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Hamburg ‘bickering’ a key issue for elections in ‘the town that friendship built’

It may be “the town that friendship built.”

But Hamburg’s three-member Town Board has been rife with bickering and discord.

This election, Republicans are hoping to bring about some harmony by re-electing Supervisor Steven J. Walters and Councilwoman Amy Carroll Ziegler and claiming the seat of Democrat Joseph A. Collins, who is not seeking re-election.

But Democrats are hoping for a clean sweep with three newcomers, including Walter L. Rooth III as supervisor.

Democrats have the advantage when it comes to numbers: They outnumber registered Republicans in Hamburg by 5,800.

But the GOP has done a better job getting their supporters to the polls in recent elections.

There is even some disagreement among the candidates about the bickering.

Walters, 38, lays the blame on Collins, noting that he has filed numerous lawsuits, complaints and reports against the town and town officials. The supervisor said the board has been split before and did not have the problems of the last four years.

“We worked together, and we got things done,” Walters said.

But Rooth, his Democratic opponent, said he wants the Town Board to reflect the citizens and the town’s motto, the “Town that Friendship Built.”

“We don’t have that right now. We need change,” said Rooth, an attorney. “I’m presenting myself as an agent of change to help my community.”

Rooth is on the Democrat and Working Families lines, while Walters has the Republican, Conservative and Independence lines; minor-party lines have been helpful in Hamburg elections.

Walters touts his eight-year record, saying taxes were cut in five of the last seven years.

“Spending is down, and we’re going in the right direction,” he said.

But Rooth, 45, disputes that contention.

“I encourage you to go to the Town of Hamburg website,” Rooth said at a candidates forum last week. “Taxes have gone up over the last seven years. We have not seen real tax relief.”

Who is correct? It depends on your definition of “taxes.”

Looking at tax rates, and including the 2014 budget, which the board passed unanimously earlier this month, the combined general and highway fund tax rate has gone down – sometimes by 1 to 3 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation – in five of the last seven years.

But if the total tax levy, or the total amount to be raised by taxes, including all special districts, is examined, taxes have gone up, although sometimes very slightly.

There also are races for the two Town Board seats, a four-year term and a two-year term.

Ziegler, 52, a confidential law clerk for State Supreme Court Justice Frederick J. Marshall, has the Republican, Conservative and Independence endorsements for another four-year term.

Her challenger is Michael P. Quinn Jr., 39, an attorney with Collins & Collins, who is on the Democrat and Working Families lines. Quinn clarified that he does not work for departing Councilman Joseph Collins.

And like the candidates for supervisor, the Town Board candidates also disagreed on the characterization of board discord, when asked at a recent candidates forum how each would eliminate the bickering on the board.

Ziegler said the meetings have run smoothly and professionally in the last two years. She said that there have been problems in the past but noted that there are three strong personalities on the board. She said a vigorous exchange of ideas is always helpful.

“The bickering doesn’t really concern me,” she said. “The motivation does; the product we get out of it does.”

Quinn, who acknowledged that he has not been to a board meeting, said his strategy for addressing the problems on the board is to “wipe the slate clean.”

“I think we need whole new members up there, with whole new ideas, people who work together,” Quinn said. “I’m going to stand up here for the people. I will not bicker; I will merely state my opinion.”

Vying for the two-year seat on the board are Lawrence J. Speiser, 57, president and CEO of FlashFLo Manufacturing, on the Republican, Conservative and Independence lines, and Cheryl Potter-Juda, 54, a teacher in the Lackawanna School District who has the Democratic and Working families endorsements.

Potter-Juda said the behavior on the board “deeply concerns” her.

“Anyone on that board should be a professional, should act as a professional, each and every day,” she said, while referring to the motto on town signs, “Friendship is not built on bickering.”

Speiser said that most of the bickering he has seen on the board has been helpful discussions, but noted some grandstanding.

“I believe the board must work together, and put all the personal beliefs and opinions aside,” he said.

There’s also a race for highway superintendent, with Ted Casey challenging incumbent Tom Best Sr. for the job.

Best, 69, who spent more than 30 years in the Hamburg Police Department, said the most important part of his job is keeping the highways clear of snow and paving them.

“This year, we had a record number of our roads paved,” he said, adding that the town paved about 9 miles of roads, spending nearly $900,000. “Why would anybody want to change what’s happening in the Town of Hamburg today?”

Casey, 47, is the health, safety and environmental manager for Dresser Rand.

“The highway superintendent position is not a retirement job, but rather a critical position for the town that requires someone like me with the experience and energy required to meet the challenges that face the highway superintendents of the future,” he said.

Casey said that town parks need work and that the town should collaborate more with sports leagues and teams that use the facilities. He also is interested in revamping recycling in the town, and noted a State Supreme Court justice ruled in 2011 that the Town of Hamburg violated the Wicks Law in the bidding for a highway storage barn.

Town Justice Gerald P. Gorman is unopposed.