What is to be made of the contest for East Hampton Town Highway Department superintendent? From the perspective of those outside, the two-term incumbent, Scott King, is doing a good job. At no time in our recollection has any highway chief been the subject of so many laudatory letters to the editor, for example. On the other hand, he seems extremely disliked by some in his department. Several have filed grievances with the State Division of Human Rights, and one has complained that Mr. King videotaped him while he was taking a personal day, leaving his home driveway en route to another job. A settlement in the human rights cases has reportedly been reached.
Mr. King is opposed by Stephen Lynch, who ran against him and lost in 2007. Mr. Lynch is an eminently likeable man. He has run an excavating, trucking, and construction business in East Hampton for 28 years. Highway Department employees would no doubt find him a more agreeable boss.
It has been difficult for Mr. King, who won the post twice with Democratic endorsement after running for it once as a Republican, to keep the Highway Department afloat with reduced staff and budget during the last few years when the town board used the department’s cash surplus rather than fund its expenses through taxes. In 2011, $1.13 million of this reserve was spent, and some $705,000 is to be tapped next year, according to the draft 2012 budget.
Although whittling the surplus to the recommended level of 20 percent of each department’s budget has helped the town board lower the tax rate, there may be a time bomb ahead when large-scale repaving or equipment purchases are required. Taxpayers may soon have to pay more to borrow money for highway projects than they would had the surplus been maintained at a higher level. Mr. King should have protested this more loudly.
Under Mr. King, the Highway Department responded admirably to Tropical Storm Irene and got the roads passable after the intense Dec. 26 to 27 storm last year.
In the end, voters should not be swayed by the unpleasant allegations by some workers, which are not based on the accomplishments of Mr. King’s department, but on personal conflicts. As we said in 2007, we trust that either Mr. Lynch or the incumbent would manage the work of the Highway Department well going forward. Mr. King is the better choice in terms of experience and track record, but his prospects have been damaged by what is described as low morale in the department. Mr. Lynch has the edge in personality. This is one tough race to call.