Posted by Chris Anderson on Oct 02, 2017
Pictured (l to r):  Lee Harkness, George Borrello, Mike Ferguson and Rotary Vice-President Katie Geise.
 
Lee Harkness introduced Mike Ferguson and George Borrello, Democratic and Republican Candidates for County Executive, respectively.    
 
Mike Ferguson won the coin toss and elected to go first.  
 
In his opening statement, Mr. Ferguson gave an overall synopsis of his work history.  He has lived in Chautauqua County for 30 years. Currently works at Fredonia Place and has held various sales/marketing and management level positions.
 
In his opening statement, Mr. Borrello explained his work history as well.  He was born and raised in Silver Creek.  Mr. Borrello started his own marketing company in his 20’s that he merged with another company and has reached $40 million in sales.  Mr. Borrello has been a member of the Chautauqua County Legislature since 2010.  
 
Mark Olson thanked both for their public service and commitment to serving their community. Mark also thanked Lee Harkness for setting up the debate and acting as the official time keeper.  Mark then posed questions to the candidates and each one responded.  
 
Why do you want to run for County Executive?
 
Mr. Borrello can commit himself full time to running for County Executive.  His believes his background in business will allow him to run this county successfully.  George is fully committed to Chautauqua County and he knows how special and unique Chautauqua County is.  
 
This is Mr. Ferguson’s first foray into politics, having never held elected office.  He believes that business tourism and economic development work hand in hand.  Tourism cannot just be the driving force.  Mr. Ferguson’s business experience has been to resurrect a business, strengthen it and give it the tools to succeed.

As County Executive, what would be your first two priorities?
 
Mr. Ferguson’s two top priorities are jobs (developing a strong work force) and eliminating the drug problem in Chautauqua County.  Mr. Ferguson’s plan to increase jobs is to bring distribution businesses to Chautauqua County and expand current business opportunities.  
 
Mr. Borrello’s two top priorities are continuing to reduce the burden of government through consolidation, and safety.  We need to eliminate duplicate services and we have to ensure that people feel safe.
 
What are your thoughts on the National Comedy Center?
 
Mr. Borrello thinks the National Comedy Center is great!  It is a well thought out project with realistic expectations and will be a great opportunity for Chautauqua County to grow and attract more visitors.
 
Mr. Ferguson sat on the Lucy-Desi Center board with Tom Benson.  Proper vision, planning, and execution can make things happen and Tom and his team have been doing that.  The National Comedy Center will be a great driver for tourism for our county.  
 
If elected, what would you do as County Executive to ensure the long-term health of Chautauqua Lake?
 
Mr. Ferguson knows that Chautauqua Lake is important.  The county provides great support for Chautauqua Lake.  It is time to come up with a solution and it is important for us to keep our lakes clean and viable, which is a driver of tourism as well.
 
Mr. Borrello explained his work on the Legislature and how the governing body has been focusing on the disease.  And, the tributaries are where this disease is found and will be fixed.  The soil and water conservation district is working hard and we should continue to our efforts there.  
 
What are your plans for jail overcrowding and low-level incarcerations?
 
Mr. Borrello believes we need to reduce the number of people who are in jail for minor offenses.  Many of the incarcerated could be housed in a residential treatment program.  We need to stop the revolving door.
 
Mr. Ferguson stated that jail overcrowding is pandemic.  He agrees with Mr. Borrello in that we need to create more residential treatment programs.  Let’s not fill our jails with addicts.  They need professional help to get back into the workforce and become useful members of society.
 
What are your thoughts on consolidation of services?
 
Mr. Ferguson believes we need some consolidation only where it makes sense.  If consolidation would affect public safety, that is a non-starter.  Consolidation makes sense where places are close together and there is a duplication of services.  Consolidation in a bigger city is not the answer.  We need to look at each community separately to determine the positive and negative impacts of consolidation.
 
Mr. Borrello believes in consolidation of law enforcement and emergency services by creating regional centers.  This will give us less duplication of services.  Under his plan, the county will lead in the effort to consolidate with the cooperation of communities.
 
Is regionalization important to this county and why?
 
Mr. Borrello believes that regionalization is very important.  However, at the end of the day, we need to consolidate.  The county is running on a system that was designed 200 years ago.  Regionalization at the county level has always been a priority.
 
Mr. Ferguson agrees with Mr. Borrello in that we need to look at regionalization.  But regionalization and consolidation cannot cost us jobs.  There are many opportunities for smart regionalization.
 
How can we as a county make things easier for the Spanish speaking community to integrate more successfully?
 
Mr. Borrello believes that our Spanish speaking folks need to be made aware of more opportunities to assimilate into a community.  They tend to isolate themselves into their own communities.  We need to give them more opportunities to participate in the greater community at large.  He did say that English is our first language so it would be advantageous for the county to provide more opportunities for our Spanish speaking folks to learn English.  
 
Mr. Ferguson states that to integrate, we need to give the Spanish speaking community opportunities to be successful.  English is our first language and he would put interpreters in many service areas to help with translation.  We must also focus on our educational systems.  There a some illegal people who are registered as students. Through no fault of their own, they should be able to continue to get their education and be a productive member of society not matter how they got here as children.  Not everybody is a bad person.    
 
What are the two most important challenges facing Chautauqua County?
 
Mr. Borrello stated that the two most important challenges are a lack of self-confidence in our county and too many layers of government.  We have a great county with tremendous assets.  We must change the attitude and think toward the future instead of lamenting the past.  Mr. Borrello believes that if we eliminate layers of government and consolidate services, county businesses will take more action and thrive.
 
Mr. Ferguson believes that the two most important challenges we face are attracting more people back to Chautauqua County and making the business climate stronger.  We must have strong leadership and vision to take a smart chance to use our assets to their best ability.  For example, we have several farms in our county.  We need to focus on the agriculture sector and give them opportunities to succeed!  Mr.
Ferguson believes that leadership and marketing will make Chautauqua County viable throughout the northeast.  
 
Closing Statements
 
Mr. Borrello thanked the Rotary Club for the opportunity to speak and debate.  He spent most of his life growing a business and he knows how to manage people and finances.  Talk is cheap and we need to get things accomplished instead of just talking about them.  Throughout his successful business career, he has been able to get things done.   
 
Mr. Ferguson also thanked Rotary for the opportunity to speak.  In his over 30 years of business experience, he has left every place better off than it was when before he started.  Mr. Ferguson believes he can transfer this success to the County Executive seat with new and fresh ideas.  Mr. Ferguson will do what it takes to make Chautauqua County successful.  But, we must do it together as a community. 
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