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COUNTY Poor leadership doomed Schuyler

Politics won out again in Chautauqua County — even when it came to a dedicated health director. In what appeared to be an uneasy setting, County Executive PJ Wendel lauded the 14-year tenure of Christine Schuyler earlier this month at the Legislature meeting.

“Throughout her tenure, Schuyler has upheld the department’s mission of building a healthy, safe and strong community, promoting the health of all county residents and providing essential human services,” he said in presenting Schuyler with a commendation that highlighted her leadership during the H1N1 and COVID-19 pandemics. Wendel also noted how she championed education, tackled issues like childhood lead poisoning, mental health and substance abuse.

None of that seemed to matter as her term neared an expiration. Wendel decided Schuyler would not be appointed to serve again. Her last day is Tuesday.

For the record, we did not always agree with how Schuyler handled a number of issues — including the reporting of COVID cases during the early stages of the health crisis. But we did cut her some slack. No one locally or globally had ever had to deal with a pandemic in their lifetime. Mistakes were bound to be made.

Wendel took the reins as interim executive only months before COVID ravaged our lives in January 2020. During that time, it was he and Schuyler who were front and center educating and informing residents about what was happening locally. Without a doubt, he leaned on her to help guide decisions.

More than two years later, he decided to go another direction. Some of this, no doubt, has to be due to the political nature of COVID. Democrats wanted stricter standards, Republicans wanted less.

During the spring, lawmakers reluctantly agreed to a wastewater surveillance for COVID-19. While the motion passed, 16-2, it was not embraced by the majority of the GOP lawmakers. This issue is what ultimately may have led to Schuyler — who took a stand — to not being reappointed.

Wendel, no matter how many votes he wins by in an election, always plays it safe politically. This is a leader who thrives by playing both sides and rarely wants to be in the middle of tough decisions. His most famous ping-pong involved facial coverings. He always said he wasn’t going to enforce the state mandate on masks, but he wanted to remind and urged everyone to wear them.

Schuyler is a much straighter shooter — and emerged as a leader in a health crisis. In the end, that was a threat to a Republican waffler.

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