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January 15, 2014 - 8:49pm

Cianfrini says he's ready for the challenge of leading Genesee County government

posted by Howard B. Owens in county legislature, Oakfield, Ray Cianfrini.

The Ray Cinanfrini era of the Genesee County Legislature has officially begun and the lifelong Oakfield resident certainly has some plans to try and make an impact.

In the top drawer of the desk in his county office Cianfrini keeps a sheet of 8 1/2 by 11 inch piece paper filled from top to bottom with ideas he would like to pursue.

Whether any of them are ever brought forward, pan out or receive the support of the other eight members of the county's legislative body, only time will tell.

"I think this job is going to be a challenge," Cianfrini said. "We have a group of legislators who are dedicated. We have some new members who are young and energetic. I'm excited, but I'm also a little scared. Whatever happens, I'm going to give it everything I've got to ensure the county is in as good of shape, if not better, than when I took over."

Cianfrini, who served seven years as the mayor in Oakfield before being elected to the Legislature in 2007, replaces Mary Pat Hancock, who held the chair for 13 years.

Hancock's former office has been cleared of its mementos, photos and paintings. The walls are now bare. Since taking over the job, Cianfrini said, he simply hasn't had time to deal with decorations.

"I used to say I was a full-time attorney and a part-time legislator," Cianfrini said. "I think the roles have been reversed right now."

The job will be daunting, no doubt, in a time when state government is more and more burdensome, infrastructure is aging and the county struggles to find ways to grow its economic base, there's nothing easy about leading a whole county.

Cianfrini is an unabashed booster of Genesee County, but he's also more than aware of the problems we face.

"I don't like the idea that we might lose industry," Cianfrini said. "I hope we're able to maintain the high level of active, large employers we have. Agriculture, of course is a big industry for us and we have the two new yogurt plants, so I'm hoping our dairies will be around for a long time. If anything scares me, I would hope crime does not seep into Genesee County. I know we have crime, but I hope we don't get the overflow of crime that seems more prevelent in the larger cities around us. And I worry about whether our children will have a place to find jobs locally."

That focus on jobs and industry is one reason Cianfrini appointed himself as the Legislature's representative on the Genesee County Economic Development Center Board.

While Cianfrini has gained a reputation as something of a GCEDC critic at a time when many local residents worried about seeming excesses in the agency, Cianfrini said his position about the IDA is often misunderstood.

"My criticism in the past has been focused on their operations, their internal operations, in particular their compensation for employees," Cianfrini said. "I've never criticized the GCEDC in their performance. I think they do a bang-up job. I think they're intelligent and hard-working people. I'm not in there with an agenda. I'm not there to impose on them any of my particular feelings. I'm there to learn more about the GCEDC. I'm there to help, if I can."

Top on Cianfrini's agenda is assisting the development of the STAMP (Science, Technology & Advanced Manufacturing Park) project in Alabama, which is part of his district.

"I'm a huge supporter of STAMP," Cianfrini said. "It's a transformational project that's going to be a tremendous economic boost for Genesee County."

It's in the county's best interest, Cianfrini believes, for GCEDC to succeed in attracting new business and growing local industries and he's supportive of those goals.

"I know this may sound crazy, but I'm going to be there rooting for them to achieve their goals and create new opportunities for economic development."

At the same time, he said, he's mindful of his responsibility to provide both oversight and communication about GCEDC activities for the rest of the Legislature.

"I am there as the only representative of the county Legislature, so I will scrutinize what goes on. If there's issues that I think need to be addressed, I'll bring those back to the Legislature," Cianfrini said. "I did not put myself on the board soley for the purpose of changing the way in which they do business. I'm there to learn. I'm there to offer any assistance I can, but if there's something I don't think is right, I'll be, as most people know, the first person to bring that to the attention of the Legislature."

The 68-year-old Cianfrini graduated from Oakfield-Alabama High School in 1963. His undergrad degree is from the University at Albany and he was drafted into the Army after his first year in law school. Following a two-year hitch, Cianfrini completed his law degree in 1972 and moved back to Oakfield.

He has practiced law in Oakfield for 42 years.

He's married. His wife, Karen, is a nurse at UMMC. They have three children.

Their oldest son, Michael, 39, is also an attorney. He and his wife, Melissa, worked for big law firms in Pittsburgh, but decided they wanted to move to Oakfield to practice law and joined Cianfrini's law firm more than 10 years ago. Late in 2013, Michael Cianfrini was appointed deputy county clerk. Melissa Cianfrini is in her third year as an assistant district attorney.

Daughter Christy Connor is an epidemiologist in San Diego. She and her husband have three children.

The Cianfrini's youngest son, Steve, 33, served eight years in the Army as a combat helicopter pilot, with an 18-month tour in Iraq, where his helicopter was once shot down, and a tour that included heavy combant in Iraq. In search of a more tranquil life, Steve left the Army not long ago and took a job in Grand Rapids, Mich., as a postal carrier.

Not too many months ago, when asked about the anticipated vacancy in the Legislature's chair, Cianfrini demurred, expressed little interest.

That changed, he said, when Annie Lawrence, the more senior Republican on the Legislature, made it clear to her colleagues that she didn't want the job. 

Cianfrini decided he was up for the challenge and that he could make the time to do the job right.

"The way I look at it, there was county government for 200 years before I came in and there will be county government, hopefully, for 200 years after I leave," Cianfrini said. "I just want to make sure while I'm here at the helm that government runs efficiently at the lowest cost."

The job is important, Cianfrini said, because Genesee County is important.

"I just love Genesee County," Cianfrini said. "I think anybody who has been born here has difficulty giving it up. We have two major metro areas around us. If we want to go to a football game, if we want to go to the opera, or to a show or shopping, we have it. The beauty is, we've got the serenity of Genesee County. It's a beautiful area. It's a great place to raise children. I think the school systems are excellent. Why give that up to go someplace where you don't know what you're getting into?"

To help make this an even better place to live, there are some ideas Cianfrini would like to pursue.

For example, he thinks the Legislature should take a look at public safety in county-run buildings.  He wants to, maybe, propose opening up the County Park in Bethany to bow hunters during bow season. That would generate revenue for the county and also help deal with the exploding deer population in the park. Perhaps, he said, the county government should go paperless, with Legislators carrying around iPads instead of binders and folders. He would like to look at a public-private partnership to build more hangars at the Genesee County Airport.

That's just a part of the list he keeps in the top drawer of his desk.

He also anticipates working out an agreement with the GCEDC that would lessen the burden on taxpayers to help support the agency.

Last year, the county supplemented GCEDC's revenue (which comes mostly from fees paid by businesses that use the agency's services) with a $215,000 expenditure. 

Steve Hyde, CEO of GCEDC, has always argued that the county government needs "skin in the game" to prove to site locators that economic development is supported in Genesee County, and that the money helps GCEDC balance its books.

Cianfrini has another approach he would like to try and be thinks just might fly.

"I've talked with GCEDC and they're willing to talk now about the possibility of working out a formula that might minimize the county's contribution," Cianfrini said. "At times when their cash flow is good, we don't pay as much taxpayer money to support them, but on the other hand, when maybe money is tight, or revenue is drying up, maybe we increase our contribution rather than have a fixed amount. They seem willing to talk about adjusting that payment."

Now that Cianfrini has a more comprehensive responsibility in Genesee County than just representing one district, or just chairing one committee, he's working hard to get to know the rest of the county's business, learning as much as he can as quickly as he can about all of the county's departments.

He sees his role as a facilitator to develop and implement policy, and that means he needs to really understand the nuts and bolts of county government.

"I kind of look at it like this," Cianfrini said. "From a team perspecitve, we're like a football team. The people are the owners of the team. The taxpayers are the owners. The Legislature, we are kind of the board of directors to set the policy for the team. Jay Gsell, our county manager, is kind of the general manager of the team. Our department heads, they're the coaches. They're the ones working with the players. The players are the employees. I'm seeing my job as the chairman of the Legislature as one to help move policy along and to maybe offer some fresh ideas."

Asked if he thinks his new job makes him one of the more powerful people in Genesee County, Cianfrini said, no, not really.

"I think I can influence certain things, what things will come before the Legislature," Cianfrini said. "I think I can influence the direction we may be going in. If that means power, so be it, but I don't think of it as a powerful job. I don't want power. I don't seek power. I want efficiency and I want results. That's where I'm coming from."

Bob Heininger
Bob Heininger's picture
Last seen: 1 year 1 month ago
Joined: Oct 22 2010 - 3:10pm

A football game is 60 minutes long with 10, to maybe 15 minutes of actual action per game.

Indeed. Government is like football. Lots of talking (rhetoric) and little action.


Ed Hartgrove
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Last seen: 2 days 52 min ago
Joined: Dec 20 2012 - 11:54am

"In the top drawer of the desk in his county office Cianfrini keeps a sheet of 8 1/2 by 11 inch piece paper filled from top to bottom with ideas he would like to pursue."

Wouldn't it be great if Mr. Cianfrini could post (here on thebatavian) a copy of what he has written on that sheet of paper? Could somebody up there ask him to do so?

After all, if the people (taxpayers) are the 'owners' of this 'team', I'm pretty sure they would like to know more about what he has thoughts of achieving.

How about showing the people that will be affected, and getting some of their input?

One thing I've learned is that, if you have an idea, a question or a proposal, and you have 4 or 5 people trying to figure out what all the angles (or benefits) are, you "might" get most of them. But if you hand the same questions (or proposals) to a group of 20 or 30 people, you might just find something that the 4 or 5 missed.

Just a thought.

Ed Hartgrove
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Last seen: 2 days 52 min ago
Joined: Dec 20 2012 - 11:54am

On a personal note, I'd like to ask Mr. Cianfrini if he was the one that participated in a weightlifting 'contest' at OACS back in the early 60's.

We had some 'doings' in the school auditorium, and I believe it was Ray, teamed up with Roger Grazioplene, to lend a hand to the guest speaker that day.

At the time, we all assumed it was a 'joke', because Roger couldn't even get the 200+pound weights off the holder, but Mr. Cianfrini (I think) bench-pressed them like they were styrofoam. I do remember how hard everyone laughed.

Was that you, Ray?

Brian Graz
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Last seen: 5 days 3 hours ago
Joined: Sep 18 2010 - 4:57pm

Ed, you are a buffoon.

Ed Hartgrove
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Last seen: 2 days 52 min ago
Joined: Dec 20 2012 - 11:54am

buffoon?? Scratching my head, Brian. (Oops, sorry. I guess scratching my head would make me a baboon, not a buffoon).

Just wondering which comment of mine would lead you to respond that way, Brian. Care to enlighten me?

Howard B. Owens
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Last seen: 3 days 5 hours ago
Joined: Apr 23 2008 - 3:05pm

Ed doesn't seem terribly bothered by the comment. It's the first I'm seeing of it. We don't allow name calling and should come down, but Ed already responded to it.

Brian Graz
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Last seen: 5 days 3 hours ago
Joined: Sep 18 2010 - 4:57pm

What? Your 2nd post "On a personal note"...

What in hell does that have to do with the topic being covered here? Not only were you irrelevant, but I personally sensed a bit of tongue-in-cheek attempt at character assassination.

Ed Hartgrove
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Last seen: 2 days 52 min ago
Joined: Dec 20 2012 - 11:54am

Thank you, Brian, for getting back to me on this.

As for "What in hell does that have to do with the topic being covered here?", I had assumed the topic was about Mr. Cianfrini. Now, as I stated in my comment, I wasn't even sure if it was him (and Roger) that was entertaining us that day. You will have to excuse me if I had the names wrong (actually, I'm more than 90% sure I got it right), but it was 1960, and I was 12 years old. So, clearly, 53-years could rightly have clouded my recollection of that 4-minute occurence.

As for a "tongue-in-cheek attempt at character assassination", I have no idea what you are talking about. As I wrote, we (kids) pretty much knew it was a 'joke', because the two high-schoolers (Ray and Roger?) the guest speaker chose for helping him that day were a couple of Oakfield's best athletes. We (kids) had no doubt that BOTH of them could lift and press the weights on stage that day. The 'skit' was, no doubt, put together by the guest speaker. Unlike (probably) today's kids, we looked up to people like that, and wanted to 'be like them'.

So, Brian, I see no hint at character assassination". If you "personally" took umbrage for what I wrote, I can only assume that, (a) you totally misunderstood my comment, or (b) you was the 2nd helper that day (or related to same). Either way, there was no disrespect intended. I was just curious as to whether Ray was the one on stage that day.

As for Howard's comment (about namecalling), I totally understand the rule, and believe it's an excellent one. Otherwise, things could get out of hand. But, as for it 'bothering me - don't worry, Howard. If buffoon were the worst I've been called, I'd wear it like a badge!

Mardell Lamb
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Last seen: 1 month 3 weeks ago
Joined: Apr 22 2009 - 8:07am

Go Ed! Go Ed!! His brain might be a little "scorched" from the FL sun, but he's still a cool dude! He really is!

Ed Hartgrove
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Last seen: 2 days 52 min ago
Joined: Dec 20 2012 - 11:54am

Hi, Mardell - No scorching down here. It's only 64-degrees at the moment. Brr-r-r-r!

Mardell Lamb
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Last seen: 1 month 3 weeks ago
Joined: Apr 22 2009 - 8:07am

You poor thang! Better break out your elec. blanket tonight!

Brian Graz
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Last seen: 5 days 3 hours ago
Joined: Sep 18 2010 - 4:57pm

Well I guess it's proper that I man-up to overreacting to comments made here by Ed Hartgrove. In full disclosure Ray Cianfrini and Roger Graz are 1st cousins of mine. We all attended OACS, however they are a few years older than I, and consequently I was not at the assembly referenced.

I had a chance to briefly communicate with Ray this AM and he relayed the entire happening to me. So even though Ed had the details messed up {it was Ray's brother Dennis Cianfrini who lifted the weights easily - and I'm sure he could and did!}, the event did take place, and it was great fun according to Ray.

Not being knowledgeable of what transpired that day, going by the comment Ed posted I mistakenly felt he was trying to make a laughing stock out of my family members. I was wrong, and I apologize to you Ed.

Jason Crater
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Last seen: 10 hours ago
Joined: Aug 25 2009 - 10:01am

good on ya, Brian.

Ed Hartgrove
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Last seen: 2 days 52 min ago
Joined: Dec 20 2012 - 11:54am

Hey, Brian. Thank you for your kind words, though I understand your frustration. I try to choose my words carefully when I post here, because some people may misunderstand the meaning behind them - hence, your reaction. Trust me, there was no disrespect intended, as noted in post #9.

As Ray said, we did have fun that day in assembly. What's not to like? We were young, vibrant and OUT OF CLASS.

As I said, 53 years was a loooooong time to hold that short period of time in memory. Sorry that I got Dennis mixed up with Ray. (Please relay that to your cousins for me.)

Your post shows that you are a stand-up guy. I'm guessing that a lot of people wouldn't have done what you did. Thank you!

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