Position has been vacant since 2017
Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell would like to hire a deputy county executive — a position that has been vacant since Bruce Walker resigned in October 2017 to take a job at the U.S. Department of Energy.
Not filling the position since Walker’s departure has saved the county $485,000, according to Odell.
The position would be part-time initially and then become full-time in 2021, with an annual salary of $116,200. Odell said she wants to hire Thomas Feighery, a project manager in the Highway Department, a job he would continue.
“Mr. Feighery has been a local business owner in Carmel for the past 30 years and is uniquely qualified to interface with our Economic Development Corporation and local business community during these very uncertain times, in order to provide information, assistance and assurances from the county’s perspective,” Odell wrote.
On Monday (May 18), the Legislature’s Personnel Committee approved a budget transfer of $20,500 to fund the position by a 2-1 vote, with Legislators Ginny Nacerino (R-Patterson) and Paul Jonke (R-Brewster) voting yes and Nancy Montgomery (D-Philipstown) voting no. The expenditure will be considered by the full Legislature at its June meeting.
“We must realize that having the position vacant is an exception and not the norm throughout the state,” said Nacerino. “It is in the same vein that this part-time position be considered imperative. We need to get in front of the issues facing this county due to the fallout of the pandemic as we try to get the economy and our local businesses back on their feet.”
She also called Feighery “an excellent choice,” citing his help in bringing various projects to fruition, including transformation of a building at the former Butterfield Hospital site in Cold Spring into a senior center, development of the Tilly Foster Farm and Educational Institute in Brewster, and updates to the Putnam County Golf Course in Mahopac.
Montgomery, however, questioned the need for such a position and Feighery’s qualifications for the job.
“I understand he was the project manager for Butterfield — a project that was really challenging, cost us a lot of money and still costs us $11,000 a month for a facility we don’t own,” she said. “And he’s also the project manager for Tilly Foster, and that’s what we’re approving for someone to move to the position of deputy county executive?”
Nacerino noted that the Legislature is not tasked with approving the candidate, but only the budget transfer that will allow for the position to be paid.
Putnam County Personnel Director Paul Eldridge explained that the county executive may appoint a deputy at her pleasure.
“The deputy county executive is an exempt classified position and by definition the qualifications of the individual are set by the appointing authority,” in this case, the county executive, he said.
The position of undersheriff, selected by the sheriff, also fits that category, he said.
Montgomery further claimed that “the county executive boasted, bragged how great it was that she didn’t have a deputy county executive and made it clear during her approval for her raise and that of other high-paid administrators in the county that we don’t need this — and that justified the salary that she was getting and that, also, other very highly paid administrators were getting in the county.”
Further, she said that with the Putnam County Business Council, Industrial Development Agency and Economic Development Committee, there is no demonstrated need for another liaison to the business community. Rather, money and energy should be shifted toward the Health Department, said Montgomery.
“I don’t see the need for this position right now,” she said. “We need contact tracers, we need an epidemiologist, we need somebody in the Health Department to address this COVID crisis. This isn’t the position to address this COVID crisis and your reasoning for approving this — because of the need because of the COVID crisis — is absurd.”
“I want to commend the county executive for keeping this position vacant since October 2017,” he said. “She did save the taxpayers a significant amount of money over that time. I can only imagine that due to the unusual times we’re in she felt the need to fill this position on a part-time basis. I couldn’t think of a better candidate selected to this job. He’s got the skills to help the administration.”
Odell’s past decision not to hire a deputy county executive, Nacerino said, occurred before an unprecedented pandemic swept the nation.
“There is no way she could have ever imagined that a turn of events could happen like this,” said Nacerino. “Our small businesses desperately need to get help and assurances as we move forward.”