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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 19, 2011

Super bows out: Zeh resigns, Potter in line

By Zach Simeone

RENSSELAERVILLE — Not halfway through his first four-year term as highway superintendent, Gary Zeh has resigned, for reasons both financial and political.

“My apologies to the people of the town,” Zeh told The Enterprise. “I’ll admit, when I took the job, I knew it didn’t pay much, and I thought I could make it work, but it really hasn’t from the beginning.”

His interaction with the town board contributed as well. Zeh, a Conservative, has often been at odds with the Democratic majority on the town board, most recently over his purchase of a pressure washer to clean road salt from town trucks.

“It’s not worth the headache or the struggle,” Zeh said.

He will be taking a full-time job “in the private industry,” he said, but he would not say where. At last week’s town board meeting, Zeh said he would continue to offer his services to the town on a part-time basis; Supervisor Marie Dermody said that this would likely be done by contract, if at all.

“I appreciate the fact that you did some of this planning with the highway agreement,” Dermody told Zeh at the meeting, referring to the ongoing planning of roadwork for the coming year. Dermody did not return phone calls for comment on Zeh’s resignation, and how it will affect the department.

The remainder of this year’s roadwork will be carried out by Earl David Potter, a longtime highway worker who had served as Zeh’s deputy. He was appointed Wednesday, and will act as highway superintendent through the end of 2011. The board has yet to determine whether he will be paid Zeh’s salary, or remain at his current hourly rate; questions were also raised as to whether he would maintain his seniority in the highway workers’ union, as he will be leaving the union to temporarily become superintendent, a non-union job.

For his deputy, Potter chose Barry Mark Chase, brother of Councilman Gary Chase and son of former highway superintendent, G. Jon Chase. Zeh had ousted G. Jon Chase, a Democrat, in the 2009 election.

Since he took office, Zeh, a Conservative, has butted heads with the town board’s Democratic majority on proposed equipment purchases; his replacement plan for old town vehicles; and whether or not his purchasing a $4,000 machine, intended to increase the longevity of town vehicles, violated the town’s procurement law. Zeh had gotten two written quotes and one verbal quote on different pressure washers, rather than three written quotes.

Also, at last month’s town board meeting, Zeh and Dermody argued over Zeh’s estimate on the rental period for an excavator, which cost an additional $11,100. (For more on the history between Zeh and the town board, go online to www.AltamontEnterprise.com, and look under Hilltown archives for April 21, 2011.)

“I enjoy the job,” Zeh told The Enterprise this week. “Unfortunately, a lot of politics came with it. They said there wasn’t going to be any politics, and everybody would get along, but it didn’t seem to go that way.”

Councilman John Kudlack, the town’s Democratic chairman and deputy supervisor, said this week that he sees Zeh’s resignation as a loss for the town.

“I think it’s bad for the town anytime you have a good employee that leaves, but that’s their choice, and he did do a good job on the roads,” said Kudlack. He went on to say that he could not recall a highway superintendent resigning from the position in the 25 years he has lived in Rensselaerville.

Conservative Councilman Robert Bolte shared Kudlack’s sentiment.

“I think it’s the biggest injustice that has happened in our town,” said Bolte of Zeh’s resignation. “Gary Zeh has been one of the best highway superintendents we’ve ever had, with the most knowledge, and has done the greatest job on these roads, and the roads show it.”

Zeh said that the decision to resign was a “very tough” one, and that he has no regrets.

“We ditched over 20 miles, and they put down 500,000 pounds of blacktop by hand, patching roads,” he said. “People would go by on the road and tell you you’re doing a good job. That’s what it’s all about.”

He also addressed recent allegations that he had not been out on town roads during normal business hours.

“I had some stuff going on in my family; my grandmother passed away, I had a bunch of things going on,” he said, “but this job doesn’t really have normal business hours anyway. It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Asked if he would ever consider running for office again, Zeh replied, “I’ve got three teenagers, and they’re pretty expensive right now.” And the town would need to have a different “political mindset,” he said.

“They’re not ready for someone like me yet — the town is, but the town board is not,” Zeh concluded. “They want someone who can be there and be a political person. I wasn’t about politics when I started the job, and I’m not about it now. They’re not ready for someone to fix roads.”

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