Committee recommends extending supervisor's term

Should the length of the Town of Bethlehem supervisor's term be doubled?

That's the question officials and the public will be examining in the coming weeks and months. It's also one of the suggestions the town's 2020 Implementation Committee is making to the Town Board in a package of overhauls to the structure of town government.

The committee is to make a presentation on the recommendations at tonight's Town Board meeting.

In addition to lengthening the supervisor's term to four years, the committee is proposing moving elected department head positions (the highway superintendent, the tax receiver and the town clerk) to appointed offices. These changes would require voter approval, and could be conceivably be placed on the 2011 ballot.

If that were to happen, this fall's vote wouldn't affect the next set of terms, meaning the next supervisor would still sit for two years. If approved, it would become a a four-year position in 2014. The proposals would all be voted on separately.

Extending the supervisor's term is a topic that has seen some discussion amongst town leaders, but generally not in public. It's a potential political albatross, since whoever brings the measure forward could be seen as simply trying to extend his or her time at Town Hall.

That's a reason why former supervisor Jack Cunningham never brought it up, he said in a 2009 exit interview with The Spotlight.

I feel the town would be better served by allowing the supervisor to serve a term longer than two years, Cunningham said at the time.

Supervisor Sam Messina echoed those thoughts today.

"That in my opinion is why it hasn't been brought up in the past," he said. "I think Jack was correct in that observation."

Messina added he's been a supporter of extending the supervisor's term since he was a Town Board member. He said what makes this proposal work is that it's coming from the 2020 committee and that it sets its target on target 2014, not the next term in office. He also acknowledged there is still political risk.

"We've got to be able to risk to make improvement," Messina said.

The schedule set forth by the committee calls for a public dialogue and further study. The Town Board would have to hold a vote by Sept. 9 to place the referendum on this year's ballot.

Messina is running for a second term, but no challengers have emerged yet.""

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