Mexico native elected first in 2012, steps now into chief operating officer role
OSWEGO — Oswego County Clerk Michael Backus will resign his office to assume the duties of chief operating officer for Oswego Health at a time when the hospital and world face the greatest public health crisis in generations.
Backus, 36, was first elected to the clerk’s office in 2012 and is set to officially leave his position on Friday, Sept. 4 and begin his role as Oswego Health’s executive vice president and chief operations officer (COO) the following week.
“There are many challenges awaiting us as COVID-19 has affected every part of our community — thankfully, Oswego Health is strategically positioned to meet those challenges. The best days of Oswego Health are ahead,” Backus said in a statement announcing the leadership change. He takes over for outgoing COO Jeff Coakley.
As county clerk, Backus for nearly a decade has overseen a litany of official and otherwise sensitive information, items and services that range from control of the county Department of Motor Vehicle offices to processing pistol permits. He’ll now manage Oswego Health’s growth and community connectivity, as well as its day-to-day strategic planning and business development. Oswego Health officials said some of his responsibilities, among many others, would include physician recruitment, community relations and capital projects planning.
“With a newly renovated hospital, a soon-to-open behavioral health complex, new orthopedic specialties, two of the best run long-term care facilities in the region, and, most importantly, a dedicated local workforce, I am excited to get started and thankful for the opportunity to join such a tremendous team,” Backus said.
In addition to his executive government experience, Backus has served on the Oswego Health Board of Directors for the past five years and is currently chair of the board for local provider network ConnextCare. A Mexico native and MACS graduate, he started off his career working for former U.S. Rep. and Secretary of the Army John McHugh and holds degrees from Le Moyne College and Norwich University. Backus and his wife, Andrea, live in Mexico with their two children.
“We’re rooted here,” Backus said of his decision to change careers but nevertheless remain in Oswego County. “This is home.”
Backus’ impending resignation as Oswego County clerk will begin a necessary mechanism for his replacement. Deputy County Clerk Mattthew Bacon, due to a self-executing statute, would be elevated to acting Oswego County clerk immediately upon Backus’ resignation. State election law and precedent will further complicate matters as Backus is set to appear on ballot lines for the Republican, Conservative and Independence parties countywide during the Nov. 3 election. Once the Board of Elections accepts a candidate’s nominating petitions and confirms their candidacy, as they have for Backus, there is no way to remove a name from a ballot barring two circumstances: the candidate dies, or is appointed to a judgeship/is designated as a judicial candidate.
New York’s election laws may not make 100 percent sense all the time, but Backus and other officials say with some planning they’ll be able to make the transition work with minimal interference for both the county clerk’s office or Oswego Health.
Because no Democrat will appear on the ballot to challenge him, Backus will almost certainly be elected to another four-year term on Nov. 3. On or shortly after Jan. 1, 2021, Backus will take his oath of office, re-appoint Matthew Bacon as deputy county clerk, and that same day tender his resignation for a second time. Bacon would again be elevated to acting county clerk. It’s unclear exactly what the process to follow would look like: most likely, the Oswego County clerk’s full, four-year term would be contested on Election Day, 2021. Efforts were unsuccessful to reach members of the Oswego County Legislature’s legal department for further inquiry.
Backus’ departure from his office left him with “bittersweet” feelings, he told The Palladium-Times in a Monday interview.
“Every morning, I come in to the office and meet with Deputy County Clerk Matthew Bacon and go over what’s going on in the day, or the last week before we start planning our week and our day going forward,” Backus said. “Matt and I built good camaraderie and I’ll miss the friendships I’ve been able to develop with the staff and within different county departments.”
Asked what he felt were his biggest accomplishments, Backus pointed to the construction of the new Department of Motor Vehicles on state Route 481 across from the Oswego County Public Safety Center. He noted that former Legislature Chair Shane Broadwell and he had lobbied hard for the $3 million, multi-year expansion of the DMV office and records center and “that investment is paying off.”
“Those employees work extraordinarily hard, they make us a profitable department and that should continue,” he said.
Leadership Greater Syracuse has recognized Backus as a Certified Community Leader, and he’s appeared in several regional and statewide publications such as as 40-Under-40 “Rising Star” by the Central New York Business Journal and the Albany-based City and State magazine. In 2018, Backus was awarded the inaugural “Friend of the First” award by The Palladium-Times.