Charles McArdle, a former Southampton Town police detective and union president, will face Thomas Neely, former Southampton Town transportation and traffic safety director, in the race to replace outgoing incumbent Alex Gregor as the town’s highway superintendent.
McArdle, a Conservative Party member who has been cross-endorsed by the Republicans and upset Neely in the Working Families Party primary, said leading the police union had given him experience negotiating contracts, and that running his own private security and valet parking businesses required that he supervise dozens of workers at different events — both attributes he said would prove valuable as highway superintendent. “I’m the perfect fit for this,” he insisted during a Zoom debate hosted by the Express News Group on Monday, October 18.
Neely, who came to Southampton in 1987 to take a job as vice president of the Hampton Jitney before moving over to Town Hall in 2005, cited a list of projects he was involved in, from the widening of County Road 39 in 2007 to “the cops and cones” program to help ease commuter traffic on that stretch, along with various other projects, from flashing traffic lights on Montauk Highway to reduce backups, the placement of speed reminder signs on Bridgehampton back roads, construction of bus shelters, addition of bike lanes, and the launch of the Long Island Rail Road commuter shuttle.
While McArdle said he personally knew many Highway Department employees, citing “a bond between department employees and the police,” Neely described himself as a “players’ coach.”
“I believe in supporting the people who work for me,” he said. “I have a good record of working with people and having their support.”
Both candidates said they believed they could do a better job of getting along with the Town Board than Gregor, who has clashed with its members on numerous occasions during his tenure.
McArdle said there is “a huge disconnect between the Highway Department and Town Hall — you have to work with the supervisor” while recognizing that you also represent taxpayers.
He said when it came to convincing the Town Board to allocate funds for needs such as new trucks and construction equipment, McArdle said he would marshal the facts and prove to the board they were needed. “There is no need to throw darts,” he said.
Neely, who said he has been reviewing the department’s budget and meeting employees, pointed to his experience as fleet manager, who oversaw the town’s purchase of light duty vehicles, and stressed his ability to work with others, no matter what their political affiliation.
“I tend to want to work with people, not publicly embarrass them or upstage them,” he said.
Both candidates said they would continue the leaf pickup program with some changes. McArdle said he would drop a requirement that leaves be bagged, and Neely said he would encourage residents to mulch and compost on their property to point the town in a more sustainable direction.
Besides repaving and plowing roads, both said the highway superintendent had a role to play in traffic planning, with McArdle saying he would favor simple programs like “cops and cones” or lobbying to have school buses removed from the main highways as ways to improve traffic.
Neely said he would work with the county and state to improve traffic flow on their roads, which would free the town to focus more on its own localized traffic issues.
Asked if they believed the position of highway superintendent should remain an elected office or become an appointed one, McArdle said he favored retaining the status quo, in part, so the position did not become a patronage job. Neely, who said the idea had been “bubbling around for quite a while,” said he was open to making the job an appointed one, arguing that if the town hired a professional for the job that would remove politics from the equation.
Watch video of the debate here: https://vimeo.com/636257459