With Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor deciding not to seek reelection this year after 12 years on the job, Southampton Town voters will choose between retired Town Police detective Charles McArdle and Tom Neely, the retired town director of transportation and traffic safety, for the position.
McArdle, 58, a former police union president who now runs his own security and valet parking businesses, is a Conservative Party member who has been endorsed by the Republican Party and won a primary for the Working Families line over Neely.
The Democratic candidate, Neely, 67, who has a background in marketing, served as vice president of the Hampton Jitney for 17 years, before taking his town post in 2005.
McArdle said he is very much interested in the town highway superintendent position and is ready to turn his businesses over to his adult children.
He said his position as president of the police union gave him valuable experience in negotiating contracts and that his current businesses have taught him how to manage as many as 160 employees at one time.
“It comes down to plowing streets, painting lines, cutting the grass,” he said. “Even if there was no highway superintendent, they would still be doing the job.”
The highway superintendent’s responsibilities, he said, includes boosting the morale of a workforce that is often asked to work long hours under dangerous conditions, while maintaining a working relationship with the Town Board. “You need to work with Town Hall,” he said, “but remember you work for the people.”
McArdle said he would focus on common-sense responses to improve traffic.
He said the town should install a right-turn lane at Montauk Highway and Canoe Place Road in Hampton Bays and eliminate turning restrictions on Shrubland and Sandy Hollow roads to ease congestion.
For his part, Neely said he, too, has experience managing employees and served as the manager of the town’s light-vehicle fleet before his retirement early this year. “I’d like to expand the traditional role of the highway superintendent,” he said by focusing not only on paving and plowing roads but coming up with innovative solutions to ease traffic.
He said he would work with the state and county to improve traffic flow on their roads, easing the burden on town roads.
“If we can get a lot of this traffic off town roads and back on county and state roads, I’m doing my job by helping maintain town roads,” he said.
Once that is accomplished, he said the town could focus on things like bike lanes and pedestrian crossings.
Neely said that as early as 2006, Suffolk County had plans for improvements on County Road 39, including a roundabout on the west side of Water Mill, to improve the flow of traffic by allowing a place for drivers to turn around without having to turn against traffic. That type of thinking needs to be revived, he said.
While McArdle favors a streamlined approach to the leaf-pickup program, dropping the requirement that people bag their leaves, Neely said he would like work with the town’s Sustainability Committee to look for ways that people could mulch and compost at least some of their leaves on their own property, although he stressed that he did have details of such a program worked out yet.
McArdle said he strongly backs the election of the highway superintendent, saying the people should decide who holds the job, while Neely said he is open to turning it into an appointed position. “The highway superintendent has a great deal of authority and power over what happens on town roads. He has veto power over a whole bunch of things, and that is only one person,” Neely said. “At least with the Town Board you have five people.”