Yes vote on Westport highway surveyor buys time for needed debate

To the editor:

The negative news about the highway surveyor has resulted in a Special Town Meeting scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 7. The only article on the warrant is the question of whether or not the position of highway surveyor should be changed from an elective one to an appointed one.
There are pros and cons to both and many people are undecided. Voters now select the highway surveyor, depending on newspaper articles and candidates’  nights to determine whether a candidate possesses the necessary experience and qualifications.
Keeping it an elective position ensures independence from the whims of the selectmen.  If the position becomes an appointed one, selectmen would make the selection of Highway Surveyor based on interviews and written applications. An appointed position also would provide a measure of accountability to the town, presumably to the Board of Selectmen which is the executive branch of town government.
The performance of the Highway Department affects all Westport residents and visitors. The choice is not an easy one to make.
One factor is that many people are personalizing the issue. They know, or know of, Jack Sisson the current highway surveyor, and have formed opinions based on their impressions of him rather than on the best course for the Highway Department and Westport. The issue is an important one and should be viewed objectively because it defines the office for not only Jack, but for those who follow him as well.
A yes vote at Town Meeting will not automatically result in the position becoming an appointed one. Rather, it only authorizes the town to include the question on the ballot for the upcoming town election on April 9. If the vote at the election approves an appointed position, it would not take effect until April, 2014.
Special Town Meetings historically have a much lower turnout than general elections, and it is quite possible that a very small percentage of registered voters will determine the future of the Highway Department.
At this juncture, a wise course of action would be to attend the Special Town Meeting on Thursday, Feb. 7, and cast a yes vote. This would allow everyone more time to discuss and debate the issues before the town election on April 9 when we could cast a more informed vote for the Highway Department’s future.
Phil Hudner
Westport

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