The only contested race on Election Day in the Town of Bethany is for the position of highway superintendent.
The post was formerly held by Joel Merle but he left after giving his two-week notice earlier this year and three candidates were interviewed to replace him: Mike Adams, Barb Czworka and Jeffery Fluker.
Adams, who says he was asked to apply, was appointed as highway superintendent in March.
Now he is seeking to retain the $52,000-a-year post, the term for which expires next November, and Czworka is running to unseat him. Fluker remains a trustee on the town board.
Whomever is elected tomorrow as highway superintendent will have to run again in 2019.
The highway superintendent’s main duties are keeping the roads in good shape – 30.84 miles of town roads and 30.08 miles of county roads must be mowed, salted and plowed. Plus the town must maintain its own roads and do culvert and sluice replacements as required. Responsibilities also include removal of downed trees from roadways, etc.
Bethany's approved highway department expenditures for 2018 amounted to $226,000. There’s about $240,000 in savings and the estimated department annual budget is about $800,000.
Adams said he’s by no means a politician but feels he has the credentials to do right by taxpayers.
The 61-year-old sole proprietor farmer raises beef and dairy replacement calves up to 4 months old, in addition to growing crops on more than 450 acres. He’s been a farmer since the age of 20, a testament, he says, to his strong work ethic.
He says the highway superintendent’s job is evaluated this way -- whether the work that needs to get done, is done, rather than by the clock. With that in mind, he’s proud of his brief tenure.
“I’ve been told that we got more work done this summer than has been done in a long time, and it’s more than surpassed people’s expectations,” Adams said.
Czworka worked in Bethany’s Highway Department as a laborer for 17 “full years” before being laid off.
“I’ve been a grunt, I’ve done the dirty work, I have been down on the asphalt with the guys,” Czworka said. “I can mow roadsides. I don’t just whack weeds and mow lawns."
Asked why she’s running, she says simply “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. ... I want to do a good job when I get in there. I feel I'm a hard worker."
The contest has gotten testy.
Adams and some of his supporters point out that he’s had a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) for more than 30 years.
“There ain’t much I can’t drive,” he says matter of factly, adding that he has the capability of a “backyard mechanic” to keep that equipment in working order.
Bethany operates a highway shop that employs Teamsters Union workers and Czworka has been a Teamsters steward.
After so many years, she knows every aspect of Bethany’s highway department and feels she has a lot to offer voters although she does not have a CDL.
“You can pull your weight without a CDL,” Czworka said. “Being in a snowplow is NOT a good use of a highway superintendent’s time.”
Adams says flatly “She has no ability to get the license.”
His opponent counters that shoveling snow off sidewalks, opening bigger intersections up that have snowed over are two additional ways to be helpful while others are plowing routes.
Town Supervisor Carl Hyde Jr. said in an email: “There are no exemptions in the NYS DMV laws for municipalities: you must have a CDL to drive plow truck or town dump truck.
“Here's the problem -- a driver does not show up for plowing or calls in sick, then the Super has to get in a truck and plow in Bethany. NO license, NO plowing.”
"The CDL issue is petty," Czworka replied in a phone interview this evening. "I've never needed one. We have two backup part-time drivers and they do a good job. The CDL is being made into a big issue by people who've never done the job.
"I've been a wing person. I've trained new drivers on routes. I don't sit in an office somewhere and tell people how I think they should do their job."
Czworka prides herself on having run a positive campaign. She said she was upfront with Adams in May and told him she would be running for his job. She says he told her didn’t know if he would to be on the ballot.
Adams says he doesn’t want to be negative, but he’s seen some things over these past few months that make him shake his head as a taxpayer.
Like the front-end loader that was driven down to a heavy equipment company some time back to have an oil change for $1,080, which is something Adams would have just handled himself.
The reason for taking the loader out for maintenance some years was to have the maintenance for the machine recorded in the company's record. The point being that after a certain time, that piece of equipment could be cashed in, “but the town would not cash it in,” Czworka said.
Hyde said the agreement with the company regarding the front-end loader was before his time in office; he started in 2015.
One of the times the Teamsters took the town to arbitration since 2015 was because it outsourced labor from a non-union man, according to Czworka.
Hyde said that man was brought on as Adams' deputy highway superintendent and paid the same as a machine equipment operator (MEO) on an as-needed basis.
A highway superintendent can legally select his appointment as deputy and the appointee can be either union or non-union. The selection does not violate union rules so long as that deputy is not a full-time worker.
"The town actually double paid to have material hauled to the shop," Czworka countered.
Since at least 2015, Hyde said there has been ongoing debate about staffing of the Highway Department; he claims Bethany could not afford four full-time employees.
"We always could in the past," Czworka said, noting that the town hired two MEOs at a higher rate of pay, added the deputy Super yet could not afford the laborer post (her post) that was less than $14 per hour.
"Hyde's math doesn't add up," Czworka said.
Hyde says it's not just his math that is used in the town's decision-making process.
"Let's just say I hope the most qualifed person gets the job," Hyde said. "I can't let taxpayers down. That's my job."