Let us flash back one year to June 14, 2011 and the minutes of the Town of Clarkstown Board meeting wherein we read that Councilman Hoehmann offered and Councilwoman Lasker seconded Resolution No. 343-2011 which was a proposed local law entitled:
"A local law to abolish the position of an elected Superintendent of Highways and replace it with an appointed Superintendent of Highways in the Town of Clarkstown"
The proposed law had been introduced by Councilman Borelli, at a Town Board meeting held on May 17, 2011 and it was passed by a unanimous vote of the Town Board at the June 14, 2011 meeting.
The law that the Board wished to have enacted proposed to take from the citizens the power to elect the person they desired to be the Superintendent of Highways and give their rights to the Town Board to appoint its preferred candidate for that position.
Here are some of the key points from the proposed Town of Clarkstown Local Law No. 4 - 2011
Legislative Intent: The Town of Clarkstown desires to eliminate the elected position of Superintendent of Highways and replace it with an appointed position of Superintendent of Highways.
Purpose: The purpose of this local law is to abolish the elected position of Superintendent of Highways and replace it with an appointed position of Superintendent of Highways in the Town of Clarkstown, New York.
Abolition of Elected Position; Creation of Appointed Position: The elected position of the Superintendent of Highways in the Town of Clarkstown, New York is hereby abolished, effective January 1, 2014. The appointed position of the Superintendent of Highways in the Town of Clarkstown, New York is hereby created, effective January 1, 2014.
Transfer of Duties: Except as set forth in Section 9, all duties, authority and power previously vested in the elected Superintendent of Highways shall be vested in the appointed Superintendent of Highways.
Mandatory Referendum: This local law shall be subject to mandatory referendum at the next regularly scheduled General Election on November 8, 2011.
According to a in New City Patch, Clarkstown Town officials provided the following reasons for changing how the position of Superintendent of Highways would be filled.
1) It would enable consolidation of services. There are three garages at the Seeger Drive complex: the highway department, the town police garage and the Clarkstown Mini Trans. With an appointed superintendent, the three garages could be restructured under one department head.
Consolidation of the garages was (and still may be) a good idea but the proposed change in the law did not explain why this could only happen under an 'appointed' and not under an 'elected' superintendent.
2) The anticipated cost savings would be up to $500,000.
That would be a good economic outcome for the taxpayers of Clarkstown but the question still remained of why this consolidation could, in the Town Board's view, only occur under an 'appointed' and not under an 'elected' individual.
3) The Town Board would be able to establish professional criteria for the Highway Superintendent's job.
This reason seemed to unintentionally infer to the electorate that the present elected incumbent, Wayne Ballard, did not have 'professional criteria' while his educational background showed that he was fully qualified for the job.
The citizens of Clarkstown appear to have understood that if they passed this referendum then the power that they had to 'hire or fire' the Superintendent of Highways could possibly become a patronage appointment with an incumbent serving not at the will of the people but at the favor of someone at the heart of Clarkstown's political machinery.
And so on election day the referendum failed by a landslide. on November 10, 2011 that the number of voters opposed was 72.44 percent. The voters may have supported department consolidation (though this was not a question associated with the referendum) but they rejected changing the highway superintendent to an appointed position.
The vote was 'No'!
“Certainly they (the voters) spoke loud and clear on it. I’m certainly very comfortable with (the) office staying elected,” said Gromack.
But did the Supervisor 'hear' what the electorate had told him and was he really "comfortable' that he was not given the power to 'appoint'?
The decision of the electorate was wise. A month after the election the Bronx Republican Party Chairman, to conduct the Town's tax certiorari matters. Does anyone believe that if this had been an elected position the electorate would have voted for the Bronx Republican Party Chairman descibed by Councilwoman Hausner as being than others and that he was coming to the Town with "baggage"?
Over the past year the Clarkstown Taxpayers Organization has offered numerous proposals for consolidation of Town departments including consolidation of the garages and also consolidation into one department of all infrastructure services, including: Public Works, Building maintenance and Environmental departments, which had a combined 2010 budget, including benefits, of around $5 million/yr for 34 full time employees. Through consolidation of the infrastructure services, the Town would be able to save about $400,000/year which is the same ballpark savings expected from consolidation of the garages and additional savings would accrue by elimination of the high salaried position of Public Works. The Clerk of Public Works, Ed Lettre, is not an elected official and heads the Conservative Party which provides that party's line at election time to Mr. Gromack and other members of the Town Board.
Which brings us up to June 05, 2012 when, after much repeated prodding and questioning of the Town Board by the 'Clarkstown Taxpayers' members, the Board held a workshop and the subject of consolidation of the garages was again discussed.
Unfortunately the consolidation proposal fell apart rather quickly in the view of many of the workshop attendees when the Town offered no financial plan and the estimated savings were characterized by Supervisor Gromack with the word "probably":
Mr. Gromack said: “I think there are 13 mechanics; if they’re all under one roof, one umbrella, you could probably downsize.”
That was it! The Town could "probably downsize" a couple of positions!
The Supervisor continued by saying that an internal review conducted by the controller’s office, personnel department and others estimated within the next few years between one and three mechanics would retire. If the garages were consolidated, those positions would not be filled because the mechanics would be cross-trained to work on all town vehicles. Gromack said if the mechanics could service all town vehicles, then there would be in staffing when emergencies occurred.
In addition to the lack of any specific financial plan, it soon became very clear from the reaction of several Board members to Superintendent of Highways Ballard's opposition to the consolidation that both Councilman Borelli and Supervisor Gromack have been angered by earlier positions taken by Mr. Ballard. In-fighting over this matter seems to be dominating the present discussions.
Mr Ballard had apparently agreed with the Board prior to last year's election that if the 'appointed' position was for a six year term he would not oppose passage of the 2011 referendum. The Board had offered a four year term and Ballard had declined this offer.
Mr Ballard's opponent for Superintendent of Highways at the last election, , was in attendance at the workshop. He is the 'whispered' candidate that the Town Board would like to appoint to the proposed position of Fleet Manager. But there is an open question as to whether under any consolidation of the garages the 'whispered' candidate for Fleet Manager would report to the elected position of the Superintendent of Highways.
In my opinion, what neither the Town Board nor the various other parties seem to realize is that the electorate wishes to keep as much power as it can in its own hands. The electorate has the power to dismiss the Superintendent of Highways every two years and regardless of what Mr. Ballard's position is, or has been, on any past or future referendum, the electorate in Clarkstown know that when a position is 'appointed' it is in great danger of becoming a patronage position at their expense.
Mr. Malone may have made no comments during the workshop but Mr. Gromack did turn to his police chief and asked for his perspective. Given that the chief earns over $200,000 per year and has a large fleet of police vehicles under his command requiring specialized maintenance, one might have expected he would have given a definitive, coherent and comprehensive overview as to whether he considered the proposed consolidation of the garages to be in the best interest of the police department with respect to the servicing and maintenance of the Town's police vehicles.
However, that expectation was quickly erased when Chief Sullivan offered a weak statement of vague opposition expressing mild concern about "change". (Who knows if the Police Chief's reticence to take a stand might be from a desire not to say anything that might offend the person who described the salaries of his police department as 'obscene'.)
The next act of this drama is scheduled to play out on Tuesday, June 19th when the Town will hold a public meeting to present a plan which, according to Town Attorney Mele, "will not require a referendum". The Town will discuss a 'proposed local law' that would allow consolidation of the garages under a fleet manager reporting to the Town Board. "Not requiring a referendum" appears to mean that the present proposal would allow the Town Board to void decisively defeated at the last election. According to the Town's new mantra the mechanics would repair service and maintain the equipment used by the Highway Department yet the proposed local law will "not usurp or diminish" Highway Superintendent Wayne Ballard’s duties or authority.
Will the Result be 'Yes'?
Given these developments the Clarkstown Taxpayers Organization issued a statement which reads:
"The Clarkstown Taxpayers Group is strongly interested in consolidation of government services when substantial savings accrue for the taxpayers. However, in the case of the planned three garage consolidation, which our group strongly lobbied for before the Town Board, the Board has NOT demonstrated that it has carefully analyzed the potential savings or expenses associated with this consolidation. Therefore, until a thorough business plan is developed, as was done for consolidation of the Receiver of Taxes and the Town Clerk's offices, that shows the pros and cons of consolidation, the Clarkstown Taxpayers can not endorse the consolidation at this time."
Let us expect that on June 19 the public will be presented with a business proposal by the Town Board that demonstrates a convincing case for consolidation of the garages.
If that is absent then the public meeting will be a waste of everyone's time.