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Consider appointed town highway superintendents

October 2, 2012
The Leader Herald

While there are only about a dozen appointed - rather than elected - town highway superintendents in the state, many communities are examining making the switch.

We, too, are wondering whether the road in town highway departments would be less bumpy if highway superintendents, like most city and village Department of Public Works heads, were appointed by their town boards.

The DPW and highway department perform essential functions. Because of these employees, the roads are salted and plowed, potholes are mended and vital infrastructure is kept up to date.

Turmoil in a highway department can affect people's daily lives, which is why it's so important a qualified person leads the department.

Over the past nine months, elected Broadalbin Town Highway Superintendent Lance Winney has had to defend himself against the town supervisor, the past highway superintendent and members of his staff who have been working for the department for decades.

Now it looks like the town will lose a $76,750 contract with the county to plow 14 miles of county-owned roadway. Previously, Winney sent the county a letter regarding his concerns about safety issues involving the town plowing the roads.

Meanwhile, Winney's staff is publicly questioning his qualifications, abilities and performance.

We aren't taking sides in Broadalbin's situation, but if the town highway superintendent were appointed, the person would have to meet minimum qualifications, have some sort of public works or construction background and be a choice the majority of Town Board members would approve of.

We realize politics may be involved regardless of whether the position is elected of appointed. On one hand, making the position appointed instead of elected eliminates people from electing that person based on party lines. However, if a town board and superintendent are all of the same political party, the position could be politicized.

The upside of an elected position is voters have a say. The flip side of that argument is voters had a say in electing the other officials who would choose the person for this position, if it were an appointed one.

Some say keeping the position in the hands of the electorate keeps it accountable to all. On the other hand, the only requirement for being a highway superintendent in many towns is being a registered voter.

According to state law, it would be up to the voters to decide if they want an appointed highway superintendent. The change would require a local law, which requires a referendum.

We don't know if this is the answer, but Broadalbin and other towns may want to consider the option.



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