SARATOGA COUNTY — Someone with nearly a decade of experience inside Saratoga County government has been named the county’s new public works commissioner.
The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday named Chad Cooke, who is currently the deputy county administrator, as commissioner of public works effective Jan. 8 — but it happened in a way that showed the political divisions within the county board.
The appointment was originally anticipated to take effect on Jan. 1, but a coalition of supervisors representing the county’s larger towns pushed through the postponement until Jan. 8 over the objections of the smaller towns.
Moreau Supervisor Todd Kusnierz proposed the change, saying he wanted Cooke to remain in his current post through the county board’s 2021 organizational meeting on Jan. 4. If the board follows tradition, Greenfield Supervisor Dan Pemrick will replace Percy Allen of Day as chairman of the board on that date.
“I think it would be incredibly helpful to have the No. 2 position in the county administrator’s office available during the transition,” Kusnierz said.
The population-weighted voting system used by the county allows the supervisors representing the towns of Clifton Park, Halfmoon, Malta, Moreau, and Wilton and city of Saratoga Springs to outvote the 15 other supervisors, as they did on Tuesday.
In the final vote, six small-town supervisors voted against the resolution — apparently over the change and underlying board tensions, since all six had voted in favor of Cooke’s appointment during committee votes prior to Tuesday. None specifically explained their vote.
The Department of Public Works oversees the roughly 200 employees who plow snow and otherwise maintain 365 miles of county roads and bridges, as well as the county’s buildings and grounds.
The department also manages the county airport in Milton and the county’s five recycling centers.
The lateral transfer of Cooke, 46, of Clifton Park, isn’t as surprising as it might initially look — he is a licensed professional engineer who was executive director of the county sewer district from 2011 to 2015, when he took his current position in the county administrator’s office. There, he has overseen the administrator’s relationships with department heads as well as having budget duties.
“I had 15 years as a consulting engineer, most on highways, before I came to county, and I now have 10 years of working knowledge at the county,” Cooke said on Tuesday in an interview ahead of the vote. “I also recently got my master’s degree in public administration.”
The county conducted a public search for Manz’ replacement and four candidates were interviewed before a search committee recommended Cooke. Cooke will earn approximately the same $139,000 salary he earns now.
Since Manz’ retirement early in the fall, the Public Works Department has been overseen by Deputy Commissioner Tom Speziale, a long-time county employee who is expected to return to his deputy role.
Prior joining the county as sewer district director in 2011, Cooke worked for Boswell Engineering and Clough Harbour as a project engineer or project manager. He has a civil engineering degree from Clarkson University as well as the master’s degree from Marist College he obtained this year.
At the same meeting, the supervisors named Fist Assistant County Attorney Hugh G. Burke of Clifton Park as temporary county attorney. On Jan. 1, Burke will succeed County Attorney Stephen Dorsey, who is also retiring on Dec. 31. Dorsey has been county attorney since 2010, and was an assistant county attorney for many years before that.
Burke is also a long-time staff member in the county attorney’s office. The office oversees all the county’s legal business, including juvenile prosecutions in Family Court, preparation of contracts and board resolutions, and legal defense.
In another illustration of the big town-small town split, the larger towns increased Burke’s temporary compensation from $79.77 per hour to $87.71 per hour, bringing Burke’s pay to the equivalent of the county attorney’s annual salary.