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Bitterness runs deep for Amherst highway job Female crew chief battles incumbent

Kathy R. Kaminski, Amherst's first and only female Highway Department crew chief, is running against heavily endorsed incumbent Robert N. Anderson in what has become a bitter contest for the highway superintendent's seat.

Both candidates have accomplishments to their credit, with Anderson touting the management during last October's storm.

"We have been heralded in a cleanup effort that is second to none," he said.

But Anderson has also been accused by Kaminski and the president of the Amherst Highway Employees Association of retaliatory behavior since she publicly announced her intention to run against him.

Kaminski, who is running on the Democratic line, said the day after her intention to run for highway superintendent appeared in The Buffalo News, she was forced out of her Forestry Division office. All her calls and records were reassigned to others.

She said Anderson made unsubstantiated accusations about her not performing her duties, yelled at her when she sought union representation at meetings with her superiors and confined her to cleanup duty in the Highway Department yard after Primary Day.

Anderson unfairly accused her of campaigning during work time, she said, and subsequently refused to allow her to leave the yard to supervise her crews on the road, despite potential liability concerns.

"Politics is being put before the needs of the residents," Kaminski said. "That's one of the reasons I choose to run."

Anderson responded that Kaminski had previously sought to be removed from the Forestry Division, so her complaints are petty. He added that he has both documented and personal knowledge regarding her failure to carry out specific job responsibilities.

He also said Kaminski has been a troublemaker within the department and gets along poorly with her peers, but she retains supervisory duties and use of her town vehicle.

"I did tell her she was being placed in the yard because she wasn't doing her job," Anderson said, "and I did tell her that there were allegations, being reported to me, that she was campaigning on work time."

He said Kaminski is free to leave the yard if her work crews call for her assistance, but otherwise, he wants her to focus on the highway yard.

Anderson said he has a good track record with his employees overall, pointing out that he is endorsed by the Amherst Civil Service Employees Association and the AHEA.

"If I didn't have fairness in my blood," he said, "believe me, the men would tear me apart."

AHEA President Christopher J. O'Neill said the union board had agreed not to interview or endorse any candidate for highway superintendent this year. But at a September meeting, he said, a group of inactive union members suddenly appeared and forced Anderson's endorsement.

Anderson, 57, carries many other union endorsements, as well as that of the Republican, Independence, Conservative and Working Families parties.

He has 29 years of experience within the Highway Department. He said he intends to continue offering a high level of service to residents without increasing personnel, and improve the town's tree landscape.

Kaminski, 56, also is a longtime Highway Department veteran and spent 10 years as Forestry Division crew chief.

Aside from her status as first female crew chief, Kaminski said she developed the Memorial Tree Planting Program on the Ellicott Creek Trailway and is well regarded among residents and her own crews.

Her platform includes holding down Highway Department spending, improving cooperation among town departments and with town residents, and developing realistic equipment and tree replacement plans.

e-mail: stan@buffnews.com

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