Salisbury quits as highway super, cites ‘nasty politics’

Enterprise file photo — H. Rose Schneider
Gary Salisbury waits for results in Knox Town Hall on Election Night 2017, when Republicans swept to victory. He was the Knox Repubican Party chairman.

KNOX — On his 55th birthday, Aug. 27, Gary Salisbury quit his job as the Knox highway superintendent.

“It was because of the politics,” he told The Enterprise on Sunday. “The last couple of years were really tough … I cannot take the disrespect.”

Salisbury chairs the Knox Republican Committee and he said he is leaving that post, too. He also was appointed the deputy supervisor of the town in 2018 and said he will no longer hold that position either.

The move was made without the knowledge of town board members. Democratic Councilman Earl Barcomb said last week that he’d heard rumors that Salisbury had quit but had gotten no official word.

Councilman Karl Pritchard, who was elected on the Republican ticket, said last Thursday, “I haven’t heard about it ... He might have gotten pissed off with small-town politics.”

Salisbury had worked as a laborer at the Knox Highway Department for 16 years before he was elected superintendent in 2003.

He is on the ballot, on the Republican, Conservative, and Independence party lines, for this November’s election, according to Rachel Bledi, the Republican commissioner for the Albany County Board of Elections. No one else is on the ballot for Knox highway superintendent, she said.

Salisbury said that Deputy Highway Superintendent Matthew Schanz is currently running the department. Schanz is enrolled in the Conservative Party. “Hopefully, things will work out for him,” said Salisbury. “He’s not politically involved.”

Schanz, who started working on the highway crew when he was  17, is now 32. This past Aug. 23, he reached the 15-year mark.

Schanz said he’s had no trouble running the department since Salisbury left. “It’s been good. Gary got me prepared,” he told The Enterprise on Sunday.

Schanz called Salisbury a “good boss” and said the last few years had been rough on him. “I don’t blame him for quitting. He did his time. He earned it. He’s done a good job,” said Schanz.

Schanz continued, “I’ll carry right on where Gary’s leaving off and do a good job like he’s doing. I’ll just focus on my job, not the politics or the B.S. going on around town.”

Schanz said he won’t launch a write-in campaign. “Historically, there’s not a good outcome,” he said of write-in campaigns.

Rather, Schanz said, with Salisbury on the November ballot, “If enough people vote for him, he can decline after the election, then they can appoint me on January 1st.”

After that, he said, he would run in the next town election for highway superintendent.

Schanz said he had not discussed this plan with the town board but noted the board would meet on Tuesday, Sept. 10.

Commissioner Bledi said on Tuesday that the board of elections had not been informed of Salisbury’s intentions not to run. “We still need official notification,” she said, adding that Salisbury’s name will remain on the ballot. “He’s past the deadline where he can decline,” she said.

“It’s a very unusual circumstance,” Bledi said. “It’s not an ideal situation for voters.”

Bledi further noted that changes in the state’s Election Law will, for the first time, allow nine days of early voting, from Oct. 26 to Nov. 3. The early-voting ballots will be just like the Election Day ballots.

“There will be, as always, a write-in box,” she said. “You can write in for every position on the ballot,” Bledi said, so a write-in campaign for a Knox highway superintendent candidate would technically be feasible.


Board meets

The Knox Town Board, at its September meeting on Tuesday night, officially accepted Salisbury’s resignation.

“The town would not have moved forward in the last three or four years without him ...,” said Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis of Salisbury. “It cripples a town when the highway department does not work well with the board … Personally, I’m going to miss him a great deal.”

The board also voted unanimously to have Schanz paid, rather than at his current hourly rate, the same salary that Salisbury had earned as highway superintendent along with the same stipend, effective Aug. 28.

“He’s just as easy and just as knowledgeable to work with,” said Lefkaditis. “Matt will stay as deputy highway superintendent.” In that position, Lefkaditis said, “He has the power to hire and fire at will.”

From the gallery, resident Brigitte McAuliffe asked, “Why aren’t you appointing him superintendent?”

“We don’t need to,” Lefkaditis replied.

After the meeting, The Enterprise asked Lefkaditis what salary and stipend had been awarded to Schanz. “I don’t answer questions from The Altamont Enterprise,” Lefkaditis said. “Email me.”

The two Democratic councilmen, Barcomb and Dennis Barber, rifled through papers to find the salary as Lefkaditis said, “I know the exact amount.”

The councilmen determined that Salisbury had been paid $58,544 annually and they thought his stipend, which was to cover paperwork duties, was $5,000.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the board unanimously appointed Schanz to the deputy supervisor’s post, which is unpaid.

Lefkaditis said he wanted it noted in the minutes of the board meeting that, when the board had earlier offered to pay 50 percent of individual insurance plans for retired highway-department employees who had worked for the town for 30 years or more, “We intended to cover Gary.”

The wording of that resolution, Lefkaditis said, was problematic because Gary Salisbury, as superintendent, was an officer, not an employee.

Lefkaditis said he had checked with the town’s attorney who said, for the purposes of health-insurance, Salisbury could be considered an employee.

Toward the end of Tuesday’s meeting, resident Joan Adriance, a Democratic candidate for town clerk, spoke from the gallery to thank Salisbury for his work. Referencing “his conversation with The Enterprise,” Adriance said to Lefkaditis, “Long before you came along, he was a great highway superintendent.”



Salisbury was first elected highway superintendent in 2003, a year when the Knox Democrats did not file paperwork on time and had to launch a last-minute write-in campaign for their candidates as they wouldn’t be on the ballot. Since the longtime Democratic incumbent, August Landauer, also had the Conservative line, his 267 write-in votes were thrown out and Salisbury, running on the Republican line, won with 268 votes on the GOP line to Landauer’s 220 on the Conservative line.

In the next election, in 2015, Salisbury beat Landauer in a landslide, 723 to 352. Salisbury has been a shoo-in ever since, getting endorsements from multiple parties in recent elections. 

In 2015, Salisbury ran unopposed on five party lines, and was the town’s top vote-getter with 839 votes. That was the year that Lefkaditis, a Democrat who ran in 2015 on the Conservative Party line, ousted the longtime Democratic supervisor, Michael Hammond.

In 2017, Lefkaditis ran on the Republican line and swept to victory with two council running mates, the town clerk and a town judge, unseating Democrats. Lefkaditis is running again in November.

Knox had been a Democratic stronghold for decades. With 1,918 registered voters, 762 are enrolled as Democrats and 469 as Republicans while 528 have no party affiliation. There are also 132 Independence party members, 72 Conservatives, and the rest belong to other small parties.

“There’s no Republican on the board right now,” said Salisbury, noting the three who ran on the GOP line in 2017 are not enrolled in the party. “That stuff doesn’t mean anything to me.”

He went on, referring to the Democrat who served as Knox supervisor for 42 years, “When Michael Hammond was there, they didn’t have the disrespect they do now, and the lies. It’s really sad.”

Salisbury said he had always eschewed politics. “I plow all the town’s roads. Just because you’re a Democrat, I’m not going to do a worse job on your road,” he said.

The sort of harassment he’s experienced over the last several years has “followed what’s happening on the federal level,” Salisbury said. “It’s the whole country.”

The constant disrespect and turmoil, Salisbury said “bled over to the highway garage.”

He went on, “Everybody’s entitled to their opinion, but why be so nasty? … I’m done with politics. It’s ugly; it’s nasty.”

“Stressed a lot”

Knox town meetings became particularly heated after the Jan. 1 reorganizational meeting this year when the three council members elected to the town board on the Republican ticket voted to replace three transfer-station workers. The fired workers hadn’t been informed ahead and large crowds showed up to object; two of the workers who had Civil Service protection have since been reinstated.

Last October, the Knox Town Board had voted unanimously to make Salisbury, who was also Lefkaditis’s choice for deputy supervisor, in charge of the transfer-station workers.

At that meeting, Salisbury voiced support for new procedures to keep transfer-station workers in check, such as installing a time-clock like the one in the highway garage to mark hours worked by employees.

Salisbury told The Enterprise after the Jan. 1 firings that there has “absolutely” been a conflict between the highway and transfer-station workers, stating that the highway department does many of the repairs at the transfer station and other tasks.

He said then that the standard operating procedures have been going “right now, real good.” The new rules, he said, had finally allowed the town to “start cracking down” on illegal or improper dumping, something he said he doesn’t fault the former workers for, saying that they were operating without supervision or clear rules.

In response to the Democratic councilmen’s criticism of not waiting for the former workers to adjust to the new rules, Salisbury said he had discussed his decision with the councilmen and “they understood it very well.”

Salisbury said that he had known the fired workers his whole life, and said the new appointments were neither personal nor political, adding that he didn’t even know what party they were registered in. 

Salisbury said in January that the newly appointed workers were “more than qualified.” Of the fired workers, he said, “I don’t have anything bad to say about them.” He added, “I like all of them; it’s not a personal thing altogether … It’s a job and this happens at a job … ,” Salisbury said. “Quite honestly, I don’t think this is a big surprise to a lot of people.”

This week, Salisbury called the debacle at the transfer station “a disaster.”

“The highway department always took care of the transfer station … ,” he said. “I didn’t want to do anything to hurt anyone.”

He went on, “In my opinion, for many years, the transfer station was forgotten about. Now it has to be done a certain way … I said, ‘I can make this better.’”

Salisbury also said this week, “I stressed a lot.” He got frequent phone calls, almost daily, he said. Salisbury had to leave his work or his home, he said, to check out the caller’s claims. “Ninety percent was made-up stuff,” he said.

Salisbury also says that much of the criticism against Lefkaditis is unwarranted. “It doesn’t matter if you like him … He’s done a really good job for the town,” said Salisbury. “Whenever I had trouble negotiating prices, he’s really good at it … The guy’s a financial genius … We did a lot, working together for the town.”

One of the things for which Lefkaditis was criticized was being late in submitting required financial reports to the state and then lying about it; in April, Lefkaditis voted with the rest of the board to censure himself for lying about the completion of past years’ annual reports.

“There are reasons why those reports were held up,” Salisbury said on Sunday. “There are reasons behind it.”

The long view

Looking back over his nearly 15 years as superintendent of highways, Salisbury said, “I worked very hard. I made some mistakes. I learned.”

The job of maintaining 36 miles of town roads involves not just managing men but managing money.

After his first two years in office, Salisbury told The Enterprise, in 2005, the highway department had been able to save the town money, keep the roads in good shape, and put all of the department’s records on a computer for the first time.

Salisbury put products like fuel and stone out to bid rather than purchasing off of a state contract, and he shopped around for the best prices on equipment and equipment repairs.

“We’ve saved a lot of money,” he said then.

Salisbury said this week, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, “I made some huge changes. Working with FEMA, I really moved up with equipment.”

Even before Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, several earlier storms resulted in FEMA funds the town could use to repair and upgrade roads, Salisbury said.

“We got a lot of roads damaged during these storms and we were able to get them done right,” Salisbury said.

He prioritized the roads for traffic flow and set up a schedule to maintain and replace town trucks.

As Salisbury looks to his future, he says his “ultimate goal” is to work on his farm, where he raises beef cattle.

He lives on property he bought from his late father that adjoins the property his aunt, the late Pauline Williman, turned into the Patroon Land Foundation farm, which feeds people in need.

“I work together with them,” Salisbury said of the Patroon Land Foundation, and he hopes to do more.

Salisbury went on, “I’ve lived my whole life here, and so has my family before me.”

His family going forward will likely live in Knox, too.

“I’ve been purchasing what pieces are left of the farm,” Salisbury said, where his two grown daughters have homes, and where his grandchildren are being raised.

“A lot of people move into town and make these great changes,” he said. “We’ve lived this lifestyle our whole lives. My father retired from the highway department and then worked at the transfer station for 17 years.”

Salisbury accepts the rigors that come with working for the highway department.

“In the wintertime, when you’re in the highway department, you don’t have a normal life. You can’t make plans. You don’t know what the weather will be,” he said.

“I always sleep with a scanner by my head. I would fly out of the house to beat the ambulance when there’s a crash.”

This and the winter weather come with the territory, he said, but when the unfounded claims and nastiness added to the stress, he decided he’d had enough, Salisbury said.

“I think a lot of people appreciate what we do,” Salisbury said. “It’s just a few people who are negative … I’m not a fighter. I will stand up for myself.”

Salisbury stressed, “I don’t want everything to be negative. I met a lot of great people in town. The majority are really good, hard-working people, minding their own business.”

Reflecting on his political philosophy, Salisbury said, “I am a true conservative. My opinions are very different from someone liberal. I try to understand others’ opinions. I am who I am. In the last few years, I’ve become very bitter.”

Before he can reach his ultimate goal of just working on his farm, Salisbury said, he’ll have to find a job “of one kind or another” because “the town does not give you health insurance once you retire.”

Asked if he’d consider working for the town again, perhaps in another capacity, Salisbury replied, “I’ve learned to never say never.”


More Hilltowns News

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.