County Is Obligated To Find Better Buyer

After three years at the leadership table, I recently resigned as minority leader of the Chautauqua County Legislature and have proudly passed the torch to the talented team of Bob Whitney of Jamestown and Billy Coughlin of Fredonia. I continue to enjoy representing the great residents of the northside of Jamestown and look forward to spending the next year in office focused on critical policy development without the added responsibility of caucus organization.

In reflecting upon professional ventures, my thoughts often turn to my undergraduate alma mater. If you happened to have caught a Notre Dame football game this past season (and hopefully not last Monday’s unfortunate championship game), you may have seen the Fighting Irish’s weekly halftime advertisement showcasing graduates who have accomplished great feats in the world – healing the sick, igniting third world economies, inventing cutting-edge technologies. The ad concludes by challenging viewers with the question: “What will you fight for?”

Each time I see the commercial, I can’t help but be humbled and pause with internal reflection. What am I fighting for? What difference am I making, really?

As a mere county legislator, I can’t profess to “save the world” as is truly the case with some of the Notre Dame alumni featured in these commercials. However, I do take very seriously my commitment to work as hard as I possibly can to help make a positive difference in our little corner of the world each day.

As minority leader, I led efforts in the legislature to fight for stronger job creation, tax cuts, and more effective government – hands down the most critical challenges we face. We fought for our neighborhoods, our parks and a cost-saving court program. We led the charge for a first-time-ever independent, citizen-involved redistricting process. And we worked tirelessly for more resources for Chautauqua Lake and long-term protections for the watershed.

This year, as a rank-and-file legislator, I remain committed to fighting the important fights, including careful consideration for the Chautauqua County Home. As we know, much debate has surfaced regarding future ownership. And whether one supports or opposes the sale, I would simply argue that the current and only buyer proposed by County Executive Greg Edwards is not good choice. Based upon much research and the legislature’s recent conversation with bidder Avi Rothner, I believe we can, and must, do better.

I am concerned that Avi Rothner has been listed as one of worst nursing home owners in the state of Illinois in accordance with government records. I am concerned that during the last several years, the highly reputable Chicago Tribune newspaper did an extensive investigative series that calls into question some of the business practices and care violations of the Rothner family nursing homes where Avi is a financial stakeholder. I am concerned that even after the CSEA has offered some of the most generous concessions in history in a selfless effort to put quality care above their own families’ finances, the county executive is not responding. And I am concerned that unlike every other well-respected, reputable nursing homes in Chautauqua County – such as Heritage, Lutheran Tanglewood – Mr. Rothner appears to have no vested interest in our community other than his company’s bottom line.

I agree with the oft-used cliche that government should be “run like a business” when it comes to commonsense economics and efficiencies. But what separates the two, are issues that strike at the core definition of public service; matters that require public officials to think with one’s head as much as with one’s heart.

Sure, selling the county home to Avi Rothner, as planned by the county executive for next month, would well-handle the county’s property status. But as county legislators, we are challenged to think beyond property transactions and take responsibility for the safety, well-being, and future stability of some of the most vulnerable citizens among us. Their lives have literally been entrusted to us.

So again, my point: If we are going to sell the County Home, then the home residents, employees, and our community deserve a better buyer.

In a commitment to “fight,” I assure my constituents that I have done due diligence researching, reviewing, and painstakingly considering this buyer. Some of the most convincing arguments have come from out-of-state professionals with firsthand experience dealing with Avi Rothner and the five nursing homes with which he principally owns.

Last month, I contacted Republican County Commissioner Larry Hudkins of Lincoln, Neb. and spoke to him at length regarding his county’s experience with Avi Rothner. He offered the following: “As a 26-year veteran Lancaster County commissioner, two years after the sale, I still believe the sale of Lancaster Manor to Avi Rothner was not in the best interest of the citizens of Lancaster County.”

Another official, Keith Bagwell, executive assistant to Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias in the Arizona county where Avi Rothner owns a facility called the Foothills Rehabilitation Center, stated in reference to Avi Rothner’s operation: “We had real trepidation about them buying the home because they did not have a sterling reputation. We were hoping for any other way.”

However helpful these outside testaments may be, I would instead encourage residents to make a judgment for themselves. Karen and Roy Harvey, retired investigative journalists and current Mayville residents, have produced an informational video that brings to light some of the concerning evidence regarding Mr. Rothner. The video, which contains only fact-based newspaper and government reports – not blog references or opinion editorials – may be accessed via www.youtube.com by entering “Rothner the Right Choice?” in the search box. Many people have asked me if I know why this local couple – who has no personal or financial stake in the County Home – would take the time to do produce such an involved report? And I honestly have no good reply. I only know we can be grateful for the time and talent they have contributed to help provide our community with such extensive information to make a better decision.

Please take a look at the video today. Then contact the county executive and your county legislator.

And when the that pesky Notre Dame commercial pops up again, I hope you may respond, against all odds and political rancor, that your county government is doing its best to fight for community.