Not enough votes to change charter
By Holly Toal
A proposal to change the job description for the Department of Planning, Development and Public Transportation commissioner position in order to fit a desired candidate failed on the floor of the Legislature during its Sept. 6 meeting.
The resolution needed a supermajority of at least six out of nine votes in order to pass, because it would have resulted in a charter change. The vote tally was 5-4, with Toni Addonizio (R-Kent), Roger Gross (R-Brewster), Dini LoBue (R-Mahopac Falls) and Kevin Wright (R-Mahopac) voting against the change.
The planning commissioner position has been vacant since 2012. Several months ago, Sandra Fusco, a lawyer who has worked in the county’s law department since 2011 at a salary of $90,000, was moved to the planning department to serve as its leader in an interim capacity, with a salary of $98,000. The 2016 budgeted salary for the position is $112,200.
In order for Fusco to qualify, the language of the job description in the charter would have to be changed by striking out the requirement of a master’s degree in planning, as well as “eight years of practical experience in regional, county or municipal planning” and four years of supervision of planners.
Prior to the Sept. 6 vote, Chairwoman Ginny Nacerino (R-Patterson) called Fusco an ideal candidate and said the only qualifications she does not have is the word “planner” in her background.
Carl Albano (R-Carmel) added that the position has evolved and includes less “planning” and more legal navigation.
“Ninety-nine percent of everything I’ve seen has been legal paperwork,” he said of the role. “Maybe the job should be redefined. It’s not true planning.”
LoBue, however, said the county would be “moving in reverse” if it changed the charger to reflect lesser qualifications. “This would be a downgrading of the professionalism of the county,” she said.
Addonizio said due to the fact that most neighboring counties, and many other counties in New York State, require the commissioner of planner to have a planning background, she, too, could not support the charter change.
Wright (R-Mahopac) added that pulling someone from the law department to serve as head of planning may cause conflict. “It’s a bad move because it conflates the duties of the department head and subsequently puts them at odds with the law department,” he said. “I do not believe that we are doing anything other than putting a square peg into a round hole.”
Nacerino noted that Fusco would not be acting as an attorney, but rather using her expertise as a lawyer. “The county clerk is also an attorney, and there’s no conflict there,” she said.
Wright countered that the county clerk is an elected position.
Gross, who served on the Charter Review Commission in 2010, said the position was designed to be a planner.
“The county is full of lawyers – we’ve got plenty of them,” he said. “You say she’s qualified; according to the charter she’s not qualified… The idea that the county commissioner of planning doesn’t need to be a planner is ludicrous. I’m disgusted with this.”