Make the changes

A ‘vote yes’ sign on display along County Route 192 in Alexandria Bay. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

Proposals by public officials to replace elective positions with appointive positions are often cause for alarm.

Members of the Lewis County Board of Legislators wisely chose to retain a treasurer who is elected by local voters nearly two years ago.

They had considered converting this into an appointive rather than an elective post.

On this page, we cautioned legislators against removing voters from this process.

The treasurer must be independent from members of the board.

In November 2018, Lewis County lawmakers thought better of their plan and retained the status quo — which was a definite win for their constituents.

However, there are times when eliminating an elective position and creating an appointive one is the appropriate move.

The Alexandria Town Council is asking voters to consider such changes with the positions of highway superintendent and town clerk.

Council members have placed these issues on the ballot for the Nov. 3 general election.

In a story published Aug. 18, Alexandria Town Supervisor Brent Sweet pointed out that “the Alexandria highway [superintendent] is in charge of two funds accounting for roughly 40 percent of the town’s $4.09 million budget. As it stands now, the superintendent is the only person who’s able to make decisions on spending from those accounts, without input from the Town Council.

“He said if the superintendent [was] to become an appointee, they would still maintain control of those accounts but would be required to follow the direction of the board on what money to spend and where to spend it,” the article reported. “Mr. Sweet also said the highway superintendent currently works only when the department is short-staffed, like when another highway worker is out sick. The proposition the council has put to the vote would make the appointed highway supervisor a ‘working supervisor,’ meaning they would work as well as oversee the department.”

Michael Tibbles serves as highway superintendent for the town of Alexandria, and his annual salary is $53,468.

Mr. Sweet said an appointed highway supervisor would be paid between $25 and $30 per hour based on experience.

He added that the town spends about $81,000 per Highway Department employee.

Having a working supervisor would allow the Town Council to save money by reducing the staff by one individual, he said.

The council also would control how Highway Department projects are prioritized in keeping with the rest of the town budget.

As with the rest of its financial responsibilities, the council should control this aspect of town operations.

There is no elective highway/roadway position on either the municipal, county or state levels of government.

This is a sensible move that voters should support.

They also should approve a referendum to adopt an appointed town clerk.

This position pays an annual salary of $42,317, and the individual holding this job serves as both town clerk and town tax collector.

An appointed clerk would earn between $19 and $23.50 per hour.

This is obviously an important position that requires the right person.

But in the town of Alexandria, the electoral process has a history of coming up short when it comes to achieving this goal.

Town Clerk Jessy Hudon took off 126 days out of 250 possible work days last year; that’s half of the time she should have been on the job.

At the time, she didn’t offer an explanation as to why she was absent so often.

But as an elected official, she didn’t really need to.

She can pretty much work as much — or as little — as she wants.

When she returned to full-time work in September, Ms. Hudon said she had been out of the office for personal and health reasons.

A former town clerk inflicted even more difficulties on the town.

Ellen S. Peck stole more than $25,000 between 2009 and 2013.

If these positions became appointive, Town Council members could implement necessary qualifications for each one — something that can’t be done now.

For the most part, elected officials in New York merely need to meet certain age, residency and citizenship requirements.

If these positions are turned into appointive rather than elective spots, council members must enable both individuals to advise officials on financial and operational matters concerning their respective departments; this could be drafted into their job descriptions.

While the council should ultimately make these decisions, such input from the two department heads is critical.

Passing these two referendum measures will allow council members to better manage the town’s finances.

This also will create more accountability on the part of the highway supervisor and town clerk.

Voters should examine the benefits of moving in this direction and support these initiatives.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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(2) comments

Holmes

Time to renegotiate salaries. No wonder taxes are so high. Way over paid for the area and job description...

Eagle24

Agreed Holmes.. I've never understood local leadership where positions are elected and are not accountable to anyone until the next election. Any position should be based on performance, and accountable to a supervisor, or board.. Re-evaluating the structure is long overdue.

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