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Jay Gsell

September 11, 2020 - 12:05pm

The executive committee of the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council is setting its sights on hiring recently retired Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell as the organization’s interim executive director.

Although contractual details have yet to be finalized, all signs point toward Gsell, who retired last month after 27 years as the county’s chief administrative officer, stepping into the G/FLRPC position until a permanent replacement is found for current Executive Director David Zorn.

Zorn has announced that he will be retiring after about 29 years of service at the end of this month.

“We have yet to have him sign on the dotted line, but we are very excited for the opportunity for him to work with us and for us, and to shape our future,” said Rochelle Stein, G/FLRPC treasurer, this morning. “He brings a lot of energy and a lot of positivity … we’re just absolutely thrilled.”

Stein said the agency is looking for Gsell to work for three to six months with the focus on reviewing its policies, procedures and practices, and making recommendations to “put ourselves into that 21st, 22nd century (functionality).”

“This is an opportunity to take a look at the regional planning council, at our function, at our form – to make sure all of our counties and cities are getting what they want for their participation and membership,” she said.

Stein, the Genesee County Legislature chair, pointed to Gsell’s track record of success and mentioned that the G/FLRPC is fortunate to bring someone with his experience and contacts on board.

“With that in mind we elected to put in an interim director instead of immediately seeking a replacement,” she said. “It was fortuitous for us in that Jay’s retirement fell when it did. Jay has a great depth of knowledge as to the value of the planning council and the membership and the region.”

She said that they are giving him a “list of ideas and topics that we want him to work on to assure ourselves as we’re going forward that we are meeting the needs of our partners and constituents, and, of course, our planners and economic development people and our transportation people.”

“We’re just looking for him to really be the face for now of a change for us, and (the) updating and modernizing of how we work and what we work at. Not in a negative way, but in a positive, stepping forward way.”

Gsell said he appreciates being considered for the job, noting that he will be meeting with the executive committee in the near future to hopefully make it official.

“I guess you could look at it as sort of a ‘refresh’ of an organization,” he said. “Dave has been there a long time and kudos to him for his service. So, in the transition this is an opportunity for a regional organization to take a look at itself and that is what I will be helping to do.”

Other members of the executive committee are Chair Timothy Cutler, Yates County, chair; Vice Chair Tracy DiFlorio, Monroe County; and Secretary Zorn, who works out of the G/FLRPC office in Rochester.

Stein said that Genesee County contributes just under $10,000 annually to belong to the council, a fee that hasn’t changed in 10 years, which goes toward regional project administration and personnel expenses. She added that since Gsell is in the New York State retirement system, he is limited to $30,000 annually if he takes another public employment position.

“Quite frankly, we are getting a bargain with Jay’s experience and background,” she offered.

The G/FLRPC is represented by government and civic leaders from nine counties and the City of Rochester.

Its mission, according to its website, is to identify, define, and inform its member counties of issues and opportunities critical to the physical, economic, and social health of the region. It provides forums for discussion, debate, and consensus building, and develops and implements a focused action plan with clearly defined outcomes, which include programs, personnel, and funding.

Stein said regional projects center around planning, transportation, economic development and, when applicable, the census.

“On the planning side, if there are projects that need to be reviewed or planned for -- like the Walkable Communities Grant that Bergen and the City of Batavia received, where would you put a textured, drop-down apron for your pedestrian crossing so that you could accommodate people with disabilities? That was one of the grant-funded opportunities that came through the G/FLPC,” she said.

The council provides training for local planning and zoning board members and code officers in the county, she said.

August 14, 2020 - 7:15pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, Jay Gsell, genesee county.

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While no longer on the payroll, outgoing Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell gave himself a new title as he bid farewell this afternoon at a ceremony attended by about 50 dignitaries, current and former legislators, local government colleagues and friends in front of the steps of the Old County Courthouse.

Gsell, directing his remarks to City Council members Eugene Jankowski Jr. and Kathleen Briggs, said that “Geno, since I walk the streets of Batavia on a regular basis, I’m on weed patrol now. So, Kathy (Briggs) you don’t have to worry about sending the city crews out. I’ll take care of this side – you get them to just do the Southside, and we’ll be good.”

The 45-minute event marked the end of a 27-year (actually 26 years and 364 days) career as the county’s chief administrative officer – a tenure that saw the county grow exponentially under Gsell’s guidance, energy and optimism.

After the presentation of proclamations, commendations and gifts, Gsell and his wife, Ann Marie, led a balloon launching, which served as a touching tribute to their daughter, Claire, who passed away in March 2009 at the age of 27.

“It was going to be her 28th birthday (on Sept. 6), so we decided that every year we would put 27 balloons out,” Gsell said. “In this case, we’re going to do it now. We figured why not, this is our favorite place.”

Getting 'Guidance' from Mary Pat

In a four-and-a-half-minute speech that capped the festivities – remarkably short for the effusive New Jersey native, Gsell talked about his daughter’s driving experiences, recalled meeting (the late legislator) Florence Gioia when he was about to be hired in 1993, expressed his pride in the team that leads the county and assured all that he and Ann Marie were in Batavia to stay.

“As it turns out, her (Claire) consistent guidance at Batavia High School was (guidance counselor) Mary Pat Hancock, and we always knew when we got a phone call, it was because Claire had gone to her first before coming to us with regard to what was or was not appropriate – including wrecking a car and also hitting somebody else in the parking lot. In fact, I think it was B.R. DeWitt’s wife,” Gsell remembered.

Hancock was the legislature chair when Gsell was hired and was one of today’s guest speakers, along with U.S. Congressman Chris Jacobs, State Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, State Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, City Council President Jankowski, NYS Association of Counties President Jack Marren, current Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein and former Legislature Chair Robert Bausch.

Gsell said Claire went to Hancock first “to break the ice” before informing them of what had transpired.

“And, also, Rosalie Maguire, our insurance agent (who also was in attendance) had to keep changing the cars that were in our portfolio because Claire went through six cars in five years at one point,” he said. “She never got hurt except when one of our sheriff’s (deputies) had to actually pull up to her on Dodgeson Road and her car was facing the opposite direction from where she was headed to Darien Lake to work out there.

“She went to avoid a squirrel and ending up wrapping herself around a tree. So, needless to say, Frank Falleti (of Falleti Motors) was also our best friend as far as cars were concerned.”

Teamwork: 'It's How I was Raised'

Gsell said he knew he made the right choice when taking the Genesee County job – “the teamwork and cooperation, and how we get things done. This is really what I wanted to do. It’s how I was raised and also we as a group … things are in good hands with Matt (Landers, his successor); Vicki (Muckle, executive assistant to the county manager), and Tammi (Ferringer, recently appointed assistant county manager).”

As far as life after retirement, Gsell said “we call this home.”

“People keep saying, ‘So where are you going next? When’s the for sale sign (going up).’ There’s no for sale sign. The house is paid off, the dogs are happy, Ann Marie is reasonably happy except when I get anywhere near the television or the remotes, and as far we’re concerned, Genesee County and the City of Batavia are home, plain and simple,” he said.

Ann Marie took a few minutes to affectionately “roast” her husband, rattling off a number of his idiosyncrasies, including his technological impairment when it comes to Wi-Fi and TV remotes – “We call his TV chair the handicap parking spot,” she joked – and compulsive clearing of the dishes before people are done eating.

On a serious note, she went back 44 years ago when she was a single mother.

“I was a single mom with a 2 ½-year-old son and I couldn’t have chosen a better dad for my son,” she said, speaking of Christopher, who lives in Brooklyn.

Now It's on to the Next Chapter

Jay Gsell acknowledged that things will be “different come Monday, for the first time in 46-plus years.”

“And I’m not sure how I’ll react to that, but I think I will find a way,” he said. “And I know there are certain things like United Way and Rotary (Club) and also HomeCare & Hospice that will keep me busy at least on a volunteer basis.”

In closing, Gsell, who turns 69 on Saturday, said it was an honor to serve in Genesee County and the City of Batavia.

“We’re still going to be here, just know that – and again I can’t thank you enough,” he said. “It has been an honor and a privilege to work for this public sector government here for pretty much more than half of my career. So, thank you, thank you and thank you.”

Tributes from State, Local Lawmakers

  • Marren presented Gsell with a mirror, coffee cups and a T-shirt with the words “Whisper words of wisdom … Let it be” on the front.
  • Ranzenhofer mentioned Gsell’s expertise in working on the county water project, and extended the hope for “a great retirement with days filled with pleasure and joy.”
  • Jacobs congratulated him on his “career of service in professional governing and the many other things you do for the community.”
  • Hawley harkened back to the “Men of Rotary” calendar before saying that “no one has given more service to the Rotary Club and to the community than Jay Gsell. ... The guy is a workaholic … and an asset to the community,” he said.
  • Jankowski said he will miss Gsell’s “enthusiasm and energy” and thanked him for helping the city whenever it needed help.
  • Stein, calling it a special day for us, said “we all appreciate who he is and all he has done for our lives,” noting that Gsell served under six legislative chairs and 39 different legislators. “He wore us down with his enthusiasm and ability to keep going,” she said.
  • Hancock recalled realizing Gsell’s professional experience, education and moral fiber during the interview process, “but we had no idea about the energy. ... He certainly was the man for the job, and he put his heart and soul into it,” she said, adding that she hopes Gsell starts his retirement with a nap.
  • Bausch applauded Gsell for moving the county forward, mentioning Genesee Community College, the County Court Facility, Genesee County Airport, bringing water into the county and overall economic development.

Previously: Jay Gsell, 'Dean' of county managers, enters final week of his distinguished career

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Photo at top: Jay and Ann Marie Gsell standing next to a chair, specially hand-painted for the occasion by Batavian Ed Leising; Photos at bottom in order -- Gsell (at right) and others releasing balloons in memory of the Gsell's daughter, Claire; U.S. Congressman Chris Jacobs congratulating Gsell; Batavia Police Chief Shawn Heubusch, left, and Fire Chief Stefano Napolitano sharing a moment with Gsell; Assemblyman Stephen Hawley and Mary Pat Hancock with the Gsells and the flowers presented to Ann Marie.

Photos by Mike Pettinella.

August 10, 2020 - 10:26am
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Jay Gsell, county manager, genesee county legislature.

3-7-20_chamberawards_146.jpgAfter living and working in six different cities in six different states over a 19-year period, the Jay Gsell family rolled into Batavia in 1993 with the head of the household in contention for the vacant Genesee County manager’s job.

Twenty-seven years later, and just five days away from completing a distinguished career as the county’s chief administrative officer, Gsell recalls with clarity the 48 hours that resulted in his hiring to succeed Charles Meyer, who had served 11 years as Genesee’s first county manager.

“We had been three years, which seemed like six, in Marshalltown, Iowa, and then there was a conscious decision by my wife (Ann Marie) and I that we wanted to come back east, because we’re both from New Jersey and I felt more comfortable in that setting,” he said.

“Obviously, our daughter (Claire) was just getting ready to go into middle school and we wanted to go somewhere and stay long enough to get her through high school. And, lo and behold, we’re still here.”

Gsell is retiring on Friday – the day before his 69th birthday.

Looking back, he said he had applied for a number of jobs, interviewed for a couple and turned down one or two prior to setting his sights on Genesee County.

“I think there were 70 candidates and they cut it down to 10 finalists, and then the 10 of us came and were interviewed over a day and a half,” he said. “It was over in the Batavia Club (now GO ART! on East Main Street) by various groups of citizens and legislators and city council people, and that kind of stuff. We went from room to room to be interviewed.”

He said after interviewing, he went back to Iowa and received a call from Carl Perkowski, the county legislative chair.

“I actually was in Des Moines at the time because my wife was doing a regional theater show there,” Gsell said. “He made the offer on the phone, we talked about it and agreed that if it happens, let’s do it.”

The ‘Interloper’ Meets Florence Gioia

The date was on Aug. 13 or 14, Gsell said, and he was at the Old County Courthouse waiting for the legislature to vote.

“I’m upstairs in the legislative chambers and the resolution is there. (The late legislator) Florence Gioia is in the audience, and complaining about where did they find this interloper and carpetbagger, and why couldn’t they find somebody local to be the next county manager,” Gsell recalled. “And so, I’m sitting there over on the side, and after she did her little piece – and she was in that yellow slicker that she always wore – I just raised my hand, and said, ‘Hi, Miss Gioia. I’m that interloper.’ ”

Gsell’s eyes lit up at this point and, while laughing his signature laugh, he added, “And the rest as they say, is history.”

A product of New Jersey (the northern counties of Passaic and Essex), Gsell is the oldest of five and actually is a Junior, although he doesn’t use the Jr. after his name. Just as in the early days of his professional life, he moved around a lot while growing up.

“Every time there was another kid, we moved to another house,” he said.

He graduated from Seton Hall Prep School on the campus of Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., and earned a track scholarship to the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. In fact, he was a scholarship athlete in high school, as an undergraduate and in graduate school, clocking personal best times of 9:02 in the steeplechase (his primary event) and 4:09 in the mile.

Getting ‘On Track’ for a Master’s Degree

Gsell’s success as a runner played a key role in his enrollment at American University, where he earned his master’s degree in public administration in 1974.

“Glenn Wood, a friend of mine who was at that time the world-record holder in the mile in the senior age 40-plus division and a professor at American University, said you ought to come here, we have a good public administration program. So, I said, what does that entail? And then he said we also need an assistant coach for the track and cross-country teams.”

That was enough to persuade Gsell to head for Washington, D.C., where he attended school at night, worked during the day and ran two and a half hours a day with his contemporaries while coaching them as well.

“I did this for 18 months, got my master’s degree and then I set out to try and get a real job,” he said.

Following an internship in Richmond, Va., and a regional government post in the nation’s capital, Gsell took on several real jobs over the next 19 years – starting as a city budget analyst in Trenton, N.J., where he met his wife, and then on to city management roles in North Shores, Mich.; Eau Claire, Wis.; Winchester, Conn.; Cumberland, Md., and Marshalltown, Iowa.

Gsell said that the mindset of municipal government officials at that time was of a nomadic nature.

“I wasn’t probably going to set down my roots in one of those first four or five communities that we lived in and moved to,” he said. “It was my psychosis or my psychology that said, ‘I gotta move; it’s just going to happen.’ ”

No Giving in to Ralph Nader

While in Connecticut, Gsell recalled an interaction with famed political activist/consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who lived in Winchester.

“I met Ralph Nader twice, personally. He came into my office to complain that his old grammar school was being renovated and he didn’t like the way they were doing it,” he said. “He thought that because the school budget was part of the town/city budget, he felt that I could go in and just tell the superintendent and the board of education that you’re not going to do that. I respectfully disagreed with him.

“But it’s interesting that when you walk in and see this icon sitting in your office, I was like, ‘What the heck did I do?’ You genuflect, and ask 'where’s the holy water?' ”

Gsell said that every stop prior to Batavia proved to be a learning experience (he cut his teeth dealing with the media while serving as the assistant city manager in Eau Claire) and he is proud to say that he left each location on his own terms and on good terms.

The Genesee County manager job proved to be his first and only county government position.

“For me, it was a matter if I was going to break the mold of moving frequently, either going to larger governments or on to a different challenge,” he said. “Leaving local government at the town, village and city levels and moving to a county was going to be, for me, somewhat unique. But in hindsight, it was a great move.”

Gsell has made his mark both professionally and as an active member in civic organizations, such as the Rotary Club, United Way, HomeCare & Hospice, Chamber of Commerce. Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Leadership Genesee and the Genesee Area YMCA.

Finding a Home on Washington Avenue

He and his wife have lived on Washington Avenue in Batavia, not far from the Batavia Middle School, for the entire time.

We’ve never lived in the same house as long as we have in Batavia, neither of us, even when growing up,” he said. “We must have looked at 18 houses in a day and a half. I think it was the last house we saw. We saw nothing in Le Roy. Everything was either from Stafford, west. As soon as Ann Marie walked in and saw the woodwork and everything else, she said this is the house.”

In time, Jay, Ann Marie and Claire realized that Batavia would be their permanent home.

“I think it was between conversations with my wife and daughter, after Claire graduated from Batavia High in 1999, that it was pretty clear at that point,” he said. “I thought, OK what else is it that I would want to accomplish that I couldn’t do here? It really became then that this would be where we set our roots down.”

Gsell said his son, Christopher, who he had adopted when he was in the third grade, had moved out to California to spend some time with his biological father. Today, Christopher, 45, is chief creative officer for Halo Media LL, and lives in Brooklyn with his wife.

Tragedy struck the family on March 22, 2009, when Claire, passed away at the age of 27.

“She had been working in a pretrial services program in Monroe County toward her goal of becoming a probation officer, and two weeks later (following her death), we got a letter stating that they wanted her to work there in that capacity,” Gsell said. “She really wanted that job. This would have made her day.”

Aa 2003 graduate of the State University of New York at Oswego with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, Claire also worked part time at DePaul.

“As my wife always says, ‘Man plans and God laughs,’ ” Gsell said, indicating a strong faith has sustained them in their loss.

Unloading the Nursing Home was a Big One

Reflecting upon his career in Genesee County, Gsell said priorities included adopting “consistent and well-funded budgets that were balanced so we weren’t living on the edge in terms of revenue assumptions” and making wise decisions about county facilities, specifically mentioning the county-owned airport, courts facility and former nursing home.

“We’ve spent almost $30 million at the County Airport, most of which has been federal and state money, and turned that into a Class A reliever airport under the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and state guidelines in the regional pattern,” he said. “And we sold the nursing home for $15.2 million to Premier Healthcare to stop the bleeding. Fortunately, Premier is in the business of operating nursing homes. It still is the owner and they own the one in Le Roy, too.”

He said the county had been operating the nursing home at an average annual deficit of about $2 million for eight years prior to unloading it in 2017.

“We used about $5 million of the sale to settle obligations while we still owned the facility,” he said. “As far as profit, not even close as the nursing home owed money to the county’s general fund.”

Gsell said the 52,000-square-foot, two-story Genesee County Court Facility on Ellicott Street (across from his office on the lower floor of the Old Courthouse) has served its purpose, but he wishes it had two more stories.

“If that were the case, it would have been city and county law enforcement with dispatch on the first floor and you go up from there,” he said. “All criminal justice would have been located in one place, and we would have had more storage in the building. I guess that constraints at the time were such that it just wasn’t in the cards.”

Gsell: City Police Should Be on Park Road

Gsell also said that the City of Batavia should have partnered with the county about 10 years ago on what is now the county sheriff’s office on Park Road.

We tried numerous times to pull that off. We spent a lot of time going back and forth – where to locate it. Just for the sheriff’s administration building, we were all over the City of Batavia, looking at various sites, working with consultants as to where to put the two together,” he said. “As it turns out, we at least accomplished consolidated dispatch, which even to this day is not universal in the State of New York as far as counties and relatively larger cities.”

He said about 20 sites, all inside the city, were considered for a combined city/sheriff’s police building.

“Finally, the county, seeing the reluctance from the city, had to do something. As it turned out, we worked with the city and the VA Medical Center to use the Park Road site because the city actually owned that property, which was within the city limits,” he explained. “That was one of the opportunities that was missed -- for us to put our two law enforcement entities completely together.”

Gsell said much progress has been made in bringing water to the county, through a long-standing agreement with the Monroe County Water Authority and recent connections with the Erie County Water Authority; in the area of shared services with towns and neighboring counties; and on a new state-mandated county jail that has been “paused” by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We were ready to put that sucker out for bid late last year and all of a sudden COVID-19,” he said. “Now, we’re exploring a joint jail with Orleans County, which would need approval from the state legislature. The need is not any less -- it’s the ability to determine what the right size is as well as where the financing will come from because our sales tax has taken such a hit.”

He’s Known as ‘The Dean’ to His Colleagues

Gsell said his job has been made much easier over the years thanks to consistently strong legislatures and the constant communication with other county managers and administrators throughout the state.

“We’ve always had very good legislators … good people to work with,” he said. “Plus, I am thankful to have made close friends with colleagues; people who rely on each other and network with each other every day.”

One of those people is Shaun Groden, Greene County administrator and president of the New York State Association of County Administrators and Managers. 

“Jay is the dean of New York State county managers, partially from his tenure but primarily through his expertise,” Groden said. “He always is able to dissect the issue, and he has a rabid sense of humor, too.”

Groden said administrators seek feedback and advice from one another via a listserv (electronic mailing list), and all value Gsell’s opinions.

“Jay would often add his two cents and it was typically humorous as well as insightful,” he said. “Just the other week, his response was both comedic and right on point. I am going to miss these comments.”

A Trip to Italy; Remembering Barber Conable

At the end of this work week, Gsell will turn the managerial reins over to Matt Landers, his assistant for the past six years. He said he is leaving the county in good hands.

“It’s what our legislative body and our team here is all about – a very professional local government organization that respects tenure as far as employees are concerned, understands the serious nature of what it is we do … and as far as the succession process, we try to build that into a lot of our departments so when an opportunity occurs, we can promote from within,” he offered.

Gsell said he will continue to stay involved in the community and that he and Ann Marie may do some traveling once coronavirus-related restrictions are eased.

“Ann’s only family is her nephew, Brian, down on the Jersey Shore. He’s about the only person we could go visit right now. My siblings are in North Carolina or Virginia, and we can’t go see them right now,” he said. “My other sister lives in Michigan with her husband and three kids.”

He said his wife wants to go back to Italy. “She’s 110-percent Italian,” he quipped.

“Ann Marie has been all over the place when she worked as the first female tech for Dow Jones, making sure the ticker tape machines were working at the brokerages,” he said. “Me, I’ve been to Canada, that’s it.”

Travel plans aside, he says he takes great satisfaction in completing the task before him and being able to forge so many lasting relationships. And he considers himself blessed to have met a particular congressman who was born in the Wyoming County Village of Warsaw and lived in the Genesee County Village of Alexander.

“The fact that I got to meet the real Barber Conable, up close and personal, to me was at the top of my list, all things considered,” he said. “When I was in high school that’s when he was at his ascendancy in the Congress – the most respected congressperson of that era in Washington, D.C., during Watergate.

“Who gets to call that part of their legacy? Barber was it. I met him in that Saturday morning coffee klatch over at Karl Buchholtz’s place (Genesee Hardware) on Ellicott Street, and I was thinking to myself, ‘Holy crap, Barber Conable! Really, really?’ That’s almost as good as my Lou Holtz (head football coach at the College of William & Mary from 1969-71) moment.”

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At top, photo by Genesee County Chamber of Commerce; Gsell in his office at the Old County Courthouse, photo by Howard Owens; Gsell (in back row, second from the right) as a freshman member of The College of William & Mary track team, submitted photo.

August 5, 2020 - 7:39pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Jay Gsell, genesee county, batavia, Batavia Rotary Club, news.

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In honor of the retirement of Jay Gsell's retirement as county manager, the Batavia Rotary Club -- he's a member -- has purchased yard signs and they've been distributed around the city.

Gsell will be guest on a special hour-long segment of WBTA's Main and Center tomorrow morning (Thursday), from 9 to 10 a.m.

July 24, 2020 - 3:10pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Jay Gsell, county legislature, news, video.
Video Sponsor

Soon-to-be "former" County Manager Jay Gsell attended his last Legislature meeting in that role on Wednesday and was honored with a commendation from the members of the body.

Gsell retires at the end of the month after 27 years on the job.

Here is the text of commendation:

WHEREAS, Jay A. Gsell has dutifully served Genesee County for twenty-six years and three hundred and sixty-four days as County Manager beginning August 15, 1993, when his appointment became effective; And  

WHEREAS, Immediately upon his appointment, Jay applied his education and vast municipal experience to his position of county manager while immersing himself in the Genesee County community; And

WHEREAS, Jay has brought passion and energy, a positive “can-do” attitude and undying enthusiasm to the County where he served as a beacon during socially, economically, and personally challenging times; And

WHEREAS, Jay maintained a healthy respect for the delicate balance of providing quality affordable services while adhering to ever-expanding state mandates while working for thirty nine different legislators and six different legislative chairs: And

WHEREAS, During his tenure as county manager several magnanimous projects were completed; construction of a new court facility, county-wide water project, upgrades, and enhancements to the County Airport, forty-year sales tax agreement, as well as shared services initiatives, enhanced relationships with businesses and schools to name a few, and

WHEREAS, Through his unwavering commitment to community, Jay has deservedly received awards and recognition for his participation and service from the Chamber of Commerce, GCASA, United Way, HomeCare & Hospice, Rotary Club of Batavia, Leadership Genesee and YMCA, Now, Therefore Be It

RESOLVED, The Genesee County Legislature does hereby pause in its deliberations to honor and congratulate Jay A. Gsell upon the occasion of his retirement and Be it further,

RESOLVED, That heartfelt wishes are extended to Jay and his wife, Ann Marie for a retirement abundant with good health and happiness for many years to come.

May 13, 2020 - 12:14pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, HEROES Act, Genesee County manager, Jay Gsell.

Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell is at the front of the line when it comes to calling for the federal government to provide monetary relief to cash-strapped local municipalities but, at first glance, he’s thinks the latest $3 trillion stimulus plan may have gone too far.

“I think it is a bit of an overreach – although I haven’t read between the lines – and (observe) that the Republican Senate and White House are not exactly lining up anymore with fed stim 4,” Gsell said this morning in response to the 1,815-page bill proposal released on Tuesday night by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The bill, called the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, is a $3 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that includes $915 million for state and local governments and additional $1,200 checks for individuals (up to $6,000 per family).

It also would provide an extra $600 a week federal unemployment benefit through Jan. 31 – an extra disbursement that was supposed to run out at the end of July.

Additional benefits of the bill include billions for essential workers’ “hazard pay,” coronavirus testing, U.S. Postal Service, the Payroll Protection Program, pandemic-era voting challenges in November, and hospitals and health care providers.

Another $1.2 billion is earmarked for police departments for salaries and equipment, and state and federal prisons.

View the entire bill here.

Batavia City Manager Martin Moore said he wasn’t sure how the proposed legislation would end up, but he’s all in on support for counties, cities, towns and villages.

“Any help that we can get will surely be welcome … especially given the unfunded mandates that we have to deal with and the reduced revenues,” he said. “(Another federal stimulus) would not only help us this year, but with next year’s budget as well.”

Gsell said the overarching parameters of the bill likely will be challenged by Republicans and President Trump, and pointed to an erroneous report in The New York Times that could make it even more difficult for it to pass.

“A reporter from The New York Times put New York in the same boat as Illinois and California, writing that New York is asking for a bailout of its state pension funds. That is a fallacy. This state’s retirement system is not in financial ruin; in fact, it is 96-percent funded, which is a platinum standard.”

He said the result of that report is that Senate Republicans and the White House perceive that all states with Democratic governors and looking for handouts to bail out their pension systems.

Gsell said New York’s counties see another stimulus as a “vital measure to bridge the gap” caused by significantly reduced sales tax and, potentially, state aid reimbursement. And, he said, time is of the essence.

“Getting relief relatively soon, this month, is vital, but it may not occur to June and July,” he said. “That won’t bode well for our workforce … and getting a sense of what is the new normal.”

He said there are a couple other bills out there, including one supported by Sen. Charles Schumer “which I think may have a better chance than this Pelosi bill.”

“When it goes from $1 trillion to $3 trillion, that’s a big jump, and any attempt at consensus-building gets blown up,” Gsell said. “Then it ends up being every Congressperson for himself, with many taking a wait-and-see attitude until after the economy opens up.”

May 6, 2020 - 2:58pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, genesee county, Jay Gsell, covid-19.

For nearly eight weeks, the nation’s economy has been ravaged by the coronavirus, making the phrase “business as usual” a thing of the past, at least for the foreseeable future.

Governmental leaders are facing momentous decisions pertaining to expenditures -- weighing what is absolutely necessary against what can wait until the smoke clears.

And business sectors such as furniture, gasoline, clothing, sporting goods, department stores and food service are experiencing sales decreases of 25 percent and more.

As New York State inches closer to the first of four phases to reopen the economy, The Batavian reached out to Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell today with five important questions – a “Q&A with Jay,” if you will – to provide readers with the current state of affairs at the local level.

What is Genesee County doing to prepare for town and village reopening?

The towns and villages and city and county are under the same general 50/50 essential workforce everybody else is pretty much either working from home or at home and so we've been working on that basis. Certain parts of our workforce and some of the other communities like the City and the Village of Le Roy, we have law enforcement and those kind of things, our health department and our EMS department. None of them have been, quote, unquote, not working.

Overall, the goal was to have the 50/50 proposition almost right out of the gate as far as the state was concerned. We've all been following that. Now, as we're starting to prepare for May 15th, every Saturday morning we have a conference call with all of the local elected officials, the City, towns and villages, county legislators and (Assistant Manager) Matt (Landers) and myself, (Health Director) Paul Pettit and (Emergency Management Services Coordinator) Tim Yaeger to just get a status report on what's going on. That's starting to focus on what kind of return to work guidance is there. It really doesn't seem to differ except for those of us who have highway departments because we can bring them back now anyway because they're considered both essential and also construction activity kind of projects.

Our county highway department came back full force this week, our facilities management people also -- half of them were staying home, week on week off -- the towns and villages and City are starting to look at changing that also and again following all the protocol. So that's why all of our conference calls on Saturday start with the public health director and with the emergency management people -- Do they need resources? Do they need masks and face coverings? Do they need PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and gloves and things like that? We try to do what we can to get that stuff in their hands -- distributing massive quantities of that kind of stuff to the extent that it's available.

And we also have to follow all the state guidelines with regard to social distancing, protective equipment, washing hands, not touching face. Even as we start to bring and plan for our office people and DSS (Department of Social Services) and Mental Health people, starting to bring them back in much greater numbers, we all have to have a plan to protect them and to deal with our clients and the customers.

At this point (furloughed employees) will not return for the first 30 days -- and that's presuming that May 15th is the date. Even the recovery restart, even in a region like Finger Lakes, could take upwards of a month just to get through the phases that they've outlined as to which businesses can or can't come back. We are putting together our internal plan ... for both our workforce and the public will deal with each other going forward.

How is Genesee County supporting the work of the City, neighboring counties?

I have daily conversations with (City Manager) Marty Moore and our department people communicate with each other – Human Resources, assistant county and assistant city manager, people like that -- and also with the counties and the whole statewide association, NYSAC (New York State Association of Counties), which has been very engaged. There's at least one or two or sometimes three phone calls a week with regard to what the rest of us are doing.

Sharing plans, sharing information -- we do that ad nauseum. It's not academia so plagiarism is not really a concern. If somebody's got a good plan, we just do it -- take from each other and those kind of things. So, we've been doing that consistently right from the get-go. Our friends from NYSAC from a statewide standpoint and us have interacted and interfaced with the governor's office and his executive staff that are out at this end of the state ... and in Albany, there's a daily COVID-19 conference call and it's been that way for the last five or six weeks.

That gives us information but also allows us to ask questions -- could you check this out and could you dispel this myth? -- things of that nature. When we get clarity, we pass that on to others of us who are of that (mindset) "inquiring minds want to know."

As specifically as possible, what is the fiscal impact of the pandemic upon Genesee County?

That's a really big unknown ... Right now, it has been suggested by our NYSAC colleagues that we can see anywhere from a 5 to a 25 percent reduction in sales tax, starting probably in the reporting period that covers the month of April going forward, but we don't know that yet. So, that could be anywhere from $3.6 million to $11 million in potential lost revenue just in 2020 in the county for sales tax.

Then we've lost DMV (Department of Motor Vehicle) revenue -- already probably about $80,000 of what we get to keep from the hundreds of thousands of dollars that we normally process on a monthly basis just in the first three months since this started. Mental Health has lost about $96,000 in billable hours of service. Now, they're still doing tele-health and in some emergency cases, they're still dealing directly with clients, but there has been a significant loss as far as contact, in terms of therapies and other things that, again, has been quantified to the tune of about $96,000 year to date from March 1st.

Same thing, I know the county treasurer in regard to what he has invested. There have obviously been lost earning opportunities with our investment portfolio through the three+one program that (County Treasurer) Scott (German) has been using for the past couple years. And there are other fees and charges such as health department fees for events like the Rotary pancake breakfast where charges for permits are incurred. Events that have been cancelled will mean a loss of revenue there; we haven't quantified that yet because really the start hasn't happened.

Even park reservations -- that's a really big thing. We'd like to think that after May 15th we'll see some pick up there, but again with all the conditions and the protocols, it will not likely be what it's been in years past as far as the number of reservations and the finances that go with that.

How is Genesee County bracing for cuts in revenue and state reimbursement?

We have put on hold or rolled over to another year probably about a million dollars’ worth in the county highway department, basically capital projects and activities that (County Highway Director) Tim (Hens) and company were going to be engaged in during this 2020 calendar year.

The uncertainty there -- in addition to that and including some airport construction -- is how much of the CHIPS (Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program) funding and the extreme weather funding that was in the New York State budget that was adopted on April 1st, how much if any of that gets reduced when the governor and the budget director come out -- probably this week -- with their first hit. Loss of state revenue means loss of state aid to everybody else. That's a really big unknown.

Plus, we’ve got 48 people approximately on furlough and we have another 44 positions on the strategic hiring freeze; together those things represent about $200,000 a month in expenses we're not incurring. And we're also looking at what else we can do to rein in other expenses.

It's on multiple fronts and this is just to get through the next 30, 60, 90 days. Then when we start putting together a 2021 budget, things may carry on from here right into that process and throughout that year.

How important is the need for federal funding for Genesee and other counties in New York State?

That's for all local governments because there is a palpable loss of revenue. The way that the (federal stimulus) 4.0 is apparently being structured, there will be the opportunity for New York State county governments, city governments, and town and village governments who are not part of the CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) entitlement program in this next round of stimulus funding to actually receive direct aid -- not going through the State of New York, but direct aid because of the fed stim 4.

So, what that could mean, obviously is, to a certain extent based on the figures we just talked about, some part of those would be potentially backdropped (to local governments) by virtue of this federal stimulus money. The problem is ... we have a range of options. You can go from just getting a crew cut in terms of revenue loss to a literal beheading -- and right now the beheading looks a lot more probable than the crew cut with regard to state aid, state reimbursement, loss of sales tax and what may or may not be coming out of the federal stimulus program. That's something that hopefully we will know by the end of the month of May.

But even today as you look at the back and forth between the federal government and the House versus the Senate, and in some cases, the governors, it's very partisan and quite ugly with regard as to where do we fit in to what is supposed to be a revenue replacement program coming out of fed stim 4.

To summarize, there are significant cautions and concerns out there, and there are a few opportunities and hopeful horizons. We are planning for the worst and hoping for the best.

February 28, 2020 - 6:21pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, news, notify, Jay Gsell, matt landers.

Press release:

At the Feb. 26th Legislature meeting, County Manager Jay Gsell announced his plan to retire as of Aug. 14. He will have 27 years as county manager and a total of 45 years working in government.

In addition to announcing his retirement date, Gsell shared details of the succession plan, which includes Assistant County Manager Matthew Landers' appointment to the position of County Manager.

Upon earning his bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary, Gsell immediately went on to American University earning his Master of Public Administration degree.

In the late 1970s and through the 1980s, he served as assistant or city manager in the cities of Trenton, Norton Shores, Eau Claire, Winchester, Cumberland, and Marshalltown. In 1993, after rising to the top of 70 applicants from a national search, Gsell was appointed county manager by the Genesee County Legislature.

According to Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein, he has completely immersed himself in Genesee County, a place he and his wife, Ann Marie, call home.

“Jay wears many hats; county manager and budget officer, family man, member (and past president) of Rotary, United Way board member and chair of the county’s comprehensive plan committee to name a few,” Stein said.

The Legislature has met with Landers and look forward to a seamless transition.

Landers brings nearly 10 years of municipal experience beginning with a three-year stint as director of real property tax services before a promotion to deputy treasurer and in 2014 assistant county manager.

Matt and wife, Melissa, are lifelong Genesee County residents.

He attended The College at Brockport where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Accounting and Master of Public Administration. He’s an active member of Kiwanis Club, Leadership Genesee graduate and is a certified public accountant.

Landers can been seen coaching daughter Katie’s softball team or working on the fields at Lyons Park or pitching to son, Ben, at batting practice.

“We are well-positioned to maintain quality administration of our county and look forward to promoting homegrown Matt Landers to county manager,” Stein said.

CORRECTIONS: A source provided the following corrections to the press release: Landers has 16 years of municipal government experience.  He was deputy county treasurer from 2004 to 2014. During that time, he was also director of real property for three years.

March 4, 2016 - 10:50am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Chamber Awards, genesee county, Jay Gsell, news.

gsellchambermarch32016.jpg

It might seem odd that a man who has spent his entire professional career in government would distrust government, but if you understand there are different levels of government, it makes perfect sense.

And it explains why a man like Jay Gsell would use the experiences that shaped him as a youngster growing up in the 1960s to drive his chosen career path.

From the outset, Gsell avoided jobs in state and national bureaucracies and instead focused on local government, where he thought he could have the greatest impact, do the most good for the most people.

"I still have a rampant skepticism of state government and the federal government in terms of, you know, the attitudes in many cases where I don’t sense there has been a necessary evolution in many cases," Gsell said. "I like to think that what we do here at the local level, whether it’s at the city government level, a village level, town or county level, is we’ve done a lot a more, been a lot more progressive, been a lot more creative, tried to do things that work for the greater good of the greater number, with, I guess, a  sort of altruism."

Gsell's approach to his work as county manager -- a single-minded focus, dedication, and that sense of civic purpose -- is why he is the recipient of the 2015 Wolcott “Jay” Humphrey III Community Leadership Award from the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce.

Not that local government is always perfect. Gsell, after all, grew up in New Jersey.

"Where I grew up in New Jersey, it was always government is just bad, you know," Gsell said "Even today you look at it and it still happens in New Jersey.  You look at the last three or four mayors in the city of Atlantic City. It’s not only a city that is totally bankrupt, but three or four of them were indicted. It’s kind of like the governors of Illinois. There’s a Who’s Who list on the post office in Atlantic City and it has more public officials on it than it does regular criminals."

There are bad actors everywhere, of course, but the value of local government is it is the government that is closest to the people and where the average citizen can have the most impact.

As a child of the 1960s, Gsell is well acquainted with the Vietnam War and Watergate. Those towering events influenced his views on bigger governments tremendously.

In college, Gsell's English class was given an essay assignment, asking the students to share their take on the Vietnam War. Gsell's response, "Why don't we get the hell out?" The U.S. had no business being there in the first place and people were spitting on returning soldiers.

"To me, that's really where I started to say, 'wow, I’m having sort of an epiphany here' in terms of, you know, the attitude," Gsell said. "Shortly thereafter we started seeing what was going on in the next administration in Watergate and other things and it just kind of kept reinforcing the fact that those next levels, those upper levels of government were, one, not the place I wanted to work, and two, the trust factors, things of that nature, were not real high."

Gsell couldn't escape Jersey right away. He needed a place to start, and he landed a job in Trenton. While at Trenton, he completed his master's in public administration, finishing the course work in 18 months. Gsell ran track in high school and in college, so he was able to get his master's at American University at no cost by becoming a track coach at the campus.

Gsell doesn't run anymore, because of a heart condition discovered and dealt with in 2010, but he can be found most mornings on the city's streets out for long walks. It's how he prepares his mind and body for a full day of work.

From Trenton, he traveled to Norton Shores, Mich., and Eau Claire, Wis. 

He worked in both cities for an administrator named Steve Atkins, who became a career-long friend and mentor.

After several years of working together, Atkins told him it was time for him to strike out on his own, lead his own administration. Gsell went to Marshalltown, Iowa, and Atkins ended up in a new job just down the road in Iowa City.

Atkins retired five years ago, but he and Gsell still talk regularly.

"We never stopped communicating in terms of what we’ve done throughout our careers," Gsell said.

In Marshalltown, Gsell found himself inheriting a financial crisis brought on by corruption. Marshalltown's treasurer and the president of the Iowa Trust were involved in what turned out to be a Ponzi scheme that wiped out $107 million worth of investments for 88 local governments.

"We woke up one day in December of 1991 and everything was gone, except the stuff he (the president of the trust) had, the boats and houses and some of the other, shall we say, accoutrements of a high lifestyle that he still possessed," Gsell said. "The local governments were on the verge of bankruptcy."

Marshalltown itself was out $7 million.

"About a year and a half later after we recovered 95 percent of the money," Gsell said. "The city attorney and I worked together and we got rid of the city treasurer. He had her escorted out by a police. She was 15-year employee who thought that she was untouchable but I said, 'Elaine, you had to know better.' "

Even though the fiasco started before Gsell took over as the administrator in Marshalltown, the turmoil didn't leave him unscathed. After it was resolved in 1993, "it became fairly obvious that it was time for me to seek other employment."

So he applied for the open county manager's spot in Genesee County, replacing Charlie Myers, who had been on the job for 11 years -- a long time for anybody to hold a top slot in local government.  

The county started with 90 candidates and when it was reduced to 10; the final 10 were brought to the town of a series of interviews with three or four panels of local community members.

Obviously, Gsell won the job. He's been at it for 23 years and though he knows retirement can't be too far away, he has no immediate plans to stop.

He's still energized by the challenge of making local government work, even in a climate of state and federal mandates, financial restrictions and ever tighter budgets.

Among the accomplishments Gsell thinks he can point to are assisting with the consolidation of emergency dispatch and helping the city get out of the ambulance business, and now he's charged up about potentially helping the YMCA expand its programs and possibly move into a new building.

Genesee County has provided the kind of stability he expected when he took the job.

"To me, this is pretty nonpartisan at the county government level," Gsell said. "I recognized that yes, Sheriff is Republican, Country Clerk is Republican, the DA is probably a Republican, and certainly the majority of legislators. But when it comes to my job, because my code of ethics says you have to be apolitical or basically you don’t belong in this profession, that’s worked out very well here and I think this country, in general, has conducted itself in that way.

"We have a service to provide. We have to do the best for the people that we serve and also we have to keep thinking about the idea that it’s not because that you have a political persuasion or that you have a certain status in the community."

Gsell leads a healthy and sober life. He sees that sort of straight-and-narrow discipline as part of his chosen career as much as understanding the numbers behind pension plans and the complicated formula for figuring out the tax cap. He hasn't consumed an adult beverage since the day he watched O.J. Simpson in his white Bronco on an L.A. freeway in 1994. 

"You will never see me in a police blotter or blowing anything but a .000000," Gsell said. 

He's also never even touched, even in college, any recreational drugs.

"I lead a pretty pedestrian life in that regard," he said. "To me, it's part not putting myself in those situations where it's like 'oh wow, look at that. That person thinks that they could get away with stuff because of his possession and his title.' I don't run that way. Basically, you live like you wanted to be treated. That means you are pretty much clean as the driven snow. I am not perfect certainly, but I also don't put myself in situations that I think reflects on what I think should be the image of this organization and what I would like to think is my personal persona in the community."

Gsell has served on the Board of Directors for United Way in every community he's worked. He's also active in Rotary, as well as other community organizations over the years. Community involvement, he said, has always been a way for him to expand his horizons and meet new people.

"I guess I call it my passion to be involved in those kinds of initiatives and those kinds of efforts, that say, 'This isn't just my day job, but it is also how I try to improve the community,' " Gsell said.

November 10, 2009 - 5:59pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, Jay Gsell.

Jay Gsell can polish up his resume. Under "Genesee County Manager" he can add "Batavia Crime Fighter."

Gsell helped Batavia police capture an alleged car thief this morning.

mug-kyle_monroe.jpgPolice received a report at 5:45 a.m. of an auto theft in progress at 310 Washington Ave. 

When police officers responded, they found the car partially in the roadway and abandoned.

Gsell was out for his morning run and saw a suspect jump over a fence near where the car was abandoned. Gsell provided police with a description of the suspect and then continued on his way.

A short time later, Gsell reportedly spotted the same man near the Richmond Memorial Library. He dialed 9-1-1.

Apprehended by police was Kyle Monroe (pictured). Monroe allegedly possessed the keys to the vehicle at the time of his arrest.

The same car was reported stolen twice before. The first time, on Oct. 29, the car was recovered in the area of the sand wash on Cedar Street. It was determined that keys were used to steal the car, but the keys were not recovered.

The same car was stolen again on Nov. 6.  It was recovered two days later on Holland Avenue. Again, investigators determined that keys were used to heist the vehicle, but again, the keys were not recovered.

After two thefts, the owner placed an anti-theft device on the steering wheel, which apparently helped thwart the third attempt.

Monroe was charged with criminal possession of stolen property and the investigation is ongoing. More charges may be filed.

The same suspect was arrested Oct. 24 in the Town of Batavia, according to police, when he was allegedly caught driving a different stolen vehicle. He was charged with criminal possession of stolen property in that case, as well.

UPDATE Wednesday, 8:27:  I asked Det. Rich Schauf if there was any link between Monroe and the car break-ins of the summer months, and whether the keys to the stolen car might have been taken during one of those break-ins.  Here is Det. Schauf's response:

The best we can tell is the keys were found and used while Monroe was (allegedly, ed.) illegally going “through” the car on the 29th, the first time the car was stolen. We do suspect he is one of the people involved in illegal car entries over the summer. At this point we do not have any conclusive evidence to link him to other illegal car entries.  Also, to answer one of the readers’ questions about Grand larceny. In this case the suspect was arrested for Criminal Possession of stolen property for possessing the keys to the car which were stolen. To prove Grand Larceny the person would need to be caught in the act of stealing the car or admitting to stealing it. Most often a person caught in a stolen car will not admit to stealing it. Unless it can be proven they stole the car, the  charge of criminal possession of stolen property may be used. Or if the element of “knowingly” possessed stolen property cannot be proved another charge of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle may apply.  Both Criminal Possession of stolen property fourth and Grand Larceny fourth are classified as E Felonies.

May 7, 2009 - 7:44pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, health, Jay Gsell.

Genesee County is putting together an employee health plan for the 21st Century, according to County Manager Jay Gsell.

In 1996, the county switched employees to a self-funded insurance plan, but then didn't update it for more than a decade.

Gsell said today that the old plan no longer really served employees well and hadn't kept up in changes in medicine.

"Over time, we've made little changes here and there and most of them are subtle, but now we're here in the 21st Century," Gsell said. "That old plan is not very responsive to the health care needs of people here in 2009 ... and it's not very cost effective."

The new plan has been in the works for two years, with employee unions, management and a consultant participating in putting together the new plan, which even though it was implemented in January is still a work in progress.

The new plan puts a greater emphasis on wellness, well being and prevention.

The plan now covers health care screenings for men and women and preventative diagnostic tests.

"Those kinds of things are in the plan to keep people from getting really sick or avoiding visiting a doctor's office until they have to go to the emergency room," Gsell said.

Still under consideration is coverage for gym memberships.

The committee is also reviewing prescription benefits, such as allowing employees to bulk order medicines through mail order and allowing over-the-counter remedies where patents have expired and a script is no longer necessary.

The main goal of the changes is to be cost neutral, Gsell said, but over the next five or more years, the county could save from $100,000 to $200,000.

"So what we're looking at is whether this plan over the next five years will help us better provide for our employees, but also save us money."

So far, not all employees have opted into the program, but Gsell expects more workers to see the benefits of the plan.

March 25, 2009 - 9:19am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Jay Gsell, Claire Gsell.

Funeral services for Claire Dominque Gsell, the daught of Jay Gsell, county manager, and his wife, Ann Marie will be Friday, WBTA reports this morning.

Claire Gsell, 27, passed away sometime over the weekend.

Visitation will be at Turner Funeral Homes from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., 403 E. Main St., Batavia.  A Mass will follow at Noon at Ressurection Parish, St. Mary's Church, 18 Ellicott St.

March 23, 2009 - 12:54pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, Jay Gsell, Claire Gsell.

Claire Gsell, the 27-year-old daughter of County Manager Jay Gsell, was found dead in her Rochester apartment by her parents on Sunday.

WBTA reported this afternoon that Gsell and his wife became concerned when Claire failed to answer her phone on Sunday.

The cause of death is unknown at this time, but foul play is not suspected, according to Dan Fischer.

Our condolences to the Gsell family.

UPDATE: Mary Pat Hancock, chair of the County Legislature, issued a brief statement to WBTA.

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