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What Does a Town Supervisor Do?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A town supervisor acts as a chief officer to oversee government activities in a township. Such officers may have varying powers, depending on the charter and other documents that guide a town's government, as well as powers granted by higher levels of government. Other towns may have a different system of government and their executive structure may include officials like mayors rather than supervisors. This is an elected position, and town supervisors typically serve a term of four years. They may be eligible to run for election again at the end of their term.

One aspect of the work is fiscal. Many town supervisors audit accounts, prepare the budget, and work with the town board or council on financial decisions. This may involve consulting with accountants, bankers, and other financial services providers to discuss the town's fiscal solvency. In the event a town needs to take out loans or issue bonds to fund government activities, the supervisor plays a key role in this process.

Legislative work is also under the purview of the town supervisor. This official can prepare and enact legislation, and usually sits on the town board. Meetings are overseen by the supervisor, who may also have a deciding vote in ties and other situations. Though the town board, there are some checks and balances on executive power to ensure that town supervisors do not pass legislation at will and override the stated wishes of constituents and board members.

Members of the public can approach the town supervisor for assistance in a variety of matters. People can provide feedback on proposed policy and legislation, and may recommend changes to the town supervisor. Individuals with concerns about ongoing safety, health, and other situations may meet with the town supervisor to discuss the issue and develop a solution. For example, a disabled resident displeased with the state of accessibility on public transit might request assistance from the town supervisor to enact and enforce a more comprehensive policy.

This work can involve long and sometimes irregular hours. Town supervisors maintain regular working hours in their offices, but are often called out in emergencies and must be ready to respond. They may also be called upon to answer questions at press conferences and handle members of the media in the event of major breaking news. They represent their town to the general public, and must develop good public relations and communications skills to work well with government agencies, residents, and members of the media.

Can a Town Supervisor Be Removed From Office?

The answer to this question is yes. And no. A look into a situation from recent history might help to qualify these answers. The position of town supervisor is an elected position, but in special circumstances, he or she could potentially be removed from office. In 2014, logistical issues threatened to keep the duly elected town supervisor of Smithtown, New York from keeping the position. Though overwhelmingly re-elected to office in the November 2013 election, and sworn in by a judge on January 1st, 2014, an issue surfaced that demanded resolution, lest the position be vacated.

The town clerk, whose responsibilities include overseeing and enforcing election laws, determined that because of a missed statutory deadline, the town supervisor could no longer perform in his official capacity. (He had missed the January 31st deadline for filing his oath of office.) Further, when there is a disruption of this sort that sees a supervisor, or any locally elected official, lose his or her position due to logistical circumstances or questionable behavior, a special election must be held to fill the position. Before that, though, the Town Board must appoint somebody to fill the vacancy.

When this news went public, a state senator and an assemblyman advocated on behalf of the de facto supervisor, encouraging the Town Board members to re-appoint him with due haste. This did happen and the Board voted to re-appoint the fairly elected winner. The Board held a special vote to correct the filing error. Legislation was then passed declaring that the Supervisor did not need to endure a special election.

This episode reveals a few important details. Yes, a town supervisor can certainly be dismissed. In this case, it was an issue of the candidate failing to fulfill his public duties. Indeed it was an extremely minor infraction, and one which other state politicians refused to believe spoke to an inability to execute the functions of the job. Another important detail is how other members of government stepped up to stop something that they considered an injustice. So, to make a long story short, a rule was broken that was, in fact, cause for dismissal. Even in this absolutely clear scenario, means were taken to protect the man who held the Supervisor post.

There is a Supreme Court precedent in which the question of a civil servant's property rights to employment has been ruled upon. In Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill (1985), the court decided as to whether or not a state could remove a civil servant's property rights to employment before providing an opportunity for that worker to respond to the charges offered for his termination. It decided that no, a state did not have that right.

Though it doesn't exactly match the Smithtown scenario, it's pretty close. Dismissal was threatened, a reason was given and before action could be taken, advocates spoke up. Presumably, if this were a more serious issue, say for embezzlement or a personal offense that affronted the Town Board or the voters, the Supervisor would get his or her day in court before officially being dismissed. However, paid or unpaid administrative leave would certainly be part of this conversation until a verdict was reached.

According to New York Civil Rights Law, section 79, if one is currently serving public office and convicted of a felony, then this individual must be removed from the position. Again, the keyword here is convicted.

How Much Does a Town Supervisor Make?

According to the Online local news source Smithtown Matters, the salary for the position of Town Supervisor in Smithtown, New York is over $100,000. In 2020, it was $115,000. According to the Utica Observer-Dispatch, in 2021, there was a vote to double the salary of the New Hartford Town Manager from $25,000 to $50,000. According to BuffaloNews.com, the salary for the Town Supervisor of Hamburg, New York was $82,000 in 2016, and in 2018, Orchard Park's Town Supervisor salary rose from $70,000 to $79,000.

This small sample speaks to the fact that different communities place different monetary values on the Town Supervisor position, and that salaries for municipal employees vary according to the tax base of the municipality.

Can Anyone Run For a Town Supervisor?

This position is open to any individual who can generate enough votes to win the election. Of course, qualifications and bona fides would need to be in order. A curriculum vitae would want to show experience in a managerial or public service position.

If an individual has a conviction from the past, he or she could be barred from holding public office, but could also obtain a Certificate of Good Conduct in order to overcome the indiscretion. At that point, it would be up to the voters.

Can a Town Supervisor Be Removed From Office?

Since town supervisors are elected officials monitored by both a town board and the townspeople, it is possible to remove a town supervisor from office if the situation warrants it. Like other elected officials, town supervisors have to follow certain rules and adhere to specific ethical codes to maintain their positions. Town supervisors that participate in illegal or unethical activities can be removed from office before their term is up. If the public is simply unhappy with the job that the town supervisor is doing, it is far more likely that they will have to wait until the end of the town supervisor's term to get them out of the position.

Ways To Remove Town Supervisors From Office

There are several different avenues people can take to remove town supervisors from office. Each method mostly depends on the reasons behind why the supervisor is being removed. Some methods simply require time and others demand higher levels of legal intervention.

One removal method is that the townspeople can simply wait until the supervisor's term is up and then not re-elect that individual. This method of removal is generally reserved for those town supervisors who are doing their job correctly, just not in a way that seems favorable to the majority of the voters. Town supervisors may serve for terms of two to four years, so, depending on that town's term length and when the people decide they want to remove the individual, this could mean waiting for several years.

If the townspeople believe that removing the supervisor from office cannot wait, they can remove the supervisor in the middle of his or her term, but it takes extra steps to do. Every city or town should have a set of rules that its elected officials have to follow to keep their seats. If townspeople wish to remove a town official, like a town supervisor, they should acquire a copy of the rules and investigate whether or not the town supervisor is potentially violating any of them. Many times these rules will describe the specific process in each different town for legally removing town officials as well.

There is one additional way that almost all town supervisors can lose their position in the middle of a term, and that is by participating in illegal activities that get them arrested and imprisoned. Under these circumstances, many town supervisors will be forced to resign their positions, or the board and people will have the legal grounds to remove them from office and hold emergency, special or by-elections to replace them.

How Much Does a Town Supervisor Make?

As elected officials, town supervisors are subject to their specific town's budget, so their salaries vary accordingly. Generally, town supervisors make anywhere from $30,000 to upwards of $100,000 a year. This huge range in salaries is mostly based on the town's size and budget. Larger, wealthier towns tend to be able to pay their supervisors better, although the pay does not exactly correlate to the number of residents and the amount of money available in each town. Other factors, including special tax situations, tourism possibilities and achievable grants may also work to determine how much money a town's supervisor will make each year.

The number and variety of duties that town supervisors have also may affect the amount of money they make. Town supervisors who solely conduct financial affairs for the town will likely make less money than those who conduct financial, legislative and executive affairs. Some town supervisors will get paid bonuses at the end of the year as well, based on their performance for the town.

Can a Town Supervisor Vote on Their Replacement?

Whether or not a town supervisor is allowed to vote on their replacement depends largely on why they are being replaced. Town supervisors who are being forced to resigned or legally removed from office may not be present at the board meeting where the final vote and decision on their replacement usually takes place. If the town supervisor is present at the meeting, he or she will likely be allowed to vote in the final vote for their replacement.

Town supervisors usually have to be residents of the towns in which they become supervisors in the first place. As residents, providing they can legally vote, they cannot be barred from voting in any town elections if they wish, including those for their own replacement. Some towns stipulate that individuals with particular conflicts of interest are not allowed to vote in certain elections. Usually, these relate to significant financial or authoritative conflicts of interest. Occasionally, former town supervisors may fit this definition of conflict of interest.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By KoiwiGal — On Nov 04, 2011

I think you'd have to really love your town to want to run for town supervisor. At least if you get the title of "mayor" it sounds impressive.

A "town supervisor" however, sounds like they would get all the responsibility with none of the fun. You'd hardly want a town supervisor to open your new supermarket or host your town festival.

And everyone would be coming to you all the time with complaints. People never come up to a person in power just to say "hey, we think you are doing a great job."

I'm sure it could be very satisfying work, but it would most definitely not be easy.

By pleonasm — On Nov 03, 2011

@irontoenail - I think the reason you hear about those situations is not because they happen so very often, but because they are more interesting than a competent and faithful public servant who rarely makes a mistake. The worst cases are always going to be sensationalized, because they are news.

In reality, I think a town which has a supervisor is going to be quite a small town, where everyone knows each other. Charisma might still play a part, but if the guy always cheated on his math tests in high school, everyone will remember that and hopefully not pick him to have fiscal responsibilities.

By irontoenail — On Nov 03, 2011

This seems like the kind of job that would depend on a person having a lot of charisma.

In fact, I think that is why it might seem difficult to find a competent person in this kind of role.

Often the only way people can pick between two candidates is by how personable the person is, and while being able to relate to others is important in this kind of role, there are often other things that are equally, if not more important.

For example business acumen and a high moral code.

I think you hear so often about town supervisors and people in similar positions of authority ripping off the town or sending it bankrupt for this reason.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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