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Editor’s Note: Incomplete policy is frustrating for taxpayers and elected officials

Editor’s Note is a weekly column by FL1 News Director Josh Durso. It runs every Sunday. If you want to read past columns click here.

In one of the last legislative sessions of 2020 the Seneca County Board of Supervisors followed through on a resolution pushed forward by the County’s COVID-19 response team. 

The provision was simple: Unify the County’s official response to the pandemic by creating a pre-duty screening process for employees. Three supervisors voted against the resolution, and Tyre Supervisor Ron McGreevy spoke out — calling it ‘too restrictive’ for the employees of Seneca County. Supervisor Mike Ferrara, who is a member of the COVID-19 committee, said that it would be ‘tragic’ if there was an outbreak among Seneca County staff which could have been prevented by uniform pre-duty screening. Several departments had already implemented pre-screening policies. This measure just assured that it was happening uniformly across the county’s workforce.

Finger Lakes Partners (Billboard)

The public response to the story was overwhelming, with dozens of readers sharing their own experience with similar policies in the private sector. Not only did the feedback support the policy, but agreed on the normalcy of it. Policies like this have become standard in all areas of work — since those who are feeling symptoms of COVID-19 are discouraged from going anywhere outside the home — as it could result in further spread.

In short, opposition to this policy felt more like a political statement than true vote against specific policy aimed at keeping employees safe. What does that mean? Does something there deserve scrutiny?

In my estimation the answer to those questions is yes. But it won’t be found locally. After filing hundreds of stories in 2020 on the topic of pandemic, reading thousands of comments and emails on various topics related to it, and taking stock of where we stand now — it’s clear that frustration is very rarely a local thing.

For years New York State has eroded counties’ roles in policy setting and decision making. Unfunded mandates are one thing. But even measures tied to threats of withholding reimbursement (remember, the Shared Services Initiative?) are a way of tying local legislators’ hands. 

The pandemic has been no exception and making matters worse is an array of state policies that lack a cohesive explanation. Communities that are suspended in Orange Zone criteria even though they surpassed it, or other communities that remain without restriction even though the state’s metrics have been going the wrong way for more than 30 days. Even after the state determined that a vast majority of spread (75% of it) was happening in private residences — many of the arbitrary limitations on capacity in various settings remained in place. 

Should everything be open for business as if there isn’t a pandemic happening? No, but what many frustrated people are looking for is a complete response. Not a series of half-measures, which is precisely what the economic restrictions in New York State have felt like to date. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it should be that incomplete policy is the truest stumbling block in any emergency. And it should serve as a reminder to gauge all policy by its completeness.

In the case of Seneca County’s new policy: Ensuring all employees are screened universally is good, complete policy.