Discussion on the possibility of moving the highway superintendent position from elected to appointed was discussed by the North Collins Town Board at its Oct. 10 meeting.
There was little doubt that the discussion was influenced by the phone calls received by the town supervisor and councilmen urging town action against the current Superintendent David Winter. Winter was charged last month with malicious vandalism by the Erie County Sheriff’s Department for allegedly pouring a noxious fluid into another person’s vehicle and is currently facing a court hearing. Winter pled not guilty when arraigned.
Supervisor Rosaline Seege reported the large volume of phone calls she has received demanding board action, and said the town board does not have the authority to remove an elected official from office. Town Attorney Richard Schaus responded that any attempt at removal of an elected official would have to be filed as a lawsuit and enter the court system. “Elected officials are not allowed to remove other elected officials from office,” he said.
Instead, the idea of eliminating the highway superintendent position as an elected one through a local law and referendum surfaced. Schaus outline two scenarios in which this could happen. The town board could enact a local law abolishing the position and hold a public hearing on the matter. The law would then go to the voters in a special election. The second means would be the filing of petitions by residents with a minimum of 5 percent of the electorate from the last election signing on. That process would also require a special election to follow. If approved by the voters, the current position would be abolished immediately and the board would appoint a highway superintendent.
It was the second option that seemed to gain the favor of most on the board. Councilman George LoBianco told the audience, “You elected us, you are the town, if you are unhappy with the performance of the superintendent, you can petition, it is your right.”
The board also approved a series of new policies, many which were aimed at complaints about practices at the highway department. They included:
• A policy against nepotism. Forbids the hiring of immediate relatives where they would have the authority to supervise, remove or discipline the other; Where both would report to the same supervisor; Where there could be conflict between the interests of one of the parties and the best interest of the town or conflict between other employees. The policy exempts current employees and also those who might meet the criteria due to the election of an official or through marriage.
• A policy forbidding the use by any town employee of town equipment or vehicles in the commission of any criminal offense and forbidding any personal use of town-owned vehicles for personal use. It further mandates that employees who operate town equipment document their qualifications with the supervisor and calls for both a drug test and criminal background check on all prospective employees.
• A policy designating the town supervisor as the human resource administrator and being responsible for the possession and central storage of all personnel and payroll records. It further requires the installation and use of time cards beginning Nov. 1 of this year by hourly employees including those at Helmuth Fire Control and carries termination provisions if time cards are manipulated for one’s self or another employee. All employees and volunteers who operate town vehicles or may submit mileage reimbursements, are now required to show their current driver license each year at the organizational meeting. It also forbids smoking in town-owned vehicles in compliance with Erie County Health law.
In other action, the board set Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. as the time for a public hearing on proposals for Community Block Grant Funding. Seege noted that the board does not intend to apply for funding this year to increase its point count for future applications, but would like to adopt a resolution endorsing continued funding for the Rural Transit Program. The board also approved for filing the third quarter report on the Ketchum Road landfill.
The board approved a request by John Tobias, chairman of the planning board, to review the current master plan for the town. The document has not been updated since 1992. Tobias also reported that the planning board had reviewed the proposed wind turbine law and made a few changes. These have been submitted to Schaus for review and will be presented to the board in a month or two.
Michael Gullo, who volunteered to maintain the ball diamonds this year, reported that he put in about 93 hours into the effort this year and was aided by other volunteers. He noted that he was not able to perform all the tasks that should be done and urged the board to take that into consideration when establishing its budget for next year. He also recommended that the board investigate needed makeovers of all the diamonds which his investigation reveals would cost approximately $3,500 per field.
Highway Superintendent Winter praised Gullo’s work this year and thanked the other volunteers. “Without whom we’d be lost,” he said. He also endorsed the idea of reconstructing the ball fields saying it would be money well spent.
Tobias applauded LoBianco’s recent efforts to solicit residents for ideas on improving the town. He added that the town should activate the talents in the schools and make a greater effort to update the town’s website to get the message out to the public. He would also like to see projects developed that young people could get involved with.
LoBianco reported that he has gained support from the school administration for his public input sessions and has allowed him to hold another idea meeting at the elementary school cafeteria on Nov. 3 from 10 a.m. to noon. He added that flyers are being sent home with children announcing the meeting in hopes of attracting young families.
LoBianco also reported on his attendance at the recent village meeting to propose flood mitigation plans. He has talked with Winter and believes that the town has the equipment that can assist the village in the work.
Schaus reported that one bid for $2,900 has been received from a forester as the town examines the possibility of performing a “selective harvest” of trees in the town’s parks. He recommended that with the bid being so near the $3,000 threshold mandating competitive bidding, the board attempt to get at least one more bid.
Town Justice John Stevens said that previous plans to cut trees in the park have been rejected by town residents. He said there are two sides to the issue and understands both, but that leaving old growth in place creates its own unique environment as well.
LoBianco responded that the idea would be very selective and is only designed to remove diseased and ash trees from town land. The board has said that any timber sale proceeds would be set aside for the erection of a recreation center in the town.
Town Clerk Margaret Orrange reported that new election districts have been established by the Board of Elections and residents should have been notified of changes in polling places.
Three election districts are in existence.
The village by itself and the rest of the town is split, east and west of Jennings Road.