in April by a resolution that I authored. This Heritage Committee has been meeting since October 2011 to plan activities to commemorate the county’s proud history during Heritage Days (Oct. 23 to Nov. 1), including a special 2013 celebration of the 300th anniversary of democracy in Dutchess County. The committee reflects the geographical differences of the county (opportunities to serve still exist), and is composed of town historians, school teachers, academics, re-enactors, genealogists and history buffs from all walks of life. It wisely paired up with Dutchess County Tourism for help with marketing and — it is hoped — will result in local economic fecundity.The Heritage Committee has designated five themes that it is focusing on to illustrate the county’s heritage. These include agriculture, education, transportation/industry, political/military, and arts/architecture/culture. The committee is seeking volunteers to serve on these subcommittees. Early brainstorming ideas include producing a commemorative book, websites, classroom lesson plans and events including a possible transportation-themed parade showcasing the evolution of locomotion in all its various forms.History is fascinating. So also is opportunity. As county government turns a page we look forward not only with appreciation for the past, but with a commitment to excellence for the future. Michael Kelsey represents Amenia, Washington, Stanford, Pleasant Valley and Millbrook in the Dutchess County Legislature. Write him at KelseyESQ@yahoo.com.

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