When voters in the Town of Danby head to the polls next week, they’ll be asked whether to change the position of highway superintendent from an elected office to an appointed one.
The Danby Town Board authorized the referendum back in September, citing the evolving nature of the position. Matt Ulinski, a Danby councilman and the coordinator for the referendum, provided background information showing that the highway supervisor needs to be able to adapt to changing technology, apply for grants, and deal with changing state and federal laws. If the position was appointed, the Town Board would be able to set their own qualifications for the job.
Under New York State law, highway superintendents are responsible for maintaining and building roads and bridges that are owned by the town. This includes plowing the roads during the winter, and repaving in the summer months.
However the proposal on the ballot is not the only change in the role of highway superintendent that the law allows. According to the New York Department of State, a town is authorized to change the residency requirements for elected highway superintendents just by passing a law, with no referendum needed. In other words, this means that a town board can change the statewide requirement that the superintendent must live in the town, and could remain an elected position.
This move was considered, according to the information provided by Ulinski, but the Board chose to move ahead with the referendum, because in their view, “The process of appointing a Highway Superintendent addresses more of the concerns with the current process than others.”
This will be the second time in the past eight years that this question appears on the ballots of Danby residents. In 2010, voters narrowly rejected the proposal by a margin of just 4 votes.
A public hearing held back in August shows that residents are still closely divided on the issue. Out of the people who spoke at the nearly two hour long hearing, at least 12 were directly opposed to the plan, while only six were directly in favor. Proponents felt that letting the town board appoint someone would lead to well qualified candidates, while opponents expressed concern that their right to vote for the office would be taken away. Some advocated a compromise solution, where the board would select a candidate that residents could approve or disapprove.
If the referendum passes, the current superintendent will be allowed to finish out his term, and the newly appointed superintendent will take office on January 1, 2020. Current highway superintendent Carl Seamon indicated in a letter sent to the public hearing that he would like to serve another term, whether it be in an elected or appointed capacity.
Cover photo: Enterence to the Danby Highway Department offices on Hornbrook Rd. (Michael Pyskaty/Ithaca Week)