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February 22, 2021 - 8:56am

Regional planning council makes technological strides; virtual workshops set for April 8-May 25

More than five months into his temporary gig as executive director of the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council, Jay Gsell says the agency is embracing technology while he continues to adjust his management style in a COVID-19-induced “virtual” setting.

Gsell, who served as Genesee County manager for 27 years prior to his retirement last summer, signed a six-month contract to run the G/FLRPC while its executive board searched for a permanent replacement for David Zorn, who retired after about 29 years of service.

Working out of an office in downtown Rochester, Gsell said the G/FLRPC has overcome personnel changes and the inability to have all employees together on a regular basis to make strides in several areas.

“It’s sort of a weird dynamic,” Gsell said, speaking of his staff of skilled planners and the planners and technical people from the nine counties – including Genesee -- and City of Rochester that support the agency. “It’s a heterogeneous group, and that makes for a good commitment and they play off each other very well in terms of advice and cooperation, especially in the COVID-19 environment.”

Gsell said he had to scramble at the outset as two of the four employees left for other jobs, while another staff member started at the same time that he did. A grant enabled him to hire another employee.

“We had to get through that kind of stuff, but since then we have been converting everything to electronic records,” he said. “Now, everything can be handled online; the backup for all the information is getting more digital rather than paper. We starting to winnow through all the paperwork and getting rid of a lot of things that have been there for 25 years.”

Gsell said the executive board, which includes Treasurer Rochelle Stein, chair of the Genesee County Legislature, prioritized policy and procedural changes relating to the use of technology.

Beyond digitizing its records, the agency contracted with a web development company to update its website (www.gflrpc.org) and started populating it with more detailed and current information.

“Just like any municipal government organization, we tend to be a little behind when it comes to those areas,” Gsell said, giving credit to Emily Royce, a staff planner who resides in Orleans County, for her role in keeping the website up to date.

Still, arranging staff meetings have been a bit of a challenge, Gsell said.

“All of the virtual activity that’s going on. I’ve got five staff members, each one coming into the office one day a week, and they do all the rest of their stuff pretty much remotely,” he said, joking that they are meshing well “although I’m old enough to be the grandfather of some of these staff people.”

Gsell’s agreement with the G/FLRPC ends on March 31, but chances are that he will continue as the interim director.

“As the date approaches, the executive committee will discuss where the organization is and if a new full-time executive director is in the offing,” he said.

The G/FLRPC serves its member municipalities by identifying and informing them of issues and opportunities concerning their physical, economic and social health. It, in turn, provides forums for discussion, debate, and consensus building, and develops a focused action plan that includes programming, personnel and funding.

In governmental news related to the G/FLRPC:

  • The Genesee County Legislature, at its meeting on Wednesday, is expected to vote in favor of appropriating $9,970 to support the agency’s work. This amount has not changed for the past 18 years.

Funding is contingent upon the planning council securing $500,000 worth of performance blanket bond coverage for officers and employees, which is part of another resolution on the legislature’s meeting agenda this week.

All told, the nine counties and City of Rochester provide $94,000 annually to the planning council.

  • The G/FLRPC will be hosting local government workshop online sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. from April 8 through May 25.

Topics include Planning Board Overview, Clean Energy Communities, Solar Energy Facility Planning and Siting, Invasive Plants, Recognizing Indigenous People in Planning and Land Use, New York’s Quirky System of Local Government and Hot Topics in Planning.

Useful to planning and zoning board members and municipal employees in cities, towns and villages, the workshops are free, but registration is required. For more information, go to www.gflrpc.org or send an email to Jason Haremza at:  [email protected].

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