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Highway superintendent and employees at odds

September 24, 2012
By JOHN BORGOLINI , The Leader Herald

BROADALBIN - The town highway superintendent and his workers are at odds with each other, and the supervisor isn't sure what to do about the problem.

"It's still ongoing," said Supervisor Joe DiGiacomo. "We talked about maybe getting a mediator. We sat and talked and talked and talked. I don't know where it's going honestly."

Highway Superintendent Lance Winney, who took over the position nearly nine months ago, is at odds with: Leon Foss, who has worked for the Highway Department for 30 years; Dan Steele, who has worked there for 25 years; Bob Perry, who has worked there for 15 years; and Sandy Thompson, who has worked there for 10 years.

The workers said they haven't been able to get along with Winney since he started. The employees claim Winney has jeopardized a $72,000 contract with Fulton County for plowing its roads within the town limits. They say town taxes could increase by 30 percent if the town loses the contract.

At a Town Board meeting in August, DiGiacomo asked Winney about a letter he wrote to Fulton County officials. DiGiacomo said he received two letters from county officials telling him that Winney had expressed concern about not being able to plow the county roads in the town.

Winney said he wrote the letter because he had safety concerns about plowing those roads.

DiGiacomo dismissed those concerns and suggested that it was written due to Winney's struggles working with his employees.

DiGiacomo has since met with county officials and brought them a letter signed by the four highway department workers saying they want to plow the roads, but it is still undecided on what will happen with the contract.

"That's revenue we've had for a long time," Perry said.

"Losing the county roads is terrible. That's the worst thing," Thompson added. "The bottom line is taxpayers are going to suffer ... Thank God we have a town supervisor like Joe DiGiacomo, because this town would be in sad shape without him."

The workers said Winney keeps telling them to wait until 1 1/2 years when DiGiacomo is up for re-election, suggesting Winney doesn't want DiGiacomo to keep his position.

However, Winney said the only problem he has is DiGiacomo was too easy on the employees in the department.

"He's allowed them to do stuff they shouldn't have been doing. They don't like the new rules," Winney said.

"[Winney's] campaign promise was that he was going to work with the crew, be there everyday, [but] ever since he got there, he hasn't done anything but work against the crew and not work all day," Foss said. "He constantly wants to write you up, and he even said that in executive session - that he constantly wanted to write [Steele and Perry] up. He's had it in for these two ever since he got in."

Winney dismissed that idea, and said he just wants them to do their job.

As an example, Winney said that earlier in the summer Foss, Perry and Steele were flagging drivers while they were paving a road. According to Winney, Steele left his part of the street.

"They're the ones that screw up the most," Winney said. "I'm not looking for them to lose their job. I'm looking for them to do their job."

Winney hasn't gathered support in the last two Town Board meetings. In August, the possible loss of the county plowing contract was brought to the board's attention.

In September, Winney handed his budget report to DiGiacomo and walked out of the meeting.

DiGiacomo said there was a group of town residents at the September meeting complaining about Winney, causing him to leave.

Winney also isn't getting any support from the former town Highway Superintendent Donald Loveless.

Loveless said in a letter that Winney promised to save taxpayers money, but instead has caused them thousands of dollars in legal fees after cutting down trees without the Town Board's permission.

In that case earlier this year, the town sought a preliminary injunction sought against Winney, but later dropped the legal action. DiGiacomo said Winney ordered Highway Department employees to cut down trees near the town barn without the Town Board's approval. Winney said he was trying to fix a water-runoff situation that left part of the town barn flooded after a winter storm.

Loveless said in prior years, he and the workers would paint two trucks a year. Winney this year had an outside worker paint two trucks for $5,000 each, Loveless said.

"My thought was maybe it would be cheaper to send [the trucks] out and keep [the employees] out mowing," Winney said. "I'm trying to get them to work and they're trying to slow down just to make me look bad."



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