Bethlehem Highway Department.
BETHLEHEM After hearing comments from the public, the Bethlehem Town Board unanimously passed a law abolishing the elected position of highway superintendent on Wednesday, Feb. 27.
The law will be subject to a public permissive referendum. The change proposed by Town Supervisor John Clarkson would abolish the elected position and place the duties of the office with the commissioner of public works. Residents will go to the polls Tuesday, April 30.
The supervisor announced the proposal during this year’s State of the Town, shortly after hearing Highway Superintendent Gregg Sagendorph announced plans to retire on April 30 after holding the position for 22 years. Similar proposals have been made three times over the past seven years, with no changes made, mainly because many involved worried what would become of Sagendorph and his institutional knowledge.
“Clearly without Gregg, and this is a belief I’ve held for some time, it is better in a modern, larger town government like ours to have positions which are directly accountable the Town Board,” Clarkson said.
Officials said while Sagendorph has always worked well with the board during budget development, an elected official does not have to take recommendations or heed the requests of board members as long as he or she stays within budget.
While discussing the law, Councilman Jeffrey Kuhn said he voted in favor of the proposal because he saw the change as more efficient. He also noted there have only been three competitive elections for highway superintendent out of the 11 times Sagendorph has run for the position.
“It’s not as if there’s been a great expression of the democratic process in the way we select the highway superintendent,” said Kuhn, in reference to those who feels the new law is taking away their right to choose.
Councilwoman Joann Dawson said if the law is enacted, she would like to make sure any savings are tracked and reported to the public, while Councilman Bill Reinhardt said additional revenue might be found by providing services to the state or a neighboring community.