Highway super ignores safety

To the Editor:

Mr. Bashwinger, Berne’s superintendent of highways, cannot be trusted to provide residents or officials accurate information even in matters of public safety. In my opinion, he is putting residents, employees. and those traveling through our town at unnecessary risk and his numerous published falsehoods,  politically-motivated stunts, and false allegations are a disservice to the town and a deterrent for people who would otherwise be willing to serve the town as volunteers or elected officials.

I feel I have a particular responsibility as an elected representative to publicize the source of unnecessary risk to the safety of residents so action is considered. I have asked to add the discussion of highway safety issues to meeting agendas but only building safety issues have been addressed so far. Highway safety issues are equally or more dangerous to the public.

I feel it is malpractice for a superintendent of highways to ignore safety issues brought to his attention and then publish false excuses. I feel his attacks on me at my workplace, also based on falsehoods, are unethical misconduct. Who wants to serve in a town where an elected official is allowed to attack and bully with impunity?

The Enterprise reported a couple weeks ago that Mr. Bashwinger claimed he has not contacted the New York State Department of Transportation about me in three months. His statement is simply not true and this is not unusual.

I was advised that, on March 23, 2018, text messages and attempted phone calls were sent from Mr. Bashwinger to the NYSDOT Regional Director of Operations. The Department of Transportation Bureau of Investigations has an obligation to thoroughly investigate all allegations of employee misconduct.

As I understand, out of duty, these texts were provided by the director to the Bureau of Investigation. To recap, I was informed in February that, as of  February, Mr. Bashwinger’s false allegations, which began in August 2017, were determined to be “without merit,” but he continues to text NYSDOT about “Mr. Wilsey.”

Mr. Bashwinger sees no problem providing investigators with false information. It can be documented that false statements about me were provided to investigators at the state’s departments of transportation and environmental conservation, the federal Office of Special Council, and the Albany County Sheriff’s Department (and the Berne Town Board).

I am told that his loyal supporter, Phil Stevens, initiated that federal investigation, providing a false allegation, but I am also told Mr. Bashwinger was directly involved. These guys are advised by an unscrupulous lawyer who knows even false allegations against a public employee can trigger endless workplace mandated investigations, hearings, and interrogations. Mr. Bashwinger is Senator George Amedore’s “Rising Star” for the GOP; can one assume the senator condones these activities?

Mr. Bashwinger’s published, documented falsehoods deliberately mislead voters who may mistakenly assume his postings have integrity because of his position. I have numerous Facebook posts, published by Mr. Bashwinger, that include well documented falsehoods. One post of particular interest includes the line:  “ .... people need to know what kind of guy Mr Wilsey really is.” This post, full of proven falsehoods, is presented like a public-service announcement by an elected official.

That post, provided to The Enterprise, includes documented false statements regarding safety risks the public is exposed to as a result of, among other things, the superintendent’s refusal to acknowledge that brush must be cut from the town right-of-way to keep “Stop” signs visible. He is too busy with dirty politics and running for a school board seat to worry about his actual highway safety and maintenance responsibilities.

I originally brought the issue of brush obscuring signs at intersections to the attention of the town board in 2016. We are well into 2018 now and the growing brush on town rights-of-way continues to obstruct the same “Stop” signs and is beginning to cover more. The state and county maintain “Stop” signs within their maintenance jurisdiction and keep their right-of-way around signs clear of brush. Town road-to-town road intersections with brush obstruction were documented in 2016 as well.

The signs at any intersection should all be visible at a distance appropriate for the speed. I provided date-stamped photos (from 2016 to the present) to The Enterprise. The photos published by The Enterprise in fall 2017 were not “old” as the superintendent’s post falsely claimed, and his posted photo, (after the leaves fell), showing the “Stop” sign through empty branches is intentionally misleading to residents.

Trees and brush on town rights-of-way are simply obscuring signs. The town will need to hire a contractor to remove the brush because the busy Mr. Bashwinger is the Republican chairman and is running for school board clearly to boost his political profile.  

His Facebook post indicates he believes that the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices does not apply to town operations. In the post, he says I didn’t bother to look up the law and  “we have different guidelines than the state.”

Actually, I already knew the law and that was no secret. It is mandated by Article 44 of Vehicle and Traffic Law that work and improvements on all open highways streets and bicycle paths in New York State must be in compliance with the MUTCD and the point of this is work zone safety. Photos provided document that town operations are not in compliance with MUTCD requirements.

Safety is clearly not a Berne Highway Department priority. Work zones are set up in such a way that children on bikes or on foot must negotiate randomly placed trucks and equipment that obscure sight distance unnecessarily. Children and others are forced to emerge blindly from behind trucks and equipment into the single live traffic lane.

The MUTCD is the source for work zone safety guidance. MUTCD-approved, high-visibility clothing, signs, sign patterns, and work-zone configurations are not observed by the superintendent and this is documented in time- and date-stamped photos published by The Enterprise and by the superintendent on Facebook. Clearly the crew needs MUTCD compliance training and someone competent to oversee safety compliance.

Joel Willsey

Berne Town Board

Editor’s note: Joel Willsey is a councilman on the Berne Town Board.

More Letters to the Editor

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.