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Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council

February 22, 2021 - 8:56am

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].

October 20, 2020 - 10:03am

In his fourth week as interim executive director of the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council, Jay Gsell said he is focused on networking throughout the agency’s nine counties to help the region bounce back from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gsell was back at the Old County Courthouse on Monday afternoon, in the legislative chambers – upstairs from the office where he spent one day shy of 27 years as the Genesee County manager. He retired in August and, about a month later, accepted the interim position with G/FLRPC.

During a review of the regional planning council’s recent activities for the legislature’s Public Service Committee, Gsell said a $400,000 CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant awarded to the G/FLRPC will go a long way toward “disaster and recovery planning, and resiliency planning from the pandemic but also what it is going to look like coming out on the other side.”

“We will be working closely to see what the GCEDC (Genesee County Economic Development Center) and others are doing in terms of once COVID is under control and putting that into perspective,” Gsell said. “And we will be working with the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council and others to make sure you are not duplicating effort but also how do we come together to make sure the region comes back.”

The G/FLRPC qualified for the grant through its designation as an Economic Development Administration-designated Economic Development District.

Gsell said he is working out of an office on the eighth floor of a building owned by a private developer in downtown Rochester, commuting from his Batavia home five days a week for about five to six hours per day. He said he has an open-ended contract with the agency.

“It’s really up to what the executive committee (which includes Genesee County Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein and Esther Leadley of Pavilion) and the regional board want to do as far as the time period,” said Gsell, who is temporarily filling the position that was manned by David Zorn until his retirement after about 29 years on the job.

Gsell said Zorn told him that he worked about 35 hours a week doing the basic job and spent another 30 doing “everything else.”

“Dave Zorn did a great job … now I’m starting to liaison with other agencies they deal with, and the other counties -- starting to network like Dave had done.”

Gsell said the G/FLRPC has an annual budget of around $700,000, with Genesee County providing $9,400 each year.

“It has been a flat level of county funding for a number of years and we don’t expect that to change,” Gsell said, noting that larger counties, such as Monroe, contribute more to the agency which has four full-time employees with an average tenure of about two and a half years.

He said the G/FLRPC benefits Genesee County through its work on behalf of watershed development, on comprehensive plan updates and government workshops to help local zoning officials get their mandatory hours of training every year.

“Plus, the grants that are coming in support all the counties and we also have an alliance with the Genesee Transportation Council and each of the municipal planning departments in the county,” he said.

The G/FLRPC was established in 1977 and set up “to do transportation funding, infrastructure funding, wastewater quality, environmental funding activity, and to be clearing house for grants for other organizations to help them focus on the bigger picture," Gsell said.

Counties in its original membership were Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne and Yates. Wyoming County was admitted in 1986. The nine counties in the Genesee-Finger Lakes Region comprise 4,680 square miles, with a population exceeding 1,217,000 residents.

The voting members of the Council are chief elected officials, local legislators, department heads and community leaders representing the participating counties, City of Rochester and the community at-large.

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