Legendary Highway Superintendent Bernie Ellsworth used to say voters weren’t too interested in the position he occupied for so many years. As long as the roads were plowed and potholes were filled, what else was there to say? Plenty, it turns out. First-term incumbent Doug Myer is facing a strong challenge from Raymond Mayone. They’re tough on each other; there is some bad blood here. Myer questions whether someone with Mayone’s experience is qualified for the position. Mayone says Myer spends his time in the office instead of in the field. Let’s get to it.
Saugerties politicos have focused most of their attention on the supervisor’s race. But drive around town and you’ll see there are more signs for the highway superintendent’s race than any other, and it seems to be the only race making any effort to report campaign contributions. (As of Oct. 15, Myer has $1,650, Mayone has $6,335.69, though most of the contributions are from himself.)
What’s going on? Nobody is sure. More than a few people believe “something big” is coming along, so respective parties and cliques want their guy in a position of influence when the work is divvied up. This suggests some element of corruptibility in our local officials, but that’s pretty standard with small-town political speculation.
Is it possible it’s just a case of two well-matched candidates with name recognition? Both are native Saugertiesians who have spend their professional lives as excavation contractors. Myer has put up some big surpluses on his first few budgets, and is promising that money can be used to do work and purchase equipment that usually would have required borrowing and/or tax hikes. Mayone is a well known contractor who built Bishop’s Gate, the elegant 165-lot subdivision, widely considered one of the biggest regional development projects in the last 20 years.
But if a huge project is announced next year, you heard it here first…
What the job is and isn’t
Talking to Myer and Mayone independently, it’s clear they have very different views of how to run the department.
Myer emphasizes that the job requires a tremendous amount of administrative work, much of it due to the creation of a FEMA Majors Project Department, which is entirely separate from the Highway Department.
“This job isn’t what people picture from years ago,” he said. “Where men went out and patched potholes and plowed snow. This is a very technical position.”
Myer believes his experience managing large projects in several states was valuable. This involved dealing with government oversight agencies like DOT, DEC OSHA and The Bureau of Mines, which he says is integral to the job of highway supervisor—especially with FEMA projects still in-progress. “This is the kind of bureaucratic paperwork that you need to be fluent in to do this job here,” says Myer. A contractor who has done mostly residential work wouldn’t be ready for the job, he said.
“You have to have a basic knowledge of all of this before you get here,” said Myer. “If you think you can learn it on the job you have another thing coming… that goes for FEMA more than highway work.”
He says he’s in the field every day, checking in at every job, but the administrative demands can tie him up at the office during the day.
Mayone says if that’s the case, the department might need another secretary to handle the paperwork.
“He should be doing his job, out with his men and supporting them in the field,” said Mayone.
Mayone doesn’t concede any advantage to his opponent in dealing with bureaucracies. He cited work with the Army Corps of Engineers on wetlands at Bishop’s Gate and Scenic Hudson. He’s done commercial work as well, including Mill Creek Golf Course in Marlboro, Monroe Muffler and Philips in Saugerties and Modell’s in the town of Ulster.
“Before he took office, I’d like to see the FEMA work he’s done,” said Mayone. He doesn’t think the FEMA experience should be a deciding factor, as it’s “coming to an end very shortly.” (The last of seven projects is expected to be completed in December, though Myer says the reimbursement process will take much longer.)
On a job with his business, Ray Mayone had an unusual division of labor. Most contractors, if they’re on site, are in a machine. It’s considered the more skilled position. It carries higher status and you keep your jeans clean and back from going out. But Mayone says he always worked in the ditch, usually the domain of the lowly laborer. “I always found that if I was in the ditch things went a lot smoother,” he said. Mayone says he wouldn’t run the Highway Department that way, but it this shows something about the way he thinks. He believes the closer he is to the crux of the job, the better he can manage.
He’s convinced Myer’s approach is wrong; that the department isn’t so complicated that the superintendent can’t spend more time on the jobs. He says he’s rarely had to send any machinery out for repair and doesn’t have a mechanic—he does the repairs himself. He believes his experience will allow him to find better ways to do all kinds of jobs, because he knows what’s possible—he’s done it.
Myer says Mayone is describing a very important job. But it’s not the highway superintendent: it’s a “lead man” or foreman. The department has three such positions, each responsible for running a crew.
He says Mayone’s approach may work fine for a small residential construction company, with fewer men, fewer pieces of equipment and fewer jobs in progress, but would not work for the Highway Department.
Myer said municipal budgets are “100 percent different” from the sort of budget a contractor would do for a job, even a big one. One major difference, he said at the League of Women Voters Candidate Forum on Oct. 10, was that each of the 40-50 lines in the Highway Department budget can only be spent for that category. That means no using money left over from road materials on drainage projects, for instance. A municipal budget needs to be ready to be scrutinized and audited. He said he’s prepared budgets for 13 years, for both the Highway Department and Mt. Marion Fire Department, and his budgets have stood up to audits. In the private sector, you can be all over the place, as long as you have some money left over at the end, said Myer. He also points out that the department is projecting a zero-tax increase in 2014, has a $900,000 unallocated fund balance and the Major Projects Department is currently running $1.4 million under budget on its $3.5 million FEMA work.
At the forum, Myer spoke after Mayone. In a letter, Mayone spoke to this point. “I have maintained a multi-million dollar budget during the construction of Bishop’s Gate which is the largest subdivision to come to our town in many years,” he said. “This budget includes but was not limited to such line items as manual hours, materials for the infrastructure construction, engineering and permits, environmental studies, just to name a few. My opponent would lead you to believe that this was irrelevant in comparison to the Highway Department budget. Quite the opposite. With that being said, private and public budgets are one and the same, money is money.”