Highway Superintendent Mike Andrews Jr. and the Town of Malone
Lori Lovely – PROFILE CORRESPONDENT - September 2023
Michael Andrews Jr. had worked in the town of Malone highway department for 17 years, was union shop president for eight years and was part of the contract negotiation committee for 12 years. For two years, he served as deputy highway superintendent.
Despite his experience, he didn't have plans to run for election for highway superintendent in 2022 until the crew approached him. The current superintendent wasn't on the ballot, and an outsider was running for the position.
"The guys in the garage asked me to run," Mike said. "That meant a lot to me."
After he won the election, he started turning back the clock to organize the shop like it had been under previous administrations. His immediate predecessor had drifted away from the preceding superintendent's way of running the garage.
"It wasn't working," Mike said simply. "I wanted to get things back to the way they were. It's old school, but it worked."
Old Ways Are Good Ways
Mike overhauled just about everything, starting with "basic stuff, like maintenance." He reinstated the old schedule of hauling in sand after Labor Day and putting the trucks together in October to be ready for snow by Halloween. In March, his crews start putting the sweepers together. In May, they dig ditches and install culverts.
Every piece of equipment gets a full-service twice a year (spring and fall). In between, regular greasing and filter cleanings are completed. "Basic maintenance is done as needed," Mike said.
The new highway superintendent instituted a road maintenance schedule for "regular, basic road maintenance" that relies on early prevention. By dividing the town into five regions, Mike and his crews can keep on top of maintenance. For example, each month they cut the shoulders in a different region.
"We use a sand-salt mix because we can't afford straight salt," he said.
They spread it with a pull-behind broom that sweeps sand to the shoulder. As the mixture piles up higher and higher, it contains water on the road, preventing run-off. This creates puddling, which creates potholes. Maintaining a regular schedule of cutting the shoulders alleviates that problem.
Changing It Up
Mike isn't sticking to an old script, however. He's busy making improvements to the department and throughout the town. Improvement starts at home. Most of the highway department's facilities were built in the 1950s and 1960s. The 18,000-sq.-ft. garage with superintendent office, clerk office, mechanic office, parts room and two mechanic bays needed updating — even more so because it's upstairs.
"It's not safe, not public-friendly, not handicapped-accessible and it has only one restroom," Mike said.
To address those issues, a project to build a new office is currently under way. To save money, his crew is doing all the work. In addition, they're using ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) money to redo and enlarge the breakroom.
Additional renovations Mike has done to the facilities include creating a new mechanic bay in the garage.
"For 17 years, part of the garage was used as a catch-all," he said.
This 30-ft. by 60-ft. cold storage area was full of junk. First, he cleared it out by holding a "garage sale." Then, his crew moved the furnace to the back room, added work benches and windows and sprayed insulation. Once again, the crew did the work.
"We have an HVAC-certified guy on the crew, and some of the guys are electricians."
To complete the task, they moved in an unused truck lift.
Making use of unused, unwanted or forgotten items to save the town money is one of Mike's specialties — and it came in handy when a semi-pro baseball team — the Border Hounds — wanted to move to Malone.
The town had to prepare a facility to host games. However, Mike recalled, the town board couldn't tie the space into the local sewer system. Fortunately, one of the highway crewmen had the skills to install a raised bed sewer system. To create a parking lot, Mike came up with the idea of asking the state for the millings from a resurfacing project on nearby State Road 11. The New York State DOT, through shared services, gave them free of charge. The highway department crew hauled them and did the work after hours.
It Takes a Town
Another innovation Mike introduced is regular employee evaluations every six months. He considers it important to let the employees know about their job performance and areas for improvement — and to allow them a forum to provide feedback.
"The employees like it," he said. He believes it's one way to let them know they're more than just a number. "That's key. Management leads to performance."
Employee evaluations also allow the union to approach the board about raises for the employees. Although Mike was once union shop president, he's no longer a member since elected positions can't be in the union. However, because of his long association with the union, he said, "The guys know I know what can and can't be done."
One thing he can't do is work alongside beside his crew if it means he's taking work away from them. That may be part of the reason he's so insistent on training for everyone on the crew.
Although he likes to pair each employee with the task they're best at, he insists on giving everyone an opportunity to run every piece of equipment.
"I like to let every employee experience the job from A to Z."
He also rotates the crew so that they work with everyone at one time or another. "It helps morale and builds a team."
Craig Bombard, MEO, was employed at a different municipality for 20 years when he decided to make a change and come to Malone.
"I came from a small township to a much larger township — one which in turn means more work to do and a larger staff to work with," he said.
Feeling that he made the right choice, he added, "Mike may be classified as a boss, but I see him as a leader and a friend among his employees. The guys here are willing to work and get the job done, no matter the task. I'm proud to be part of it."
That loyalty is evident throughout the staff, extending to other town employees. Andrea Stewart, current town supervisor, began as town clerk/receiver of taxes in 1985, rising through the ranks to become budget officer and assistant to the town supervisor, a position she held for 26 years. Two years after she retired, she returned as town supervisor and is now in her second term.
"Over those many years, I have worked for and with seven superintendents and countless highway employees," she said. "The current highway employees and their leader are the most dedicated, knowledgeable and hard-working team I have ever had the pleasure to work with."
She praised their experience for saving the taxpayers thousands of dollars and credits collaboration with the department for achieving an "aggressive road improvement plan."
That dedicated highway department crew includes 11 full-time staff, one part-time clerk and two seasonal helpers from April to September:
- Mark Lamondie, mechanic
- Neil Beaney, mechanic
- Bruce Deleon, laborer
- Scott Spalding, HEO
- Kiel Otis, HEO
- Matt Casey, HEO
- John Manley, MEO
- Josh Cartier, MEO
- Josh Brown, MEO
- Craig Bombard, MEO
- Kaden Barney, MEO
- Cindy Gadway, highway clerk
Together, they work a schedule of 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday-Thursday, May-September; and 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday to Friday, October to April. While Mike is quick to say he doesn't micromanage, he does make sure each employee knows what's expected of them every day. "The guys know what they're doing tomorrow." Mike posts two weeks' worth of schedule on a 6x8 dry erase board in the breakroom.
The superintendent's implementation of training and evaluation programs seems to be working, because in 2023, the highway department received the American Legion Red, White and Blue award — a certificate of appreciation presented for the development of quality, leadership and service.
Nevertheless, Mike said there's not enough recognition for the guys. "This is not the Mike Andrews Show. They make or break me."
Another thing that can make or break a highway superintendent is the paperwork. While many cringe when they speak of that aspect of the job, Mike enjoys it.
"Paperwork is my job!" he said. "I want to read everything."
It's how he learns and it's how he saves the town money. Most importantly, he said it's how he makes the job easier for his crew.
Running the highway department is like running a business, he believes.
"You must know how to spend money responsibly and look for the best prices to save money in the budget."
The budget for the Malone highway department is $1.6 million. No CHIPS money has been allocated, but that will probably change.
"The previous superintendent didn't have his CHIPS paperwork done prior to the budget," Mike said. "You have to show where the money came out of the budget … and you have to submit by the deadline in order to receive reimbursement. It's hard to allocate CHIPS into the budget if you don't know how much you're getting."
The new superintendent keeps a close eye on the budget — something he learned when he worked in sales. All the work he did before becoming highway superintendent taught him valuable skills he now relies on. His first job out of high school was in construction. That taught him building skills, deadlines and timelines. His experience as union shop president gave him knowledge of contracts and laws.
Malone and the Mountain
Mike grew up in Malone, located in Franklin County near the Canadian border. With a population of 14,545 according to the 2010 census, the town nestled in the middle of farmlands, forests, lakes and streams has a few claims to fame.
It's the location of the Almonzo Wilder homestead, of Little House on the Prairie fame, and was once home to the country's 19th vice president, William Almond Wheeler, whose mansion on Elm Street is now the site of the Elks Lodge. It also was part of the underground railroad. The town is currently reconditioning the church on Main Street where former enslaved people hid on their escape route to Canada.
Formed from part of the town of Chateauqay in 1805 and originally named Harison after Richard Harison, who purchased the land and founded the town, Malone went through another name change in 1808, when it was called Ezraville after Ezra L'Hommedieu. Its current name finally stuck in 1812, around the time the village was sacked by British troops during the War of 1812.
These days, Malone — the county seat — is better known for winter sports, due in part to the Titus Mountain Family Ski Resort, which has been dubbed the number-one family-friendly resort in the Northeast and the second-best overall resort in North America. The popular ski resort, located in the Adirondack Mountains, offers skiing, tubing, snowmobiling, snowboarding, golf and more.
However, Titus, as it's known, is accessed by a seasonal road that isn't maintained in the winter. If it's impassible due to weather, tourists have to drive 5 to 6 mi. around to reach it. Mike talked to the board and the resort owners about changing the gravel road's status and is hoping to find agreement for it to become a maintained gravel road by fall.
Goals On Gravel
The highway department is already maintaining 20 gravel and 44 paved roads, for a total of 187.08 lane miles. It's divided into six plow routes, which take approximately four hours each. Their block building holds 100 tons of salt to help deal with the snow. With an average snowfall of 95 inches, Mike's crew is frequently out plowing.
During milder weather, they're busy with road maintenance and blacktopping gravel roads. One of the superintendent's goals is to reduce the number of gravel roads.
"They're time-consuming to maintain," he said.
Working toward that goal, his crew recently finished a 9-mi. blacktop and installed more than 1,000 ft. of new culverts throughout the town.
In addition to road work, the crew mows three cemeteries, maintains a boat launch and a fishing park and oversees full maintenance of Malone Dufort Airport, including snow clearing. When they have time to help other towns, they haul millings, blacktop and sand, and help with paving. Mike carefully logs what they give and receive for shared services.
"The board looks at the cost savings and turns it into the state," he said.
Part of the paperwork Mike labors over is known as a 284 — the paperwork he presents to the board on jobs he wants to do the following year. In addition to making paving plans, he budgets money every year for equipment.
His current inventory includes:
- 1998 Ford dump truck
- 2015 Western Star dump truck
- 2019 Western Star dump truck
- 2023 Western Star dump truck
- 2016 Western Star tractor
- 2011 XL4100 Gradall
- 2013 mini-excavator
- Four 2017 F-350
- 2023 Chevy Silverado
- 2023 loader
- 2022 Cat excavator
- 2019 blacktop roller
One piece of equipment Mike hopes to add to the list is a street sweeper.
"We still sweep roads with the tractor and brooms," he said. "Dust is not employee- or resident-friendly."
A sweeper would stop the constant buildup on the shoulders and be safer for the environment.
Much of the equipment is fairly new and a six- to seven-year plan of rotation has been put forward. Mike said the shorter rotation is strongly supported by one board member who is a former DOT sergeant, and is enabled by careful budgeting, along with two "garage" sales that brought in almost $300,000.
"There was so much stuff in the garage we no longer used," he said. "I held a couple sales and used that money to help buy new equipment."
He also cuts costs by using available resources. For instance, when the crew takes down roadside trees, they cut firewood for the steam boiler system and two huge wood stoves they use for heat in the shop.
Just Another Day On the Job
Being able to help keep the community he was raised in safe and affordable is Mike's favorite part of the job.
"Every day on the job is my best day," he said. "It's an opportunity to help people. That's why I got elected."
Communication is important to the devoted superintendent. He keeps the town supervisor informed of developments, includes a Motorola digital radio system in every piece of equipment so he can stay in touch with his crew, and maintains six points of communication with the public: the highway department office phone, email, fax, two cell phones, social media and personal contact.
Although he jokes that his wife, Jodi, would say he's not home enough, he quickly added, "She knows I love my job and enjoy talking with people."
Whether doing daily road checks or traveling to attend a meeting with the Franklin County Traffic and Safety Board, he often stops to visit with residents. If road work is planned for their area, he calls residents ahead of time. The courtesy is reciprocated.
"The public brings things to the shop almost daily — cookies, cake…"
As much as he loves his job, Mike also appreciates the fact that he can depend on his deputy superintendent and crew to manage when he takes time off. He and his wife of 17 years take a week or two off every year to travel. This year's destinations were Jamaica and Cancun.
A family man with two children (Justin and Rylee), he serves as a coach for Franklin Academy modified baseball and ran the Little League for 12 years. He also breeds and raises Coonhounds, traveling all over the country with them for competitions.
It doesn't matter if he planned to run for highway superintendent in 2022 or not. Mike feels rewarded by this 365-day-a-year job, and gratified by seeing his crew enjoy their jobs and take pride in their work.
"My best day on the job was Day One, knowing I have the opportunity to help the community I was raised in," he said. "The public loves to see clean roads, trees cut and blacktop." P