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Vote on appointing highway chief expected

Cheektowaga residents are expected to have a chance to vote in November on whether they want to keep electing a highway superintendent.

The Town Board is considering a measure that would abolish the elective office of highway superintendent. Instead, the Town Board would appoint a highway superintendent for a two-year term.

The change would take place Jan. 1, 2008, the day after the four-year elective term ends for Highway Superintendent Christopher Kowal.

"This is a prelude to a local law of 2006 which will create a Public Works Department," Town Attorney Michael Stachowski said.

A public hearing on the proposed law abolishing the elective office will take place at the board's Oct. 3 meeting. If approved, the measure would appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Stachowski said the board would start working on how to create a Department of Public Works if residents approve the move to an appointed highway superintendent.

A number of town departments would be reorganized and operated out of the Public Works Department, such as Engineering, Sewer, Maintenance and Parks, as well as Highway and Sanitation.

"Over the next year or so, the Town Board is going to look at all departments and reorganize," Stachowski said.

The reorganization will come in the wake of expected retirements of some supervisory personnel. Kowal said he is eligible for retirement in August 2007, just four months before the change would occur.

Stachowski said the public works commissioner would be required to be a professional engineer.

Town Board members view an appointed highway superintendent as an opportunity to have direct contact and oversight of highway and sanitation activities. Town Board members have no supervisory mission over the highway superintendent's duties today other than providing the budget for the department.

Kowal, who has worked for the town as an employee, Town Board member and highway superintendent for more than 30 years, said residents will lose the contact with an elected official when they call the Highway Department and speak to the appointed superintendent.

"What incentive does an appointed person have to do a good job?" he said. "If you're elected, if you don't do a good job, you are going to lose your job."

He said he enjoys talking to residents who call the department with comments and complaints.

"Every four years, the people can tell you to do it the right way," he said, adding that an appointive position would be using the board as a "middle man" between the superintendent and the public.

"It's really up to the people," he said. "Do they want to give that voice away to the Town Board?"

e-mail: bobrien@buffnews.com

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