TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — Tompkins County Legislature Chambers were an odd and bright sight Tuesday. Legislators, employees and members of the community came to the meeting wearing orange as an homage to county administrator Joe Mareane, who is retiring at the end of the month.

Attendees donned Syracuse orange hats and shirts. A resolution acknowledging Mareane’s work was even printed on orange paper. Mareane is an alumnus and fan of Syracuse University, hence all the orange.

Colleagues spoke highly of Mareane at the meeting, talking about some of the ways he has impacted them in his nine years in Tompkins County. They talked about him as a mentor and friend. Mareane came to Tompkins County in 2008, just in time for the Great Recession. As county administrator, he was responsible for a $165 million budget.

“Steering Tompkins County through the fiscal crisis of the Great Recession was Joe’s overriding project for the following years, a project he performed with consummate wisdom, empathy, skill, and humor, so that we were able to  maintain critical county services for our residents and shield our workforce from the layoffs that many local governments endured,” the resolution states.

Mareane earned his bachelor’s degree from Indiana University and a master’s degree in public administration from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. From 1979 through 1993, Mareane worked in Syracuse as assessment commissioner, director of management and budget and director of development. The resolution says Mareane went to the “dark side” briefly, leaving public service until he “came to his senses” in 1996 and returned to local government. He served 12 years as chief fiscal officer for Onondaga County before coming to Tompkins County.

In total, Mareane worked in local government in New York for 37 years.

Mike Hall, manager of the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport, said “any of us that want to learn how to be a more effective public leader should study you.”

Mareane had originally planned to retire Feb. 1, 2018. However, last week county officials said Mareane would be taking a medical leave effective immediately and would retire on Nov. 30 instead.

A search has already been already underway to replace Mareane. In the meantime, Deputy County Administrator Paula Younger is serving as interim administrator.

Legislator Anna Kelles said Mareane is one of the best mentors she has ever had and his humility and dedication are “unparalleled.”

“He is a true leader, and one that I think we would be better for emulating just a little bit,” Kelles said.

Legislator Mike Sigler said he has learned a lot about the budget from Mareane, but said that more than that he has learned about showing up. Sigler said Mareane has been a great county administrator.

“I look to him and I see a great father, I see a great man,” Sigler said.

Mareane was not present at the meeting Tuesday, but was watching it televised live. Legislator Martha Robertson read a text message from Mareane, which said “Please let everyone know how much I’m touched by this.”

Though the resolution recognizing and thanking Mareane for his service was unanimously passed, the resolution stated that regretfully, they could not bring themselves to declare the day Syracuse Orange Day.

The resolution concluded stating, “the members of the Tompkins County Legislature, on behalf of the residents of Tompkins County and the employees of the Tompkins County government, do hereby extend our deepest appreciation for Joe Mareane for his unparalleled and unstinting public service throughout his career, and send him our very warmest wishes for a healthy and happy retirement. We regret, however, that we cannot quite bring ourselves to proclaim today Syracuse Orange Day, even though the basketball team slammed Oakland yesterday (Yeah, we googled it.)”

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.