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Jul 15, 2009 11:40 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Hearings set for elected office proposals

Jul 15, 2009 11:40 AM

The Southampton Town Board will hold public hearings later this month on the possibility of putting proposals to change to the elected offices of highway superintendent and receiver of taxes to appointed ones to a referendum this fall.

The board voted on Tuesday to hold the hearings on both resolutions, one each for the highway superintendent and tax receiver posts, at its July 28 meeting. Board members began discussing the proposal in early June when Town Councilwoman Nancy Graboski introduced the idea. In order to get the referendum on the November ballot, the board would have to adopt resolutions approving the changes by September 4.

If approved by voters, the elected offices would become appointed ones effective January 1, 2012.

Ms. Graboski’s proposals have been met with mostly negative reactions from her fellow Town Board members, from outgoing Highway Superintendent Bill Masterson and from highway superintendent candidate Alex Gregor, all of whom have spoken publicly against the idea. Among their criticisms is the prediction that the appointed offices would become political patronage jobs. But at the board’s meeting on Tuesday, some members of the public said, though they are necessarily in favor of changing the way the highway and tax receiver positions offices are filled, they were in favor of holding a referendum on the issue.

“I think we should keep them as elected,” said Brad Bender, president of the Flanders Riverside Northampton Community Association. “But I support the referendum. Let the voters decide.”

Joan Hughes, president of the East Quogue Citizens Advisory Committee agreed.

“This should go to the voters. Let the people express their opinion,” Ms. Hughes said.

Ms. Graboski, who is spearheading the initiative, cited an April 2008 study conducted by the New York State Commission on Local Government Efficiency that suggests professional positions, such as tax receiver and highway superintendent, be appointed and not elected. She said the proposed changes to the positions should not be viewed as a “report card” on any incumbent, or candidate.

“The idea is for non-policy positions to be appointed,” Ms. Graboski said. “The Town Board makes policy while the other departments carry out that policy.”

The councilwoman argued that specific skills are required for certain offices, even more so now as the town has grown, and that the public might be better served if the Town Board selected qualified candidates with the proper credentials.

But Mr. Masterson, who is stepping down at the end of the year after 20 years on the job, and the Democratic nominee to replace him, Alex Gregor, found rare common ground in arguing against any change to the status quo.

“Whether it’s Republicans or Democrats in power, if this position were to be an appointed one it would be the sweetest political plum available,” Mr. Masterson said. “I’ve been elected five times in 20 years. If the people don’t like the job you’re doing then they can throw you out.”

Mr. Masterson also said the proposal isn’t fair to Mr. Gregor and John McGann, the Republican nominee for the post, because whoever wins in November would only get to serve two years of what is now a four-year term. After the first two years, the Town Board would choose an appointee—potentially superseding the voters if a new person is selected—who would then serve a four-year appointed term.

Mr. Gregor also rejected the councilwoman’s argument that a “professional” would be better suited for the job, citing recent examples of what he referred to as mismanagement of town projects. “We had professionals decide to put in a septic system at the Justice Court without county approval and there are other problems with the court site,” he said. “Was that good planning?”

Town Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst said the current Town Board had a “dismal record” of filling vacancies to various appointed boards, such as the Conservation Board, some of which remain vacant, and argued that carrying that track record over to such an important position as highway superintendent would be a disaster for the town.

“Imagine if highway superintendent remained unfilled,” she said. “Besides, to think that appointing a highway superintendent would not become steeped in politics is simply not facing reality.”

According to Mr. Masterson, of the 500 towns in the state that have highway superintendents, only 10 are appointed. “This makes no sense,” he said, adding that in 2004 a similar ballot proposition in Brookhaven failed five to one.

“What I also find troubling in all this,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “Is that we’re essentially telling the public we’re more qualified to choose a candidate then they are.”

Bill Wright, who is running on the Republican ticket for Town Board, also spoke in favor of keeping the highway superintendent as is.

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I have to agree with anna on this one....
By UNITED states CITIZEN (207), SOUTHAMPTON on Jul 21, 09 1:41 PM