JOHNSBURG - Since early 2008, few issues in the Town of Johnsburg have polarized residents as much as the controversy surrounding the Highway Department.
From the sudden resignation of the department's former superintendent, to a dramatic November election, and all the way through to significant early season snowfalls - everyone agrees that the Highway Department has been through a lot in the past year.
Recently, members of the Johnsburg Town Board have been publicly criticized for their support of newly-elected Highway Superintendent, Dan Hitchcock, and his intention to appoint a previously terminated relative to a vacant position in the department.
Amid accusations of nepotism for his choice of candidates, and considerable public resistance, Hitchcock has secured the support of a majority of the Johnsburg Town Board.
The board recently approved Hitchcock's selection with a 3-2 vote during an ethic's review process required by local ordinance.
Throughout the year, one councilman in particular has stood firm in his belief that Hitchcock's candidate is worthy of the position. Arnold Stevens voted against the candidate's termination in Fall 2008 and championed the resolution that ultimately passed the town's ethics review process three weeks ago.
The News Enterprise recently reached-out to Stevens in an effort to gain a better understanding of his position on the matter.
What follows is a written statement prepared by Stevens that discusses his point of view, why he feels so strongly about the issue, and illuminates his understanding of his role as a long-standing member of the Johnsburg Town Board. It has been reprinted in its entirety.
"Recently, several very difficult and potentially divisive issues have been discussed and voted on by our Town Board. I would like to take an opportunity to address a few of these issues. The following opinions that I am expressing may be rejected by some, while these same opinions may be shared by others. Above all else, please recognize and understand that these opinions are mine alone. I am not trying to represent any other persons or organizations feelings on these issues. With that being said...
"Item One: By voting to confirm our Highway Superintendent's choice for hiring a certain individual as a part time driver, our town board has, in effect, 'dumped money out a window.'
"Our town board sought out and paid for legal assistance for advice on proper methods for dealing with a host of issues, problems, and disputes in regards to highway department employees. Following legal advisement several interviews were conducted and numerous issues were identified. One issue of importance rose to the level that resulted in an employee losing his employment with us. The remaining plethora of issues were dealt with by 'handing' the gathered information off to the newly installed Highway Superintendent, to be dealt with by him.
"Conclusion: If money has been squandered on legal advice and attorney fees, it should be noted that it was squandered on a large number of issues dealing with several of our highway employees and not on any one, particular, individual employee.
"Item Two: Applicants for a part time position as a driver for the highway department were not granted an interview.
"At a recent town board meeting our Highway Superintendent indicated that he did review, and consider all of the applications that he received. Nowhere in any of our town's policies does it state that when an individual fills out an application for employment, that this individual is automatically entitled to an interview.
"It is my understanding, that it is the responsibility of the Highway Superintendent to decide (in his own way) who he feels is the best suited applicant for a particular position.
"Item Three: Our town's ethics policy has come into question, in the form of 'How could you vote yes to return a person into town employment when he was removed (by a vote of 3-2) from his position just a few months ago?'"
"I believe that this question could just as well asked as: 'How much faith do I put in the judgment of our highway superintendent as to his selection of individuals that will be his employees?'
"At the town board level, my job is to consider the individuals name that the Highway Superintendent presents to the board.
"The Highway Superintendent selects an individual for a position. If this individual happens to be a close family relative, this triggers our town's ethics policy. This means that the Town Board must vote on the Highway Superintendent's recommendation.
"This vote does not ask us to take into account how the individual was selected by the Highway Superintendent. The question to the board is simply this 'Can this selected individual adequately perform the function of this position?' Yes or No.
"I recognize that in the realm of public service, it is impossible to please all people. Accepting that some things are impossible, it is good to know that some things are possible. One of the things that is possible is that careful consideration can (and should) be given to every vote that I (as a Town Councilman) cast; especially when that vote will have a significant impact on many different individuals lives.
"It is my hope that the best interests of our town's residents will be served by every vote and decision that I am called on to make."