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CHRIS CUNNINGHAM TALKS earlier this year at a ceremony in Narrowsburg to mark the Delaware River being named one of the country’s most endangered by a national organization.

Cunningham Takes County Health and Family Services Commissioner's Post

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — December 28, 2007 — Sullivan County Legislature Chair Chris Cunningham is officially leaving his job next week, but he isn’t going far.
The 12-year District 1 Democratic Legislator has found another berth in county government.
In an ironic twist, however, the man who has been County Manager David Fanslau’s boss for the past year will now be directly under Fanslau himself.
Fanslau announced late last week that he picked Cunningham, who declined to run for re-election to a fourth term on the Legislature, to become the next Commissioner of the Division of Health and Family Services, which oversees everything from Public Health Nursing and Community Services to the Adult Care Center and the Office for the Aging.
The position has been vacant since Acting Commissioner Richard LaCondre retired last year.
Cunningham, who was confirmed by the Legislature yesterday, will be paid $68,500/year and will receive accrued vacation time based on his 12-year tenure in the Legislature. Though legislators do not receive vacation benefits, Cunningham’s colleagues unanimously agreed to award him the time due to his long service in county government.
While Cunningham was not in competition with other candidates at the time of his hiring, Fanslau said an unsuccessful search for the position was held earlier this year, and the recent debacle with the almost-hiring of a Personnel commissioner turned the manager off to mounting another expensive, time-consuming search.
Besides, Fanslau said, the right candidate was sitting right in front of him.
“Mr. Cunningham more than meets the experience and education qualifications necessary to serve in this position,” said Fanslau in a prepared statement. “In addition to 12 years as a county legislator and four years as the chairman of the Legislature, Mr. Cunningham previously served as the Director of Facilities and Client Training with the Recovery Center and as a Vocational Coordinator for RSS [Rehabilitation Support Services], Inc.”
Cunningham also possesses a master’s in public administration from Marist, where he adjuncts.
“Moreover, Mr. Cunningham is familiar with the departments and staff and demonstrates a unique understanding of the issues currently facing the division, as well as those coming in the future,” said Fanslau.
Those issues include the county manager’s well-publicized unhappiness with the Department of Family Services, including a recent backlog of HEAP (Home Energy Assistance Program) applications, resulting in dozens of families going without the necessary fuel to heat their homes. It was the only backlog of its kind in the entire state this year, though Department Commissioner Greg Feicht and staff have since reduced it greatly.
Two reports earlier this year created serious concerns regarding the finances of the department as well, so when Feicht – a two-decade county government employee – told Fanslau earlier this month of his intent to retire, the county manager took it as an opportunity to restructure the department.
Though Feicht planned to retire from his $76,000/year job on April 13, “it is my recommendation that the Legislature execute this early fulfillment [using accrued leave time] as a means of allowing the county to move ahead with appropriate and necessary plans to address the Department of Family Services Task Force Report [which noted many concerns] and implementing stronger and more effective fiscal constraints and safeguards,” said Fanslau.
“It was time to move forward,” the county manager related yesterday, though he added that Feicht operated for the last year and a half without a deputy and “has done a tremendous job in various capacities with the county.”
“Greg’s a fine gentleman,” added Cunningham. “I hope the future holds good things for him.”
Feicht, whom Fanslau said is already using his accrued leave, did not return repeated calls for comment.
A search will soon be under way to find Feicht’s permanent replacement (for a five-year term), while an acting commissioner will probably be named next week, said Fanslau.
Cunningham will technically oversee that position, though both he and Fanslau confirmed that he has already been working with staff to guide him through the vagaries of the entire division.
Both also said it will be an apolitical approach.
“Political activity will not be tolerated,” said Fanslau. “Chris understands that.”
“I’m not going to be involved in political things anymore,” confirmed Cunningham, saying important work needs to be accomplished without politics interfering.
“It is essential that the county begin to look seriously at the operations and fiscal realities of the Division of Health and Family Services,” Fanslau said.

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