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NYS Professional Engineers: rethink Cunningham appointment

A letter from the NYS Society of Professional Engineers criticized the Town of Colonie for hiring ex-Bethlehem Supervisor Jack Cunningham as public works commissioner.

The letter is dated Monday, Jan. 11.

Kelly Norris, executive director to of the New York State Society of Professional Engineers said that Cunningham would be responsible for the water, sewer and transportation in the town, each of which require technical decisions, Norris said Cunningham is not qualified to make.

The letter states it is a potential liability and the town will be safer and better served by a licensed engineer.

"It doesn't uphold the health, safety and welfare of the public," she said.

Norris said the town's job description requires a professional engineering license, as per New York state regulation, and Cunningham's lack of a license and degree calls his appointment into question.

"According to your job description for this position, 'The Commissioner of Public Works has comprehensive policy responsibility for the administrative supervision of the water, sewer, environmental services and engineering functions of the Town of Colonie,'" the letter reads. "Additionally, it calls for a 'Professional Engineering License as recognized by New York State.'"

The letter states that section 7201 of the New York state education law defines the responsibilities of the position.

"The practice of the profession of engineering is defined as performing professional service such as consultation, investigation, evaluation, planning, design or supervision of construction or operation in connection with any utilities, structures, buildings, machines, equipment, processes, works, or projects wherein the safeguarding of life, health and property is concerned, when such service or work requires the application of engineering principles and data," the letter states.

The letter also urges that despite the potential economic benefit, the defined requirements for the positions should be paramount.

"We realize that due to the economy, there may be a desire to reorganize your operations; however such changes should not interfere with sound professional judgment. Removing the professional engineer's requirement from a position that is so immersed in technical decision making is not a wise way to streamline operations," according to the letter.

Norris said that changing both the description of the job and the requirements could raise eyebrows in other state agencies, and possibly lead to an investigation.

She said it is not illegal to change the requirements, but the Society of Professional Engineers recommends against any such action.

The Colonie Town Board appointed Cunningham to the post at its organizational meeting on Friday, Jan. 1.

Check back at www.spotlightnews.com and see the Wednesday, Jan. 27, edition of the Spotlight for an update to the story.

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