Berne’s highway super also holds part-time political county job

Enterprise file photo — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Berne Highway Superintendent Randy Bashwinger in the town’s highway garage in 2016. 

BERNE — Berne Highway Superintendent Randy Bashwinger has been working a part-time job for a little over a month at the Albany County Board of Elections, which he said does not affect his elected post overseeing the town’s six highway workers, despite it occurring during half of his employees’ workday.

For Bashwinger’s town job, Berne taxpayers pay a salary of $53,270 a year.

For his part-time job at the board of elections, county taxpayers pay $20,736 a year, said Rachel Bledi, the Republican Commissioner at the Albany County Board of Elections, who hired Bashwinger.

Bledi told The Enterprise that a job at the board of elections is inherently political; Bashwinger was hired as a Republican, she said, as there is also a Democrat hired to work in the same role, and a Democrat and a Republican counterpart hired for every job, she said.

“The beauty of the system is that we are bipartisan,” she said.

Bashwinger chairs Berne’s Republican committee and has been instrumental in getting two Republicans elected to the town board. Democratic town board members expressed their concerns about Bashwinger’s county job at their April 10 meeting, when Councilwoman Karen Schimmer said that they had discovered that Bashwinger had been working on weekday mornings in Albany.

Schimmer said she was concerned how the highway superintendent would be carrying out his duties during the day. Councilwoman Dawn Jordan added it was a taxpayer concern.

Bashwinger later told The Enterprise that he has been working as a laborer for the board of elections for the last month-and-a-half, from 8:30 a.m. to noon, about 17 hours a week.

Bashwinger responded at the meeting that he communicates with his highway workers during the day and leaves tasks for them to do. His deputy superintendent, Edward Hampton, confirmed this and said that the tasks are posted on a bulletin board for workers to read. Bashwinger also said he still puts in well over 40 hours a week by staying later in the evening and working on weekends.

Bledi told The Enterprise she had been seeking someone for the county position for some time. She said that Bashwinger met all the requirements for the job; he has a background in construction, is able to work with his hands and fix equipment, and has a good work ethic.

Bashwinger told The Enterprise that he generally works at the town highway garage anywhere from 50 to 75 hours a week, working longer hours during the winter, because he said he is on call to respond to bad weather at any time.

Bashwinger does not have his hours as highway superintendent recorded and does not have set hours, he said. He added that he does not need to report to anyone either, when asked if he had informed the town of his new job.

“I don’t work for the board,” he said. “I work for the residents of the town.”

Bashwinger said he took the job primarily for the extra income, and also because he can take time off or leave if necessary.

“If there is an issue, I can leave,” said Bashwinger. “But if there’s an issue, I respond,” he added, referring to contacting his employees on his phone.

He said that he usually arrives at the town garage on a weekday at 12:30 in the afternoon and will stay for any length of time depending on the day. He added that on weekends he checks the road conditions. He said that, while he does not have a set schedule, his workers do under their union contract.

Bledi said that the county job is flexible so that Bashwinger can leave if needed, and he can take a break to take a phone call; but she said that he is not someone to take time off or make calls throughout the day.

“Randy is not a nine-to-five type of guy; he has a large family and many kids to feed,” she said.

While Bashwinger said that he would like to add one more worker to his highway staff of six — at the April 10 meeting, the town also discussed conducting a needs assessment of the highway department to determine if the staff size is adequate — he said that he himself cannot help do much of the work that his employees do because he is licensed only to drive the town pickup truck and do some plowing with that vehicle.

His own primary tasks are budgeting, making purchases, and setting up routes, he said.

Town Supervisor Sean Lyons, a Republican, said that, as an elected officer, Bashwinger doesn’t have set hours and doesn’t need to notify him or the board about his work schedule. The town board’s role, he said, is only to allot funding to the highway department.

Lyons said he wasn’t aware for about a month that Bashwinger had a second job, saying that he would see workers doing their jobs at the garage when he stopped by. He said he recently found out that Bashwinger had a part-time job.

“I believe he’s getting the job done, no problem,” Lyons said of Bashwinger’s town work.

The question of how much authority the board and the supervisor have over the highway superintendent and his department was brought up in 2016, when then-supervisor Kevin Crosier laid off two highway workers in the midst of a debate over whether Bashwinger could have the employees work four 10-hour days in the summer months rather than five eight-hour days. The workers were eventually rehired and Bashwinger’s four-day work-week left in place.

Councilman Joel Willsey told The Enterprise last Thursday that he believes issues in the highway department are not being addressed, such as regarding covered signage and broken guide rails.

“My thoughts are: I don’t think the superintendent is paying enough attention to issues in the town of Berne … ,” he said. “As an elected official, he doesn’t even need to show up there … as far as I know. It’s not illegal what he’s doing … It’s not very ethical.”

Bashwinger and Willsey have tangled in the past.

Willsey said he personally wasn’t satisfied by Bashwinger’s explanation and believes there will be more discussions on the matter. He said that an executive session that followed the April 10 board meeting did not have to do with this issue.

Schimmer told The Enterprise last Friday that she found out about the matter from several different residents. She said that she expects the highway superintendent to oversee the employees, and was shocked to hear of his second job. She noted that Bashwinger oversees the largest budget in the town — over a million dollars — and she wants to ensure the department is being run efficiently.

“I can perfectly understand Mr. Bashwinger needs or wants a second job,” she said. But, if he did work a second job, it should be outside the hours that the highway employees work rathering than during, she said.

Schimmer said that she also heard reports of work not being completed such as guardrails not being repaired or replaced, but said she is not sure if the board will discuss the matter further.

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