New York: Jay Gsell, Genesee County, County Manager

Posted on July 31, 2013

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Fifty Nifty Takeaways

What do we hope to learn from this series? We hope you will gain a better understanding of the unique characteristics of local government in each state, we hope you will learn that there are others like you who are motivated to make a difference through the public sector, and we hope you will learn that it is best to learn from other’s mistakes than yours. With that said, on to the main event, the first ever installment of the Fifty Nifty which has the same feel as Opening Day in baseball, Christmas Eve, the ol’ TGIF on ABC, and the Fiscal (New) Year.

P.S:  Contribute to the Fifty Nifty project by sending those names in your lil’ black book to ELGL. Here’s who is on the list so far: Updated 7/30: Recommendations for the 50 Nifty Project

Our Take on New York


New York, New York! The Fifty Nifty has landed in the Empire State, home to legends such as A-Rod, Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer, and Sbarro’s. Known in a more positive terms for the Statute of Liberty, Niagara Falls, the Hamptons, and a lot of heroes who responded on 9/11. When we think about governance in New York, Cuomo, Clinton, Bloomberg, and Koch come to mind.  The state is extremely diverse in terms of geography and population. For example, Genesee County has a population of 60,000 while New York City has more than eight millions residents.

So how’s New York State hold up when it comes to “interesting” laws. Here are a few examples.

  • A person may not walk around on Sundays with an ice cream cone in his/her pocket.
  • Women may go topless in public, providing it is not being used as a business.
  • Slippers are not to be worn after 10:00 PM.
  • A fine of $25 can be levied for flirting.
  • The penalty for jumping off a building is death.


Name: Jay Gsell4ce4ca3324fd9.preview-300

Current Position: Genesee County, County Manager

Prior Experience:  City Administrator, Marshalltown, Iowa

Education: The College of William and Mary, Bachelor of Arts, Political Science and Government and American University, Masters of Public Administration, Urban Management

Connect: LinkedIn

200px-Map_of_New_York_highlighting_Genesee_County.svgGenesee County Background Check

With a population of 60,079, Genesee County is located in Western New York between Rochester and Buffalo.  Its name is from the Seneca Indian word Gen-nis’-hee-yo, meaning “the Beautiful Valley”. Its county seat is Batavia.  The county is most known for family fun at Darien Lake Theme & Waterpark Resort and for golf getaways. It’s also home to the new War of 1812 Honorary International Peace Garden at Batavia where a sea of international flags greet visitors

Connect with Genesee County: the World Wide Web

Lightning Round


Best piece of advice from your parents.

Get an education and don’t get anyone pregnant while you’re still in school.

In a dream world, which bands would headline your retirement party.

  • Doobie Brothers
  • Chicago/Earth Wind & Fire “duet”


Most influential books in your life.  

  • The Power Broker, Robert Caro
  • Silent Spring, Rachel Carson
  • Drift-Rachel Maddow

If you could Facetime with five people (dead or alive and not including family members), who would be on the list?pat-tillman

  •  JFK
  • Mickey Mantle
  • Pat Tillman
  • Barack Obama
  • Jimi Hendrix

Describe the inside of your car: In my Mazda Tribute you will find Sirius radio, dozens of R&R CD’s, various emergency equipment items including a hard hat, ashtray full of change and Tomtom GPS.

(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to……I want to see the Pentagon/US government be able to account for all the POW/MIA’s from the Vietnam Conflict.


What’s the meaning of life? 

Don’t sweat the small stuff and leave things better than you found them.

The Interview

Jay Gsell is another person that we reached through the incredible rolodex of Ron Holifield, Strategic Government Resources. Jay is our first county manager to make the Fifty Nifty and he is the first and perhaps only person in the Fifty Nifty that can say he ran against Steve Prefontaine.

Give us three bullet points that best describe local government in New York.

  • 19th century attitude,
  • overly bureaucratic/paternalistic,
  • federal mandate driven with high property tax rates and
  • too many employee and customer/client entitlements.

We’ll assume you didn’t grow up dreaming about a career in local government. What was your dream job as a 12-year old? What was your first local government job? How did you end up in local government? images

Outfielder for the NY Yankees; I grew up in northern New Jersey and either watched, listened to or went to Yankee games all season long; the Mets didn’t even exist then.

My first local government job was as a summer intern in the City of Richmond,VA between my graduation from college and before I started grad school. I worked in the city budget office and did time and performance analysis of City refuse collection and what a “white wing “ laborer did 5 days /week in various city neighborhoods.

During and after grad school I worked for WASH COG in DC and was applying to all federal agencies and what I thought was the exploding domestic agency proliferation of the Great Society and Nixonian HUD growth but I found myself taking AMTRAK trains up and down the Northeast corridor until a landed my first real job as a EEA/CETA  employee in the Business Admin’s office in Trenton NJ and the rest as they say is history.

Give us your top three career accomplishments.

  • Being a CAO in 4 different local Governments since 1982 and never being unemployed since 1974;
  • Being a NYS County Manager/Admin. For 19+ yrs-this is my longest FT employment gig and the longest I’ve lived in the same house in my 61 years;
  • Bringing a degree of apolitical, best practices,management/leadership and proactive governance to the various local governments where I have served.

We often learn from our mistakes. Name one or two career mistakes that you have made that you think we could learn from.  

henry-ansonJumping from the frying pan into the fire without enough research. I left the city of Cumberland, MD in the aftermath of a local government coup orchestrated by opponents of fluoridation process which we started in the late 1980’s. I was selected as the first manager’s job in Marshalltown, Iowa which shortly thereafter became the epicenter of the $100m+ Iowa Trust Ponzi Scheme courtesy of Steve Wymer and to some extent , the ex-city treasurer of the who was president of the Iowa trust investment pool and who I inherited when I started in the new city administrator position.The hurried manner in which I changed CAO positions and relocated my family to the Midwest and the lack of insight I had into the Iowa local government financial house of cards and how precarious 88 Iowa local governments and the State  were at that time when their investment coffers were ponzied by Mr. Wymer and his” Insider Traders”/un-indicted co-conspirators.

Our experience has been many of our friends, family, and neighbors are not well versed in what it is we do in local government, many think we are a “planner” or “mayor.” Has this been your experience? How can local governments better communicate their role in the everyday lives of the community?  

downloadEven my family members said early one they didn’t think I could hold a job as I progressed in the profession and took on more responsible positions in seven different states.The uninitiated thought I was a local event planner or disaster recovery expert due to the number of times my local governments and FEMA connected due to local natural disasters such as blizzards, floods, fires in municipal buildings droughts and tornadoes.

Local governments should make better use of local/regional media, TV/CATV, print and radio and establish an outreach process to help the media and the community understand the subtleties of governance and what and why we do the things we do. Public speaking in front of service clubs, civic groups, and the use of the county website and social media to provide two way access to our government and feedback to gauge how we are doing and what we can do to improve and when change is afoot to enable a forum for facts and figures.

Would you encourage your family and friends to consider a career in local government?

Yes, if they can accommodate a certain degree of mobility,change and being adequately compensated for your performance and what are typically 50-60 hr work weeks and unlike Bell, CA miscreants never getting rich on a local government salary.

Hypothetically, if we find ourselves interviewing for a job in front of you, talk about three steps we can take to make a good impress.  

  • staringcontest_LargeCome to the interview knowing who I/we are in terms of the local government you applied to.
  • Always make direct eye contact
  • Be forthright and forthcoming with your experience and credentials
  • Be punctual, well/neatly dressed, in reasonably good physical condition (I am  reformed 44yr + distance runner who can say I actually ran in races with Steve Prefontaine and Marty Lugouri).
  • For me it’s about high energy, go to attitude and doing it right the first time and being a risk taker. 

Mentoring is such an important part of local government. Name three of your mentors.

AtkinsSteve Atkins, retired city manager from Iowa City, IA who gave me my 2nd and 3rd  municipal positions and gave me the chance to spread my wings.

George Wycoff, former Mayor of Cumberland, MD who was a selfless and totally community minded business man who only wanted what was best for his City.

My grandfather, Earnest A. Gsell,  he always stressed hard work, education and the support of and taking care of Family. I was one of 15 grandchildren and he made all of us feel special and we aspired to make him proud of us. He passed away on the way to see me graduate from the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA.

(Complete the sentence) In 2018, local government will be …………leaner, more social media savvy and interactive,better able to connect with and interact with the basic needs of our communities and citizens and less reliant on property taxes for truly balanced budgets. There will be more consolidations of functions and even governments themselves and outsourcing and privatization will be increasing in terms of what have been considered sole province/public sector only services and ethical standards and sanctions will continue to evolve and improve as the intolerance of the public for incidents like Dixon, IL, Bell,CA. and Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner mea culpas are rejected by the voters and reasonably sane people. 

What question(s) should we have asked you?

download (1)How does a Baby Boomer from Northern NJ thrive and survive in local government in the 21st Century?

My Family and I decided that certain States and types of Government which shall remain nameless( including my home State of NJ) are /were not good council/manager states/localities and probably not real accepting of a fast talking, reasonably well educated Yankee whose wife had a sixth sense about places I’ve applied to  and local elected officials I could be working for and whether or not I should take a job offer or even go thru the solicitation process.

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