Few kind words for government changes

Past and current department heads say to keep positions elected, not appointed

If there was a frosty reception for government reform ideas in Bethlehem at a late May meeting, then Town Hall was just about sub-zero on Wednesday, June 8.

Most of the evening's Town Board meeting was devoted to collecting public comment on a 20/20 Advisory Committee report that suggests making changes to Bethlehem's governmental structure, including making the positions of receiver of taxes, town clerk and highway superintendent appointed instead of elected.

With a scant few exceptions, a steady stream of speakers panned that idea. While many questioned the basis for the report's conclusions, more said they simply don't want to see their right to any vote taken away.

In my heart and in my gut, it just strikes me as very, very wrong, said resident Donna Holmes, which was a sentiment expressed in various forms by many speakers.

Members of the 20/20 Committee, however, said those changes are not being put forward as a means to reduce voter influence or to criticize current office holders, but rather to standardize the town's organization. There are many bigger departments with appointed or civil service supervisors, said 20/20's John Clarkson.

"The current management structure is sort of an accident of history...these are the default positions of state law," he said.

He added that many towns in the state have made the change.

Former and current occupants of the three positions gave their thoughts, and all were opposed to the proposed change.

"Presently the people are my boss...I am concerned is the position were appointed there would be pressure from the supervisor or the Town Board," said Receiver of Taxes Nancy Mendick.

Though the report argues there are consolidation opportunities contingent on making the positions appointed, Highway Superintendent Gregg Sagendorph, who will be running for his 11th consecutive term in November, said he doesn't just doesn't see it that way.

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