Aug 14, 2012 Erin Wisneski Uncategorized
Greater Baldwinsville residents turned out in high numbers to recent town board meetings.
Both the towns of Van Buren and Lysander held public hearings Aug. 7 and Aug. 13, respectively, to listen to comments regarding a proposal to change elective positions to appointive.
Supervisor Claude Sykes opened Van Buren’s public hearing on the matter by stating, “The board is aware that this is a somewhat controversial topic and in some people’s viewpoint does not merit consideration.” However, Sykes continued, having an elected highway superintendent is an outdated statute dating back to 1934 and, “with a three-fourths of a century old statute, perhaps the question should be why should the position remain elected?”
During the public hearing, opponents of the referendum said leaving it as an elected position allows residents to determine satisfaction of service.
“If we don’t like how the highway superintendent is doing his job, we can vote him out,” said Diane Branish.
“You’re taking away a kind of right – just because everybody else is doing it doesn’t’ mean we should have to,” added David Blaisdell, a resident and employee of the Van Buren Highway Department. “If there is no major concern, why change it?”
“We have to look to the future,” Sykes responded. Sykes then asked what right was being taken away if political parties choose the candidate for highway superintendent, and then there’s no opposition or choice anyway for decades at a time.
Virginia Lathrop, who spoke in favor of the motion, noted that Doug Foster, the current Van Buren Highway Superintendent was appointed after the former highway superintendent retired. She noted the board and employees seem to be happy, so “it shows you can do the right thing by appointing.” Voters later elected Foster to the position.
Van Buren officials approved the motion six to one to change the highway superintendent position from elective to appointive during the town’s Aug. 7 board meeting.
“I don’t know why we have to change anything,” said Councilor Harold Johnson, who voted against the motion.
Now the choice will go to Van Buren voters in the form of a referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot. Should Van Buren residents approve the change from elective to appointive, candidates for the position of highway superintendent would have to meet civil service requirements and the appointment would be for a four-year term; the town board would also deal with any dismissal.
Lysander held two public hearings on Monday, Aug. 13. The first hearing was held to listen to comments about changing the highway superintendent from elective to appointive and the second hearing was to listen to comments about changing the town clerk’s position from elective to appointive.
Many Lysander residents voiced concern about the lack of information provided regarding the proposed changes.
“I don’t understand why these positions would be better appointed rather than elected,” said resident Bob Tassone.
“We are [lacking] some concrete figures,” said Bill Tibbins. “I’m in the dark; I have no idea how much we’re going to save.”
“I think [the voters] should have all the information, and we have not had it,” said Hugh Kimball.
Lysander officials had little information to offer residents as these changes are the first steps that need to be taken in order to begin discussions about sharing services and cutting costs.
“We feel appointing [these positions] allows us to make better decisions on these inter-municipal agreements,” said Lysander Supervisor John Salisbury.
Discussions about inter-municipal agreements and consolidation were held during all three hearings. Baldwinsville Mayor Joseph Saraceni, who attended both hearings, said, “We have the opportunity to look outside the box. There is opportunity to cooperate among our highway departments. It’s about running an efficient government.”
Both Van Buren and Lysander officials said consolidation was a long way off, and that the three municipalities were looking at cost-saving measures through possible use of inter-municipal measures.
While some were against the changes because of vague references to potential agreements, others said there was no other choice but to approve the motion and give the choice to voters.
“It’s got to be put on the ballot as a referendum now,” said Bill Osier. “If not, you are taking away the vote from those who may want to appoint.”
While the highway superintendent position is a change both towns have proposed, changing the town clerk’s position from elective to appointive is a proposal presented only by the Lysander Town Board. In addition, there have not been any discussions about sharing these services throughout the three municipalities. Supervisor John Salisbury said the board chose to move forward with a public hearing regarding this change because, “if we were going to do this, we were going to put both up [for referendum].”
Former Lysander Clerk Shirley Kelly, who served the town for 24 years in the position, said she was opposed to changing both positions, speaking specifically about the town clerk position.
“Being elected means that the town clerk is an independent elected official, accountable directly to the citizens of the town, not to the town board … As an elected clerk, I could protect and promote the interests of the taxpayers above all else,” Kelly said.
Onondaga Town Clerk Lisa Goodwin said she didn’t think municipalities could share the services of a town clerk. Lysander Attorney Anthony Rivizzigno replied that sharing services with an elected town clerk was not possible, but he thought it was possible with an appointed clerk.
“It’d be a good idea to find out,” Goodwin said.
The motion to approve the changes was not on the Aug. 13 Lysander agenda. Officials said they planned to vote on both items during the Monday, Aug. 27, board meeting, which is the latest the town board can approve the measure so that it will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.
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