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Jun 10, 2009 2:17 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Highway Superintendent might become an appointed position

Jun 10, 2009 2:17 PM

There is a growing movement to change the Southampton Town Highway Superintendent position from an elected office to an appointed one, a move some say is politically motivated. But Town Councilwoman Nancy Graboski, who is spearheading the initiative, said it’s about what’s best for the town.

The Town Board voted Tuesday to hold a public hearing on the possible change on Tuesday, July 14.

Under the proposal, the position would become an appointed one two years after this November’s upcoming election. So, whoever wins in November would serve two years of their elected term—which starts on January 1, 2010—at which point the Town Board would be able to decide to keep that person or appoint someone else. Appointments, should the position become an appointed one, would run four years.

If the resolution were to be adopted, the matter would then have to be approved by the voters in order for the change to take effect. If ratified by the voters, then the first appointed term would begin January 1, 2012.

Ms. Graboski, who sponsored Tuesday’s resolution, said there are good arguments on both sides of the issue and wanted to see how the voters felt about the potential switch.

“It’s something that’s been talked about for a while,” Ms. Graboski said. “I’m sensitive to those running and those in office now, and I respect that. This is not to cast aspersions on anyone.”

The main argument for the change, Ms. Graboski said, is that as the town has grown and the position has evolved to a more professional one, appointing someone with the appropriate credentials might better serve the town.

But Town Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst, who voted with Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi against holding the public hearing, said the last thing the town needed to was to create another political patronage position, especially one as important as highway superintendent.

“This position affects the day-to-day quality of life of everyone in this town and involves a great deal of money and contracts and has the potential for corruption,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “The check and balance to that is having the voters elect the person to the office, not having that person be a political appointee.”

Current Highway Superintendent Bill Masterson, who is retiring at the end of this year after serving 20 years at the post, said he is absolutely opposed to the switch.

“First of all, I question the legality of removing somebody from office once they are elected to a four-year term,” Mr. Masterson said. “But this is a prime example of politicians taking away the voice of the people and the Town Board trying to micromanage the highway department.”

The veteran highway superintendent agreed with Ms. Throne-Holst that, if switched to an appointed position, the job would become a political one. “Right now it’s not a political job. But if they do this, then highway superintendent will become the biggest political plum for any party.”

Ms. Throne-Holst said that the timing of the measure smacks of politics.

“Everyone knew that the current superintendent was retiring, and now we have candidates running for the job. If Nancy Graboski felt so strongly about this, why didn’t she bring it up earlier in this administration? This is a Town Board that has exemplified dysfunction in filling appointed positions,” Ms. Throne-Holst said, adding that vacancies on appointed boards still remain despite a thorough interview process. “Regardless, it’s unfortunate that this become a campaign issue, which now it certainly will.”

John McGann, who is running for highway superintendent as the Republican nominee, said he is also opposed to the change. “My take is very simple. Any time a politician wants to take away your right to vote, you better stand up and pay attention,” Mr. McGann said. “If this happens, what the town will end up with is a yes man and that’s something we don’t need. At least with an elected official you have someone who can stand up and say no. This makes no sense.”

Alex Gregor, the nominee for highway superintendent on the Democratic, Working Families and Independence tickets, said he wouldn’t be opposed to the proposal if Southampton Town was a perfect world.

“But politics as they are, Southampton Town is not a perfect world,” Mr. Gregor said. “I think it’s a good idea to discuss the issue, but I think the people should decide. When you create another job, you look to fill a position, but when you have an elected position you hear from the community and those with skills and a vision for the town.”

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What possible benefit could there be to taking away the voters' right to decide who runs the highway department? If this goes through, the job will be filled by alternating Republican and Democratic Committee people, depending on who holds the majority that year. Pure patronage.
By hillstationrd (6), Southampton on Jun 10, 09 1:26 PM
Nancy? What has gotten into you? First you dissolve the County Road 39 moratorium to pave the way for the mayor's father to build 124 homes (more than 200 now in our small Tuckahoe) and now this? You and Sally Pope and Kabot want to create a new patronage position? What happened to you campaigning for the people? The people should decide who gets the highway position, not the Town Board.
By Hampton (50), Westhampton on Jun 10, 09 1:32 PM
Here is a classic example of why the Republicans didn't want to renominate her in 2007. She doesn't think things through. The ONLY thing that comes from this is feeding the ego of the town board, allowing them to make this a patronage position. It is a peoples choice, Ms Graboski, plain and simple. I also understand that she wants to add Receiver of Taxes to this. Why don't you just resign when Ms Kabot gets voted out ?
By Terry (380), Southampton on Jun 10, 09 3:55 PM
Give me a break...have we forgotten about the asphalt contract fiascos already? Guess whose roads got plowed first this past winter. Wasn't mine. My "Fall" clean-up didn't happen until the following Spring. And I'm still falling into potholes on my street, where the drywells have been over-flowing for 5 years now. Let's not forget about all those roads that flood during a rainfall. What does the Highway Super do - plops orange barrels in the middle of the lakes. How about FIXING the problems! ...more
By Ms. Jane Q. Public (147), Southampton on Jun 24, 09 9:20 AM
We need elections for this position
By deKooning (106), southampton on Jun 30, 09 12:26 PM