The Huntington Town Board has set in motion the process to gauge voter support for converting the highway superintendent job from an elected position to an appointed post.
At Tuesday night's board meeting, members voted to add three resolutions to the agenda to set three public hearings for Aug. 14 on reorganizing town departments.
The public hearings -- each was approved, 3-2 -- will consider whether to eliminate the elected highway superintendent post and make it an appointed position; whether to eliminate the general services department; and whether to create in its place a department of public works, which would include the highway and general services divisions.
"We've gone back and forth on this," said Town Supervisor Frank Petrone, who along with Democratic colleagues Mark Cuthbertson and Susan Berland voted to allow the late additions to the agenda and for the public hearings. "Then we finally said, 'Let the voters decide.' "
Highway Superintendent William Naughton said Wednesday he thinks voters are "smart enough" to know what's going on.
"They want to eliminate the elected position and prevent the people from voting and selecting who they want for the position," he said.
Petrone said the consolidation would allow for better management of equipment and personnel, and would eliminate redundancies, such as separate phone systems for the highway department and the rest of the town. He said it would also save an undetermined amount in costs.
In recent years, the town board and Naughton have been at odds over budgeting and hiring, and have traded lawsuits over the extent of his authority. Petrone denied the board's latest action is directed at Naughton.
A referendum on the highway superintendent position would be put to voters in November. Petrone said public hearings need to be held as soon as possible to meet Board of Election deadlines for placing the issue on the November ballot.
If approved, the changes would go into effect Jan. 1, 2014, when Naughton's term expires. The highway superintendent is responsible for maintaining town roads and bridges, brush and leaf pickup, and removing snow and ice.
The Town of Brookhaven in an unrelated action last week, passed resolutions setting Aug. 28 for public hearings to consider eliminating its elected highway superintendent job and making it an appointed position and creating a public works department.
Huntington board members Mark Mayoka, a Republican, and Gene Cook, an Independence Party member, voted against adding the resolutions at the last minute and setting the public hearings.
"I have a real problem with this," Cook said. "This is for next month, Aug. 14, for a hearing to abolish an elected official's position. I think people need more time than that."
The hearings are scheduled for 7 p.m. at Town Hall, 100 Main St.