Jul 26, 2012 Erin Wisneski Uncategorized
Both Lysander and Van Buren officials have had discussions about changing elected town positions to appointed positions, specifically that of the highway superintendent.
At the July 9 Lysander board meeting, resident Mike Bishoff asked the board if it was considering eliminating elected positions, a rumor that he heard was going around. Supervisor John Salisbury responded saying, “Any discussions we have had have been in executive sessions.” Salisbury also alluded to a leak of those executive discussions and told Bishoff the board plans to hold a public hearing sometime in August regarding any change.
While Lysander officials are keeping mum thus far, Van Buren is ready to vote upon the issue and Van Buren Supervisor Claude Sykes champions the move from elective to appointed highway superintendent.
According to Sykes, this action appears to be a growing trend among towns across the state.
Prior to becoming supervisor, Sykes served for more than 30 years as Baldwinsville’s highway superintendent, which was an appointed position, and has a good understanding of both the pros and cons of changing the position from elective to appointed.
“I have seen both sides of this issue and I believe that an appointed superintendent offers the municipality more accountability, cooperation, oversight and transparency,” Sykes said. “The highway department budget is the largest in most towns and with an elected superintendent you have only one person responsible for in our case a $2 million dollar budget, while other town departments, which have much smaller budgets, have the department head and the entire town board responsible for the budget.”
“Most taxpayers believe that the supervisor and town board oversee the highway superintendent, which is not true. They operate autonomously of the town board. Having an appointed position would create a partnership with the town board to ensure best management measures are employed for the taxpayers,” Sykes continued, adding the public typically has limited knowledge and criteria on which to judge their elected superintendent such as are the roads plowed, maintained and swept when these actually account for the minority of a superintendent’s duties.
“If an elected superintendent is what is best for taxpayers then why aren’t the head of the NYSDOT, the Onondaga County DOT, the Thruway Authority and school superintendents elected?” Sykes asked, adding that the two largest towns in the county, Clay and Salina, have appointed superintendents as do all villages in New York and towns within other states.
In addition, Civil Service requirements for an appointed superintendent are much higher than an elected superintendent, which only requires residency and a minimum age of 18 years old.
“Many believe that the state law governing elected highway superintendents is antiquated and should be changed to require appointed superintendents,” Sykes said. “On the other side of that coin, many believe it should stay elected since the superintendents would rather face a public vote every two or four years rather than try to work with their town boards, who have the institutional knowledge of problems within their respective towns and know the other overall problems within the town.”
“With the economic times we face, the method that affords the most accountability should be utilized,” Sykes continued. “Since highway budgets are the largest, it is old school thinking that they should operate separate from the rest of town government. Our board feels that accountability, cooperation, improved oversight and transparency are more important than any one individual, position, special interest group or political party. This is about what is right for the taxpayers.”
Looking ahead, Sykes noted that if Van Buren, Lysander and Baldwinsville were to ever consider becoming a consolidated municipality then having the superintendents appointed would be one less obstacle in the consolidation effort. Although, Sykes also said there was already a discussion about consolidating the three municipalities’ highway departments and officials determined it would be difficult for one person to do the job without appointed deputies.
“It would be more like a highway commissioner with deputies,” Sykes said. “We all agreed that, at least for now, we should continue on independently with our own superintendents.”
In order to make the highway superintendent into an appointed position, the municipality must first hold a public hearing then vote on the local law to change the position from elective to appointed. If the vote passes the law, it then becomes a proposition on the November ballot for taxpayers to vote upon and decide.
“This action places the outcome of this measure in the hands of the voters, where it should be,” Sykes said. “The voters can let things remain the same or can vote for improved accountability, cooperation, oversight and transparency. It will be their decision.”
Van Buren will hold a public hearing on this issue at 7:32 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 7, at the town hall, corner of Ellsworth and Van Buren roads.
While Van Buren is ready to take action on the position of highway superintendent, Sykes said there have been no talks about changing the town clerk position from elective to appointed.
“That position is not policy setting and is one of the smallest budgets within town government,” Sykes said. “It is also housed in town hall so indirectly there is oversight even though the position is elected.”
Sykes also noted that the current highway superintendent, Doug Foster, is doing a great job.
“The board will appoint him to the position if [the resolution is] passed,” he said.