Colonie officials are calling a Republican-backed lawsuit that calls into question the appointment of two town officials a waste of tax dollars.
Colonie resident Theodore Ricket, backed by the GOP, has brought a suit against the town requesting Jack Cunningham be removed as head of public works and Michael Burick’s appointment as personnel officer be reviewed. In his lawsuit, Ricket contends Cunningham does not meet minimum qualifications for his job and Burick should have only been appointed to fill the remainder of his predecessor’s term.
Town Attorney Mike Magguilli called the filing an obstructionist lawsuit, and said it is a distraction drummed up by Republicans to divert attention from the real issues facing the town, such as the deficit left over from the previous administration.
Ricket filed a petition with the New York State Supreme Court on Wednesday, March 17, requesting the appointments of Cunningham and Burick be revoked as pursuant to Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules.
`Cunningham does not meet the minimum qualifications, due to his lack of a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a professional engineering license as recognized by New York State,` Ricket stated in the lawsuit.
He said state law legally prohibits Cunningham from providing engineering reviews, which are outined in the commissioner of public works job description. Ricket said Cunningham should also be removed from the post on the grounds he does not live in Colonie.
`The arrogance of Supervisor [Paula] Mahan and the Town Board to appoint an unqualified individual to oversee the town’s landfill, public drinking water and the safety of the general public on town roads appalls me,` Ricket said. `I am extremely concerned for the safety of my family and neighbors and urge residents to demand the appointment of qualified individuals to our civil service positions.`
William Keniry, who is representing Ricket and serves as the GOP lawyer, said he will argue that the job description for commissioner of public works calls for a degree, and although the provision is listed after a clause related to `salary administration,` it is `disrespectful to the people of the town` to hire someone who lacks the proper qualifications.
Ricket, a registered Independent, has had ties to Colonie since 1965 and has a degree from Fordham University. He served as a Naval intelligence officer and worked in state government, according to information from the GOP.
His lawsuit also contends that Cunningham was illegally appointed and, as such, was an `unconstitutional gift of public funds that should be recovered and returned to taxpayers.`
The portion of Ricket’s lawsuit dealing with Burick, says the he should have only been appointed to fill the remainder of Michael Foley’s six-year term. Foley retired last year.
John Graziano Jr., chairman of the Albany County GOP, said it his party’s obligation to check the administration’s power, and that is why Republicans are supporting Ricket’s lawsuit.
Graziano said he is unsure who will foot the bill for the attorney’s fees, but he said ultimately the town should take responsibility for anything wasted during the process.
`The town is wrong here and should be responsible for legal fees,` he said.
He said Ricket’s characterization of the town `hit the nail on the head` and the administration is arrogant to assume they can `do what they want to do without anybody challenging them.`
Magguilli criticized the lawsuit for not `applying the right sections of law,` and said he is confident the town will prevail.
`I don’t think it was very well thought out,` Magguilli said.
He said provisions regarding the highway superintendent do not apply to Cunningham, since that position was eliminated by the prior administration. Cunningham’s title is commissioner for the Department of Public Works, and the provisions of the town code governing the post do not prohibit him from living out of town.
He said nothing in state or town law requires Cunningham to have an engineering degree, citing the provision that deals with salary negotiation as the only mention of a degree.
`They totally disregard the plain meaning,` he said.
Magguilli said Burick serves as `personnel officer,` and provisions in the law call for a 6-year term. If Burick was appointed a commissioner, based on civil service law, he would be required to fulfill only the remaining 4 years of Foley’s term, Magguilli said.
The town has 20 days to answer the lawsuit, and then arguments will be heard in court, Magguilli said.