Southold Highway Department Superintendent Pete Harris took a ride out west on Tuesday to back a fellow highway superintendent in Huntington, as the town board in western Suffolk considers making the position appointed, as opposed to an elected position.
"My opinion is that the abolishment is about nothing more than gaining complete control," Harris told the town board. "You want to take away the right to choice of the voters, the very people who elected you."
Huntington Town Supervisor made the announcement as Tuesday's got underway.
After that, Huntington Highway Superintendent , greeted by loud cheers and a "We love you!" shout from the audience, spoke briefly, citing his responsibilities in caring for Huntington's roads. "Obviously I'm against this," he said. "And I'm for the rights of the people to elect for their public officials."
Seven highway department heads from around Long Island came to Naughton's defense, including Harris as well as Riverhead Highway Department Superintendent Gio Woodson. Members of the Tea Pary, highway workers and many residents spoke as well, nearly all in opposition to the plan.
"I would sincerely urge the voters to vote down what would take away the right of you to choose. You have someone who truly cares," Harris said of Naughton, to more cheers.
Following Tuesday's meeting, Petrone and Naughton are expected to meet to discuss changes in the department. The talks, which will include Councilman , are aimed at "Attaining similar goals without organizational changes," Petrone said. Some of those goals, besides converting the job to an appointive position, include streamlining, reducing redundant facilities and operating as part of the Public Works Department.
George Woodson, Riverhead's highway superintendent, said, "If you make this an appointed position, you're adding five people who have to make a decision. The highway superintendent works for the people."
Many speakers objected to losing their right to vote directly on job performance. Several reminded the board that they would remember how Town Board members voted when their turn on the ballot came around.
Others, such as Rich McGrath, a board member, said they were concerned about a lack of accountability if the job became an appointive one. McGrath said community members had been unable to get answers from appointed officials at the Huntington Housing Authority.
"A lot of you guys probably don’t like Naughton," he said. "I’m guessing Naughton doesn’t like a couple of you. But that's no reason to take away voters rights to an elected position. Get in a room and work it out," he said.
And he said to Town Clerk , "Jo-Ann, hold on to your seat because theyre coming for you."
When another speaker said to Raia, "I ask you, are you next?" she replied, to much laughter, "No way!"
Not everyone praised the . One resident detailed problems getting answers when he called to complain about his street being ripped up.
And Robert Lifson, former chairman of the Republican Party in Huntington, criticized those opposed to the referendum in the name of protecting voter rights, saying, "It is hard not to note the irony, if not the outright hypocrisy, of those who have organized others to speak against the passage of the resolution on the grounds that its passage would deprive the elctorate of the right to vote for this public office." He also said that about two-thirds of Long Islanders have an appointed highway superintendent.
Both Petrone and Naughton said after the meeting that a date hadn't been set for the meeting, but time is short. Under state law, the board would have to vote by Monday to place the referendum onto the Nov.6 ballot.
The plan was first proposed in July and was supported by Councilmen and .
Naughton said after the meeting that he had insisted on including Cook in the meeting, citing his construction background.
Petrone said certain steps, such as eliminating duplicate facilties and better use of equipment, could save $3 million but that he is looking for bigger savings without eliminating personnel.
Asked about allegations that the move to change the Highway Department was rooted in politics, he replied, "Accusations come and go" but that the need for savings was clear.
"It took a realization that we had to do something," he said of what had led to the drastic determination to consolidate departments. "All through the state, they're looking for savings."