Dan Hust | Democrat
INCOMING SULLIVAN COUNTY Planning Commissioner Luiz Aragon is eager to get started.
New planning commissioner loves area and listening
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Sullivan County’s incoming commissioner of the Division of Planning and Environmental Management knows he’ll be a critical part of handling everything from flooding to gas drilling to business development.
And Luiz Aragon can’t wait.
To listen, that is.
Though born in Europe and raised in Brazil and Switzerland which is why he is fluent in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian Aragon has lived in the U.S. for nearly 30 years.
“When I came to the Northeast, I felt at home,” he recalled.
And when he discovered the upper Delaware River valley 10 years ago, he felt even more at home.
“I fell in love with the area,” he acknowledged especially the river. “Water is very important to me.”
That love spurred him to apply for the position soon to be vacated by Bill Pammer, who is leaving to focus on teaching downstate.
“I desire to be here most of the time,” Aragon explained.
But his most recent job left him little time to enjoy the family’s second home near Shohola, Pa. Instead, he spent many hours in New York City as its deputy commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
While he oversaw the Office of Preservation Services’ staff of 1,500 and budget of $150 million all engaged in ensuring buildings are properly maintained and tenants appropriately treated he admitted that the hands-on nature of Sullivan County’s planning division with just nine employees and a budget of less than $10 million was very appealing.
“Don’t confuse quantity with importance,” he added. “It’s a huge step up. Here I am going to actually be able to go from A to Z.”
Every letter in that alphabet, he said, will be focused on people not just government officials, but ordinary citizens.
“I’ve devoted my life to helping others,” Aragon explained. “What really rewards me is knowing I’ve made a positive impact on people’s lives.”
And he intends to do that by listening to those people, responding creatively to their concerns. That’s why Aragon is not coming to county government armed with pre-set ideas.
But he does come with a sizable resumé. After graduating from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1984 with a bachelor’s in architecture, Aragon joined the clothing company Benetton International as one of its commercial directors and buyers, responsible for 120 Benetton stores across the country.
Five years later, he began what became a 20-year tenure with the City of New York, first in its Parks and Recreation Department rising from planner in the Revenue Division to director of the entire department and then in its Department of Transportation, where he reached the level of assistant commissioner, focusing on capital program management.
Along the way, he learned the vagaries of government financing, allocation of resources, urban mobility, litigation, employee relations and quality control. He also earned a master’s in business administration from Baruch College, part of the City University of New York.
In January 2000, Aragon was named chief of staff of the city’s Office of Planning and Intergovernmental Affairs, becoming associate commissioner of the Office of Housing Operations, Property Services, the year after.
He served as deputy commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development from 2003-2009, which is when he came to the attention of Sullivan County Manager David Fanslau as one of about 30 candidates to replace Pammer.
Fanslau liked the breadth and depth of Aragon’s experience, especially his knowledge of practical planning issues and federal funding sources.
In particular, Aragon helped draft, implement and enforce legislation in 2004 that addressed lead paint in buildings throughout New York City, drastically reducing the incidences of lead poisoning in children.
He also worked with “every tenant, landlord and business” in a dangerous section of Brooklyn called Bushwick to effect a 98 percent reduction in drug-dealing.
Here in Sullivan County, Fanslau is eager to have a planning commissioner focused on flooding, gas drilling, gaming, agriculture and economic development.
“We needed somebody able to hit the ground running,” Fanslau explained. “…We need to have a well-thought-out plan.”
And with approval from the County Legislature who must formally vote to accept Aragon into the post Aragon hopes to do just that.
“This position sort of brought my entire background together,” he explained. “I’m going to listen very hard and pay attention to what people are saying that’s #1 and key.”
“He’s a good fit,” Fanslau observed. “He will be a new perspective for the planning division. And there is a lot of work to be done.”
Aragon, who is moving his family into Sullivan County, will be paid $85,000 a year and will officially replace Pammer on August 24, subject to confirmation by the County Legislature later this month.