Town of Ulster pondering four-year supervisor terms

Supervisor James E. Quigley III

The Ulster Town Board is considering a proposal that would extend the length of the supervisor’s term from two to four years. If approved, the measure could be on the ballot in November when Supervisor James E. Quigley III runs for a fifth consecutive term.

“The town board recognizes that the office of the town supervisor is a full-time position, and the town board believes an extended term would bring greater continuity to the office, and thus believes that the extended term is in the public’s best interest,” reads the draft of the proposed law, which was first discussed during March 2’stown board meeting.

Quigley, who was absent from the meeting, elaborated on the proposal this week, saying he would have no problem with whatever voters ultimately decide on the issue. But he added that extending the supervisor’s term length might attract more viable candidates to the position.


“First of all I want to make it clear that I will live with whatever the voters say,” he said. “I’m making a recommendation with the intent of trying to improve the operations of the town, and to attract better quality candidates to the office. Because at some point, and I don’t know when it’s going to be, I’m not going to be running. What I’m hearing from businesspeople when I talk to them is, ‘You want me to give up what? For two years?’”

Quigley added that two year terms don’t give municipal leaders the best chance at seeing their work come to fruition.

“Predominately, it’s trying to make it easier for the supervisor to accomplish things,” Quigley said. “There are a lot of plans that take two years to develop. How can anyone who develops them assure they’re going to be carried out in the manner in which they planned them?”

Asked if he felt seeking re-election every two years was a distraction, Quigley chose a different tact.

“It’s not a distraction, because that’s the system right now,” he said. “What I will call it is an obligation.”

Quigley added that while the proposal has met with some resistance, it was important to remember that voters have traditionally given supervisors a chance once they’re in office.

“What I’m constantly hearing is that people want the ability to make a change if they don’t like what’s happening in two years,” Quigley said. “And how I will respond to that is by saying that if you go back to 1960, there has not been a single supervisor who has only served one two-year term. The evidence points to the fact that the citizens have been willing to give an extra two years to prove their plan.”

While there’s a precedent for voters giving supervisors a chance once they’re in office, there’s also a precedent for them rejecting extending the supervisor’s term length. In 2007, then-supervisor Nick Woerner brought a similar measure to voters, and it was knocked down by a margin of 1,897-1,103. At the same referendum, the town clerk and highway superintendent both saw their term lengths extended from two to four years.

“I’m fully aware of that,” Quigley said of the 2007 vote. “I’m going to leave that up to the people to make that decision. I’m not going to sell it and I’m not going to sell against it. I’m trying merely to find ways to make the government more efficient, and one of the things is that from a leadership point of view you need continuity and for people to be given a chance to prove their plan. The voters elect the town board members for four year terms. They elect the town clerk for four year terms. They elect the highway superintendent for four years.”

Marc Rider, chairman of the Town of Ulster Democratic Committee spoke during the March 2 meeting, and while he didn’t reject the idea altogether, he said he couldn’t support it in its present form.

“I’m not necessarily in opposition to the local law extending the term, but I am in opposition of the way it’s being done now,” Rider said, adding that he’d support a referendum this year if it didn’t go into effect until the 2019 election. “I think that if you wanted to do it for this term after the 2017 election, the public referendum should have gone to the people back in 2016 as opposed to doing it in an election year.”

Rider added that having the public vote on a candidate for supervisor without knowing the term length didn’t make sense, but the expense of a special referendum to settle the issue prior to November would also not be ideal. Additionally, Rider said, it might be difficult to attract candidates for this November without them knowing the length of their potential commitment.

“As the chairman of the Town of Ulster Democratic Committee, it would benefit me to be able to recruit candidates knowing that we’re recruiting candidates for a set term and not have it be either two or four years, like this would force us to do.”

A public hearing on the proposed law is expected to be set during the next meeting of the Town Board on Thursday, March 16.