Voters to Decide in November

By Jann Wiswall

Following a public hearing on the issue, the Town of Ellicottville’s board voted on Wednesday, Aug. 20, to pass a local law abolishing the elective office of the highway superintendent and create the appointed office of highway superintendent. The board’s action prompts a mandatory referendum, putting the issue on the November election ballot.

If voters approve the law, it would not take effect until the end of the current elected highway superintendent’s term, which expires Dec. 31, 2015.

Several members of the community attended the public hearing to comment and ask questions. Ellicottville resident Nita Widger asked the board to explain its reasoning for the proposed law.

Town Supervisor John Burrell said one of the biggest advantages is to ensure the next highway superintendent is qualified to do the job. The current superintendent, Dave Golley, is well qualified, he said, but if he retires at the end of his term, “we have no idea if another qualified person will run for the elected position.”

If the board can hire and appoint someone, we can ensure that we are getting someone who is capable and has proven qualifications.

Another advantage is to give the board some control over the highway superintendent’s job performance. An appointed highway department head would report to the town supervisor and town board, giving them the opportunity to assign duties and help solve problems.

“With an elected superintendent,” Burrell explained, “the board only has influence on the department’s budget, which represents a full third of the entire town budget.”

An elected superintendent has complete autonomy in how the highway department functions and the work that is done. He does not report to the board, doesn’t have to listen to the board and doesn’t have to explain his actions to the board.

“The board gets the complaints, and we can ask the superintendent to respond, but then it’s out of our hands,” said board member Ken Hinman.

Another advantage to an appointed position, said board member Steve Crowley, is that “as times change, jobs change. We might want to redefine the job description and add some additional responsibilities down the road. We can’t do that with an elected position.”

If the appointed individual has some additional skills that aren’t used in the highway department job, the town would be able to put them to use in another way.

Widger remarked that “the average person doesn’t know all of this about these jobs. Most of us don’t know that the buck stops right outside the highway superintendent’s door.”

She suggested that the board should make an effort to explain its position to the community.

Several board members made sure to clarify that the law is “about the position, not the person.”

Looking ahead, the board believes that having an appointed position gives it the flexibility it needs to ensure the town has the best possible person on the job who will represent the interests of every resident.

The board encourages voters to contact any one of them for more information or clarification.

Following the public hearing, the board continued its regular meeting, during which a number of other important issues were discussed. See story on page 5.