MINETTO — Voters in Minetto will pick a new town supervisor from a crowded field on Nov. 3, a full year earlier than expected after a surprise resignation left a temporary vacancy in the office.
Acting Supervisor John Familo has led the riverside town of just over 1,600 people since August following the resignation of Supervisor David Domicolo. Domicolo was first elected in 2015, then again in 2017 and 2019 running unopposed.
Four candidates — Familo, Sean Stevens, Caleb Longley and Stan Spilman — have declared their intention to replace Domicolo, and The Palladium-Times spoke with each this week about their outlook on the town’s future, as well as some of their most pressing issues.
The man who pushed the first domino, however, says whomever wins is in for a challenge. Domicolo told the Pall-Times his resignation was due to frustration over clashes with other town officials and struggles to find consensus.
“I love this town, I’m not bitter or mad, but the council often didn’t understand where I was coming from and I said, ‘well, maybe I’m not your guy,’” Domicolo said, while also noting that he thought the town was “going in a great direction” and his tenure as supervisor saw “a lot of great things” get done.
A major bone of contention for the former supervisor was town spending.
“There are going to be some state cuts because the governor doesn’t have as much money because of the deficit and COVID-19, and I said that we had to be very careful with how much money we had budgeted for certain things,” he said. “I wanted to go back and look at what we needed to do, and what could wait.”
Eventually, Domicolo said, “enough was enough” and he tendered his resignation.
Domicolo’s exit automatically elevated deputy supervisor and longtime town board member John Familo to the role of acting supervisor. Familo told the Pall-Times after 23 years as a board member, the third-generation Minetto resident was ready for the top job — and he’s already doing it.
“It was a natural transition, and (the town board) works really together because we’re so proud of, and have a deep appreciation for this town,” Familo said on Wednesday from the home in which he and his wife Debbie raised their two daughters — and which Familo was born in.
His interest in local politics, like his more than 40 years as a member of the Minetto Volunteer Fire Department, comes from “truly enjoying helping people,” Familo said.
“There’s times when government can help, and also where we aren’t involved, but when people come to town board meetings with concerns, I think for the most part they’ve been satisfied,” Familo said, citing some of the day-to-day matters for which town officials are on the hook. “A pot hole, a threatening tree — there’s a myriad of things that come up and I enjoy helping people whenever the town can.”
Constituent services makes up a significant portion of a town supervisor’s duty but a supervisor is also the town’s chief fiscal officer. The Minetto 2020 budget was a shade over $1.5 million, and Familo said looking after the 30-odd town employees and “pouring over” annual spending are where he can separate himself from the field.
“Experience is very important when you’re in the town supervisor position,” he said. “No one wants to pay more in taxes — including board members — so any time we can keep taxes stable, or even better, enact a reduction, it’s something we look to do.”
In contrast to Familo’s optimistic outlook, Libertarian Party candidate Sean Stevens told the Pall-Times when he looks at Minetto town government he sees “disarray.”
“The citizens have had enough,” Stevens said. “The highway department is out of control with spending and wasted man hours. When four people show up (to run for supervisor), that shows a lot of people are sick of it, and shows that something is not right here.”
Stevens ran last year for supervisor on the Libertarian Party line and received 140 votes, roughly 30 percent of ballots cast. It was encouraging, he said, and he had “pretty good success” so it was an easy decision to run again this year and “try to finish the job.”
The Minetto native and stay-at-home dad said he’s been repeatedly ignored when attempting to remedy a tree and flooding issue he says negatively impacted his property. After speaking with voters during his 2019 supervisor campaign, Stevens said “a lot of people felt the same way” regarding his dire evaluation of town government.
“With a little hard work, things can change pretty quickly around here,” Stevens said. Some of his top priorities, other than “the spending, which is out of control” will be to increase responsiveness to resident concerns, as well as a novel proposal to secure sponsorships for town parks and the town marina naming right. Such a move would be a boost to revenue and “take them off the town’s payroll and tax rolls.”
“Hopefully something changes,” Stevens added.
Democrat Stan Spilman will appear on the Democratic Party ballot line, and the lifelong Minetto resident says he’s been attending town board meetings for years and is “a little miffed at seeing the way things have been going.”
“I’ve been asking questions over the years and not getting good answers at all,” Spilman said. “We need to get better accountability, and more openness to what’s going on.”
Accountability in government was a major motivating factor in deciding to run, the U.S. Navy veteran, now retired, said. According to Spilman, the town board “spends more time in executive session than they do in public session.”
“The officers and employees of the town work for the taxpayers, not the government,” Spilman said. “I take that kind of stuff to heart — that’s the way it should be, but I don’t see it.”
When the town established an ethics committee in 2015, Spilman said he was eager to volunteer and put his time, effort and money into traveling to other governmental and NGO events to learn best practices of operation. One issue he’s concerned about now is an overfunded town fund balance, which municipal finance experts say can lead to overtaxing residents.
“If people retire, move on, or move out, they can’t ask for that money back, “Spilman said. “I take these issues to heart. That’s what led up to all this.”
One final candidate will not appear on the Minetto town ballot, but Caleb Longley told the Pall-Times ever since he was a child, “my goal was always to end up in Minetto.”
“It was like a closer version of Skaneatelas in my eyes,” Longley said. “It’s a beautiful town with beautiful homes, and I always wanted to live on the river with people that like to take care of what’s theirs.”
Originally from Hannibal, Longley was able to realize his dream as his wife and their two children settled in Minetto. There needs to be a change, however, in the “good old boy” network that dominates the town, he said.
“I’m looking to influence positive change,” Longley said. “Nothing’s changing — there’s no young blood, no influence of a modern touch to anything, no getting involved with ideas. Talking with voters has confirmed my thoughts: the status quo here is bad.”
A real estate agent, Longley said he knows it’ll be an “uphill battle” running as a write-in candidate but he says he’s “not gritting his teeth,” knowing he’ll give it “his honest best.”
“What the town wants, it’s going to do,” he said. “But it won’t be because there weren’t options.”
Election Day is Nov. 3.