American City & County’s 2017 Leadership Awards
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County Leader of the Year: Dan McCoy | County Executive, Albany, N.Y.
Growing up poor in Albany County, Dan McCoy learned the true meaning of community. “I remember as a kid our power getting shut off,” he says. “Our neighbor took the wire out of his house and put it into ours. I learned early on that you take care of one another.”
It was a formative moment for County Executive McCoy, who has now dedicated his life to that idea – that people should look out for each other.
One of the most important ways McCoy is attempting to do so is by fighting back against the scourge of opioid abuse in his region and across the country.
To combat the problem, McCoy has organized a taskforce that meets quarterly to discuss regional solutions to the problem. By bringing together leaders from the law enforcement, public health, medical and treatment communities, a diverse field of opinions and viewpoints can be considered, and by utilizing data-driven tools, meaningful strategies can be conceived.
In addition to the taskforce, McCoy has launched Project Orange, a partnership between the county, the Albany College of Pharmacy and locally-owned drug stores, which seeks to prevent the problem before it starts. Through the project, free drug disposal envelopes are distributed to individuals with opioid prescriptions to ensure the safe disposal of any unused medication. McCoy has also requested a standing order for naloxone, an anti-overdose drug, allowing anyone to walk into a participating pharmacy and receive a kit.
Finally, in the summer of 2017, McCoy announced that the county would spearhead a nationwide effort to for communities to sue opioid manufactures, holding them accountable for the negligent dissemination of prescription drugs.
“It’s the mission of county government to [take care of its constituents], but to me, it goes back to the neighborhood I grew up in,” McCoy says. “I had friends who went to jail, I had friends who overdosed… what we’ve been doing hasn’t worked, so we can cast these people aside or we can try something new and try to give them hope.”
Aside from the drug problem, another important issue for McCoy is increasing equity within the county. Driving this change is the county’s Equity Agenda, a program involving the six human services departments in the county to reduce implicit bias, increase community outreach and improve interactions with challenged populations. The agenda has helped departments to coordinate with one another and create new programs to address the needs of the disenfranchised.
Overall, it comes down to people, McCoy says, which is why he takes time to walk around his community and interact with the residents. “If you don’t have your finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the community, you can’t change it,” he says. “If you’re not asking them what they need, you can’t provide it.”
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