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Town Engineer leaves ‘most satisfying’ job

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO  John Cronin,

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO John Cronin,

John Cronin, who resigned as town engineer September 1, is considering a number of job opportunities, some in the engineering or maritime fields and others not related to either of the two areas that have been specialties throughout his life.

He called the position he’s just left “the most satisfying” of any engineering job he’s held in a 45-year career.

Looking back, he said his work for the town directly affected Island residents for the better, which was what made the job fulfilling. “You’re doing something you’re connected to,” he said.

Thoughts started to surface about retiring last spring, Mr. Cronin said. He found the job stimulating, but also frustrating because of what he described as “a leadership vacuum” that must be filled if the town is to make advancements he believes are necessary.

When he uses those words, he’s not taking swipes at elected or appointed officials in town who, he said, bring knowledge and experience to their roles. Nor is he complaining about the more than 100 volunteers who serve on town committees and boards.

But he believes that with the efforts those volunteers bring to their work, there’s a requirement that staffers provide direction.

Much needed strategic thinking and succession planning often doesn’t happen, Mr. Cronin said. Elected officials are good at being reactive to situations, but he looks forward to a day when they will be more proactive.

He pointed to three town officials he believes are taking that proactive approach to their work — Public Works Commissioner Jay Card Jr., Police Chief Jim Read and Animal Control Officer Beau Payne.

Speaking of  Supervisor Jim Dougherty, who paid tribute to Mr. Cronin in a press release for his years of service to the town, Mr. Cronin said he never met a person “as politically astute as he is, but the political side of things isn’t all there is.”

The former town engineer understands the realities of the state-mandated tax cap for municipalities, but believes there’s still an obligation to craft long-range plans, which requires funding, to maintain town assets.

Shelter Island has a relatively low tax rate — one of the lowest in the state — and no one wants to raise taxes unnecessarily, Mr. Cronin said. But he believes it’s vital to create a 10-, 15- or 20-year plan that ensures work is done to protect and maintain vital infrastructure each year.

It’s something he and Mr. Card have fought for during budget negotiations in the past few years.

Outgoing Councilwoman Christine Lewis, whose chose not to seek re-election this year, gave voice to that idea at a recent Town Board work session, saying the town has to think about maintenance of its assets and can’t always rely on grants for work needed on buildings.

The town has to stop operating on “a sky is falling basis,” she said, meaning waiting for the moment when a crisis occurs, and can’t rely solely on grants to get things done.

When Mr. Cronin’s job was created five years ago, it was the strategic thinking of Councilman Peter Reich and Mr. Card who recognized that many projects being undertaken by the town needed someone with engineering expertise.

That hasn’t changed, Mr. Cronin said.

He suspects that when he first informed the Town Board of his plan to depart, there was “a bit of a disbelief factor” that resulted in the word not being made public until it was revealed by Mr. Cronin a few days after his resignation took effect.

With the search on to replace Mr. Cronin, immediate plans call for using interim engineers who would be hired to address specific projects. In addition, Mr. Cronin said he would assist Mr. Card with any projects on which the public works commissioner needs his expertise.

Before he was appointed town engineer, Mr. Cronin served the town in other posts, including two terms as an assessor, a member of the Planning Board and serving at one point as its chairman.

He was also a member of the Community Housing Board during its early years.

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