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."