County Puts Brakes on Changing Planner Position

Tables proposal to change job requirements

By Holly Toal

Putnam County lawmakers have put on hold a decision to proposal by the administration to change the job requirements for the Department of Planning, Development and Public Transportation commissioner position.

During the Aug. 2 legislature meeting, Chairwoman Ginny Nacerino moved to table the amendment, explaining that the proposal needs more consideration.

“We recognize this is an extremely important matter,” she said. “We feel basically that this requires more vetting and more discussion.”

Legislator Dini LoBue (R-Mahopac Falls), who last month had argued not to move the amendment out of committee, seconded the motion.

“I was concerned at that point in the seriousness of this change,” she said. “It’s unfortunate it was pushed to the full [legislature], but I’m glad we’re tabling it tonight.”

The person recommended for the position, which has been vacant since 2012, is a longtime member of the county’s law department who has been leading the department in an interim capacity for the past six months.

The changes to the job requirements would include striking out the requirement of “eight years of practical experience in regional, county or municipal planning,” and four years of supervision of personnel “planners.”

Legislator Roger Gross (R-Southeast), who sat on the charter review commission that was assembled in 2010 and worked on drafting the requirements for the position, said the head of the Department of Planning, Development and Public Transportation was always meant to be a planner.

“I’m glad we’re tabling it and I hope we re-evaluate the position,” he said.

During the Aug. 2 meeting, Kathleen Foley of Cold Spring addressed the legislators, saying she has never heard of a municipality removing the “most basic credential” from the job description of its planning chief.

“If you needed a root canal, you wouldn’t call a urologist,” she said. “This is a very dangerous move you’re making – and foolish.”

Southeast resident Lynne Eckardt, a Democrat who sits on the town board, also expressed displeasure with the proposal, which would require change to county law.

“This is never a good idea,” she said, asking how it could be wise to remove eight years of experience from the job description. This, she said, is “clearly” a move to tailor the position to a certain individual.

“This workaround shows exceedingly poor judgement,” said Eckardt.

During last month’s Rules Committee meeting, Deputy County Executive Bruce Walker argued that the job description as it currently reads is exclusionary to many otherwise qualified individuals.

“Many of our job specs are so narrowly scoped that they preclude a lot of very qualified and capable people,” he said.

The position, and its credentials, are expected to again be discussed in committee.

2 thoughts on “County Puts Brakes on Changing Planner Position

  1. Not one week later both the Rules Committee – with the exception of Legislator LaBue – and the Personnel Committee overturned the legislative tabling motion and approved the charter revision notwithstanding my own opposition and that of Lynne Eckardt. Acceding to the twisted Albano and Nacerino logic that we are a small county and that six months of experience was more than sufficient to direct a vital department, Nacerino then added the jaw-dropping suggestion that Putnam could be a model for Dutchess and Westchester counties. Next month, the full legislature meets to vote again on downgrading the Commissioner of Planning position.

  2. The County put the brakes on this change on Aug. 2. However, on Aug. 15 the matter was discussed in Rules & Enactments, only be replaced to the full legislature once more.

    At the Aug. 15 meeting, legislators Ginny Nacerino and Carl Albano insisted that the County Charter be altered because in their experience of planning professional training and experience is still not important. Like Deputy Executive Bruce Walker, they believe six months of work in the planning department and a legal background in family law is sufficient qualification to fill the role of Planning Commissioner. They also seem to agree that Putnam County is already built out and needs no planning.

    These perspectives by County leadership test reasonable assumptions and reveal an unfortunate ignorance about the role of professional planners and the need for sound planning and development in our communities and our county. Residents concerned about the professional qualifications of county appointments such as this Planning Commissioner appointment are encouraged to address the legislature at [email protected] calling for a rejection of this proposed change to the County Charter.