County to Again Consider Changing Planner Position

Committee sends tabled proposal back to legislature

By Holly Toal

While Putnam County lawmakers earlier this month tabled an administration proposal to downgrade the job requirements for the head of the Planning Commission, the matter will again go before the legislature on Sept. 6.

The Personnel Committee on Aug. 15 voted 2-1, without discussion, to send the proposed revision to the county charter, which would remove the requirement in the county charter that the planning commissioner have a master’s degree in planning and “eight years of practical experience in regional, county or municipal planning” and four years of supervision of “planners,” back to the legislature. Ginny Nacerino (R-Patterson) and Joseph Castellano (R-Southeast) voted to approve the resolution, and Kevin Wright (R-Mahopac) voted no.

The person recommended by the administration for the position, which has been vacant since 2012, is Sandra Fusco, 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 charter would be changed so Fusco, who has a juris doctorate degree in law, could be given the job. Fusco earned $90,000 in the law department and now makes $98,000 at planning. The salary budgeted for the permanent position is $112,200.

While the Personnel Committee did not discuss the proposed change, there was much debate immediately prior during a meeting of the Rules Committee, which consists of Dini LoBue (R-Mahopac Falls), Carl Albano (R-Carmel) and Barbara Scuccimarra (R-Philipstown). Committee meetings tend to occur one after the other, so other legislators are present.

During the Rules Committee meeting, Nacerino argued that, in Fusco’s case, “holding a doctorate degree does not dilute the conferring of a master’s degree; actually the reverse is true.” She added that she felt it was important to have an attorney in the position “because it is important to be able to pursue the grants, be able to scope through the tedious verbiage in contracts, and be able to be familiar with general municipal law” and the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

Wright countered that the qualifications for the job listed in the charter were there for a reason. He questioned the wisdom of changing the charter and suggested the legislature would “invite ridicule when we throw out a charter provision for those credentials and substitute six months of experience with eight years and a master’s [degree].”

He also said that there had been no reports to the legislature by the administration of efforts to find a qualified candidate. “If, for the last year, there had been monthly or quarterly updates from the personnel director of the extensive, extraordinary efforts at recruitment made that were at yet unsuccessful, and some litany of issues that were backing up or problematic as a result of the inability of the personnel director to find a qualified applicant … then that might be something else that would weigh into the equation,” he said.

Deputy County Executive Bruce Walker replied that the position had evolved into a much broader one over the years and today requires skill in cutting through red tape more than anything else.

“It really has to be evaluated on what the merits of the job are, and what the actual requirements about the job are, not what we’ve called it in the past,” he said.

Asked why the county has not advertised the position, Walker said the administration did not want to “pigeonhole” itself by looking for a candidate with a narrow set of qualifications.

“We’ve been able to get the work done and we wanted to have a clear understanding of what exactly we were looking for, what skill set we needed for the person that was coming in, rather than just relying on their ability to sit in college for four years and get this magic degree called ‘planner,’ ” he said.

The legislature is expected to again consider the proposal at its next monthly meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 6, at the Historic Courthouse on Gleneida Avenue in Carmel.

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