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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 6, 2011

Retiring after 38 years
Highway super Gifford credits his crew for his success

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — After 38 years of working for the town, Todd Gifford is retiring as highway superintendent.

Gifford started working with the highway department in 1974, right out of Guilderland High School, as an equipment operator.

“I really had no intentions of staying so long, but one thing leads to another,” Gifford told The Enterprise this week. He worked his way up from equipment operator to foreman by 1986.

Enrolled as a Republican, Gifford was a party committeeman and actively involved in politics for several years before he ran in 1987 on the Republican line for highway superintendent, an elected position. When he first ran for election, the Republicans and their predecessors had been controlling the town for over 200 years.

“It was like learning in the line of fire,” said Gifford of his first few months as superintendent; there was a blizzard that October, one of the earliest snow storms on record for the Northeast. As highway superintendent, Gifford was in charge of the maintenance and repair of 65 town roads, and had to organize nearly 40 men to go and plow them.

“I had a great crew; I didn’t make them, they made me,” Gifford told The Enterprise yesterday.

“There was never a dull moment on the job,” Gifford said. His biggest accomplishment, he said, was managing the highway department’s $4.2 million budget. He kept the highway tax rate from increasing for 16 years. He only had one tax increase during his time as superintendent, in 1994, when the rate rose by 4 cents, per $1,000 of assessed value. The current rate is 99 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

Supervisor Kenneth Runion, now a Democrat, was the Republican town chairman when Gifford was elected in 1987.

“I have worked with Todd for over 25 years, and I’ve always been very confident in his ability to get the job done. I consider him a good friend, as well,” Runion told The Enterprise yesterday.

During Gifford’s tenure as superintendent, the Democrats gained control of the town, but Gifford said his position was never complicated by politics, even though he had to run for re-election six times.

“There was no challenge being one of the only Republicans in a Democratic majority. When you are out there plowing the roads, it doesn’t matter if you are Republican, Democrat, or independent,” said Gifford.

His last year, Gifford earned $98,218.

At the town’s re-organizational meeting on Jan. 4, Republican Councilman Mark Grimm asked if the current highway department employees would need to worry about losing their jobs, since, as an elected official, the superintendent has control over the hiring and firing in the department. Runion responded that he would make sure the appointed superintendent had no intention of changing the structure of the department.

Gifford’s retirement officially took effect on Dec. 31, but a provisional appointment has not been made to fill the position; the supervisor can make a provisional appointment to an elected position when someone retires before the term is up.

“We don’t want to be rushed into making an appointment. We want to get the best qualified individual,” said Runion. He said the town would be accepting resumes over the next 30 to 60 days. For now, Gifford will be available on a part-time basis to do consultant work, but the two foremen will be in charge.

“We want the individual appointed as superintendent to work with Todd for a smooth transition before they would need to run for election in November,” Runion said. Gifford decided he would retire one year before his four-year term was up in order to give the next candidate a chance to acclimate to the position.

“I wanted to give someone a chance to come in and get their feet wet before the general election. There is a lot to learn,” said Gifford.

Of his retirement, Gifford said he wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do, but he might decide to run for another elected position in the town in the future.

“It is going to be nice to sit back and watch the snow come down and not worry about having to get 38 guys and 19 trucks out there,” Gifford concluded. “But I was very fortunate. I had a great career.”

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