The Northern Westchester Examiner

Supervisor Term Extension Put on Hold in Somers

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Somers Councilman Richard Benedict initiated idea to extend supervisor’s term to four years.
Somers Councilman Richard Benedict initiated idea to extend supervisor’s term to four years.

A controversial proposal to extend the term of the Somers supervisor from a two-year term to four years will not go before the voters this fall.

The Somers Town Board decided to table the issue this year at its September 6 meeting after closing the public hearing, which began in August. The concept to consider extending the supervisor’s term originally came from Councilman Richard Benedict.

The proposal was sharply criticized by three residents during the continuation of the August public hearing last week, while one resident spoke in favor of the concept.

The idea of increasing the supervisor’s term was questioned by Maureen Devine, who formerly served on the town board as a Republican and a Democrat. “Can anyone tell me why Benedict came up with this idea?” she said.

Devine said Benedict was appointed, not elected, to the town board and will complete his term at the end of the year. “As far as I k now, before receiving this appointment, he has only been involved in Republican politics while being president of the Heritage Hills Society,” Devine said. “Why is he interested in making such a drastic change in my government?”

“Please don’t let this interloper Benedict create an unnecessary four-year term of office,” Devine remarked. “This change must be looked at as a long-range plan and not be done in this hurried manner.”

“I understand having been in politics that one works for and supports a candidate, but the ramifications of this change goes far beyond one’s loyalty to a particular candidate,” Devine continued. “Mr. Benedict says the supervisor has to spend more time on campaign financing than on doing the job. If this is his why, then why is he not seeing four-year terms for other two-term officials? I’m sure this board has more pressing issues to pursue than spending time on this ill conceived idea for changing the balance of power in the Town of Somers. I want to maintain my right to vote every two years for supervisor. And, everyone else in this town should want to keep it that way as well.”

Joining in the criticism of the proposal to lengthen the supervisor’s term were Heritage Hills residents Polly Kuhn and Fran McLaughlin, who described themselves as active members of the League of Women Voters.

Kuhn said under the current system the supervisor has “a job review” from the voters every two years. “This is appropriate,” she said.

Unlike other elected posts at other levels of government, Kuhn said Somers residents get to know the supervisor because they have chances for regular interactions.  Town supervisors do not have to campaign in the same way officials on other levels of government need to, she added.

“If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” Kuhn said.

Rich Nash, a member of the board of directors of the Taconic Road Runners Club, said he supported the term extension, noting his organization lengthened the term of its president from two to four years.  “It worked out very well,” Nash told the town board, adding that the administration of his group is now “much more efficient.”

Town board members comment

After listening to the criticisms of his proposal, Benedict defended himself, saying his support of extending the supervisor’s term was not political. In response to Devine’s criticism that he has only been involved with Republican politics before being appointed to the town board, Benedict said, “That’s absurd. You don’t know me.”

Benedict said there were several reasons why the term should be extended. While councilpersons have responsibilities including learning about many issues, the town supervisor has three times the duties of other town board members, he said. “A new supervisor will have a year to come up to speed at best,” he said.

Being town supervisor is more than a typical full-time position land the job is “not getting easier,” Benedict said.

“I’m not taking the vote away from people,” Benedict said. “I’ m only asking them to consider this.”

Councilman Richard Clinchy defended Benedict, saying he was not a partisan person. Clinchy said he was not prepared to vote to place the supervisor’s term referendum on November’s ballot. He explained he has been doing research, working with the New York State Association of Towns to find out about municipalities that have four-year supervisor terms and he need to do additional study on the issue. Clinchy said he was working with the Association to hold a discussion on the four-year supervisor term when the organization meets next winter.

Councilman Rick Morrissey said he supported the extension of the supervisor’s term. “It makes for a more efficient government,” he said. “Government is becoming very complicated.”

Councilman Thomas A. Garrity, Jr. said despite the criticism leveled at the proposal to lengthen the supervisor’s term during the public hearings; he has not heard opposition when speaking with residents outside of town board meetings. “No one I spoke with opposes it,” Garrity said.

Extending the supervisor’s term is not “a political thing,” Garrity said, noting the Clinchy, a Democrat, has worked well with his four GOP colleagues on the town board and town government is not as partisan as other levels of government.

Despite not having the votes a supermajority to put the issue on the ballot, “I still think (this) November is a good idea” because there is expected to be a strong turn out on this Election Day because 2012 is a presidential election yea, Garrity said..

Supervisor Mary Beth Murphy has declined to take part in the consideration of the extension of the supervisor’s term.

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