Photo and story by Susan Mikula Campbell
Robert E. Herman started Tuesday's Town of Niagara Town Board meeting as a councilman and ended it as the town's highway superintendent.
As the meeting came to a close, Supervisor Steve Richards read a letter of resignation from Herman, then followed it up with Herman's appointment to fill the unexpired term of Mike Moyer as highway superintendent. Both were to take effect immediately.
Richards said he spent a lot of time getting Herman to agree to accept the position.
"He brings a vast amount of construction knowledge," Richards said, adding that Herman in his 34 years at the General Motors Tonawanda Engine Plant also brings union experience and was "very involved with that engine plant staying where it is."
Herman leaves GM as its education and training United Auto Workers director. He was part of a union-management team that developed a problem-solving process for the Tonawanda plant, which was chosen for a GM Best Practice award at company headquarters in Detroit and now is used across the corporation. That, in turn, led to the Tonawanda plant being awarded $850 million last year for capital improvements for two new engine lines.
Councilman Marc Carpenter was appointed to replace Herman as deputy supervisor.
No decision was made on whether to appoint someone to fill Herman's Town Board seat or to leave it vacant until elections this fall. Herman does plan to seek election to a full term as highway superintendent in November.
Herman said the opportunity to retire from GM is coming at a time when "I am young enough to take on another challenge in my town. This was a job that fit me well. I love working with my hands."
He hopes to bring some innovative ideas to the town's Highway Department.
"My agenda moving forward is simply this, to provide the Highway Department employees the tools and training to work safely and effectively, to repair and maintain our roads, bridges and drainage systems to the best of our ability," he said. "This can only be accomplished by paying close attention to spending and adhering to the budget."
Fellow Town Board members applauded Herman's appointment.
"In these very challenging times, our state government has put enormous additional financial burdens on local municipalities, and without strong leadership in these positions, large tax increases would be a reality," Councilman Charles Teixeira said. "I've had the opportunity to work side by side with Mr. Herman on the Town Board for the last three years, and he has always demonstrated professionalism and a willingness to look for cost-effective solutions to any situation."
Moyer retired as highway superintendent in January. Richards said he had warned Moyer about a year ago that once he bought a house in Florida, he was going to want to live there full time.
In other matters:
•Richards said the U.S. Census figures released this month, which showed a 6 percent drop in the town's population, would not affect the town's budget, despite the effect on sales tax revenues, which the county shares with municipalities, depending on population.
"There is no ill effect on this town, because we have prepared for this," he said. "That's why the state audit for this town was excellent, because we prepare for the future."
He noted there are five fewer employees working for the town now than five years ago. Knowing the population was aging and declining and younger people were moving out of the area for jobs, the town has made changes, ranging from abolishing the position of tax collector to the privatization of the Sanitation Department.
"If you look at cities across the whole state, almost every first ring town or village around the city has lost population," Richards said.
He pointed out that the Town of Niagara had its population boom in the 1970s when people started moving out of cities into first-ring suburbs.
•Carpenter spoke in honor of Don Hilts, who died recently at the age of 90. A hunter, fisherman and environmentalist, Hilts was a member of the town's Environmental Commission for 29 years and served as the group's chairman for 24 years. Hilts also headed the fish and wildlife program at the LaSalle Sportsmen's Club for many years.
•The board decided to cancel its April 7 work session.
•Richards announced the dates for the town's Summer Concert Series in Veterans Memorial Park on Lockport Road. Bands are yet to be named, but on July 2, the town will have its Fourth of July celebration with fireworks. The July 23 concert will feature a car show, and Aug. 6 will be Disco Night.