MANSFIELD – Residents of this Cattaraugus County town are dealing with an odd situation: An elected town official has not been seen at work for several months but is still collecting a paycheck.
And according to state law, apparently not much can be done about it.
Gary Hahn was re-elected Mansfield Town Highway Superintendent in November 2011. All seemed to be going well with the position.
“He did a great job, at first,” Town Supervisor Robert Keis said. “The problem of him not showing up came to light in September or October of last year.”
It was around the time that the town barn burned down, also destroying several vehicles.
“We were trying to figure out how to recover from it and keep the roads in the town plowed, and he wasn’t showing up. Several town workers had come forward and said he wasn’t coming to work for a while,” Keis said.
Keis and several members of the town board have made attempts to contact Hahn, if for nothing else than to get him to resign his position. “We tried talking to him, tried to get him to show up or at least resign his position,” Keis said.
But Hahn has remained a no-show, except for once when he showed up March 15 to sign paperwork to get his paycheck and file paperwork to ensure he’s getting state retirement points.
Hahn is paid an annual salary of $44,000, with a benefits package valued at about $15,400, mostly paid by taxpayers, Keis said.
The question on many townspeople’s minds is: What can be done?
“There is really nothing we can do about the situation,” Keis told concerned residents at the regular town board meeting last week. “We have explored several different options. I have talked to the town attorney, the state comptroller’s office and others. There is precedence set. At this point, our hands are tied.”
Several members of the town government made a state auditor “very aware” of the situation during a recent audit, Keis said. The supervisor also sought the advice of the town’s attorney at Brady and Swenson in Salamanca. They researched case law and found that an elected official such as the highway superintendent cannot be removed for not showing up.
And payment cannot be withheld, either.
The reason is that no one has the ability to say whether Hahn is planning roadwork, contacting bidders on projects and taking care of other work-related issues from his home.
In his absence, Assistant Highway Supervisor Brad Hurley has attended town board meetings and performed such duties as making specifications for the new town barn project.
The roads are being plowed and maintained, and there do not appear to be any resident complaints about the highways.
Hurley “has done a great job,” Keis said. “I have gotten many compliments on what he has been able to do. I applaud him for what he has done.”
But unless Hahn returns to work, some tasks – such as dealing with insurance adjusters to get a resolution on the amount of compensation for the fire – will have to wait until after his term is up at the end of this year.