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Aug 19, 2009 12:18 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Board kills appointed highway chief proposal

Aug 19, 2009 12:18 PM

The Southampton Town Board on Friday killed a proposal to move from an elected highway superintendent to an appointed one.

The board voted against setting a public hearing on legislation that, if adopted, would have asked voters in November to decide whether the town should maintain the elected highway superintendent position or to instead create the position of commissioner of public works, which would be appointed by the Town Board.

If voters had approved the change, it would have then allowed the Town Board, and not the state, to establish the guidelines and qualifications for the job.

Town Board members Anna Throne-Holst, Sally Pope and Chris Nuzzi opposed the latest variation of the plan to get rid of the elected position, which has been in the works in one form or another for months.

Support for the plan dwindled last month when the New York State Department of Civil Service informed town officials that an appointed highway superintendent would be a protected civil service position, but was then reinvigorated in recent weeks when it was surmised that the town could bypass civil service law by creating a highway commissioner instead.

Last month, the state informed the town attorney’s office that the board would not be able to set the guidelines of an appointed highway superintendent. Changing the position to an appointed one would place it under the civil service umbrella, classifying it as a “competitive” position, meaning that the appointee would be subjected to state testing and would have to be selected from a civil service list—and would also enjoy civil service protections.

But Deputy Town Attorney Kathleen Murray then told board members that they might be able to avoid that scenario by getting voter approval for an appointed post, after which the board could vote to convert the post to that of a commissioner of public works. Such a position would be “unclassified” under civil service standards, Ms. Murray said, meaning the town would have the power to establish qualifications for the job and could more easily remove someone from the post.

The problem with that alternative was that a new board emerging after November’s election could renege on converting the post to that of a commissioner or outright reverse the decision in the future.

The resolution that was shot down on Friday had proposed to combine both steps into one ballot proposition.

Had the measure been approved, the Town Board would have had the authority to appoint the highway superintendent to a two-year term beginning January 1, 2012 and to fix the salary for the office.

Town Councilwoman Nancy Graboski, who had been spearheading the measure, said on Friday that she was disappointed that her colleagues had rejected the measure. “This means the voters will not have the chance to decide,” she said.

Technically, a public hearing on Ms. Graboski’s first proposal to create an appointed superintendent position—that would be subject to civil service guidelines—is still open.

A separate public hearing concerning a similar change to the office of tax receiver also remains open. An appointed tax receiver would also become a civil servant, the only difference being, according to Ms. Murray, that unlike the highway superintendent position, it would be classified as “non-competitive.” That would mean that it would still need to meet state qualifications, but candidates would not have to be selected from a civil service list.

In light of Friday’s vote, it seemed doubtful that the board would move forward with either proposal. In order to for the measures to appear on November’s ballot, they would need to be approved prior to a September 4 deadline.

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Ah come on - another bureaucratic layer of favors and deals protected.
Make it appointed so there is some standard of responsibilty
By North of Highway (280), Westhampton Beach on Aug 14, 09 9:09 PM
Nancy is mistaken-the voters still decide who the highway super will be. She wanted to take that choice away.
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Aug 15, 09 5:29 PM
1 member liked this comment
You are so right EastEnd68! I thought the same thing when I read this article! Favors and deals are protected when people are appointed - not elected. Throw the bums out!
By Board Watcher (534), East Hampton on Aug 15, 09 10:28 PM