We have a candid chat with John Pizzolato, the newly elected Town Supervisor for Highland.*
Patricio Robayo: [00:00:00] So you ran for supervisor not too long ago in 2021. You lost only by 20 votes from when I read in the River Reporter. So what was different this time around?
John Pizzolato: I Think it built on itself, right? We ran a pretty great. Introductory campaign in 2021 and I never stopped, for a moment I contemplated. I think after the election in 2022, I was like, maybe I’ll just mind my own business, build up my own private business, and do what I can from the other side of the table.
But when I saw our, the sort of unraveling of our town leadership I knew that I had like. Gained the skills in the last election to steer it back to the right direction. I felt like I really heard the voice of the people when I was going door to door. And once you open that box it’s hard to, to close it again and, to get people to stop communicating like their hopes and their fears and their dreams and their wishes for the town.
So I, felt like it was like a. Almost like a civic responsibility, there, there was no apparent new new energy coming in from a leadership role. There wasn’t anybody that seemed to be, like, the heir apparent that would have continued our work from the 2021 election.
And I feel like, in some sense, the town board handed us our victory, and in a big way, they did several things that really went against the taxpayer’s wishes. They eliminated our constable program. They started an ambulance service haphazardly and very rapidly.
To replace something that, that was very popular with the American Legion. They continued to shut out the dialogue that I feel should exist between taxpayers and the local government. And, in effect, I think this election was a referendum on that.
Let’s go into the constables program because I know that’s a big issue there in a town. So exactly what happened. The town got rid of the program there. And now the sheriff is back in place to do the policing.
So basically what happened was the town took issue with 1 of the [00:02:00] constables and was trying to. Backtrack and fix the lack of process that they had in place. They’re they wanted to reprimand one of the constables for behavior that, to some regard, had to do with a little bit of the 2021 election.
The said constable was very much in support of a new regime coming in, and After the election in 2021, I think he was very outspoken about what he thought the direction of the town was. And so it was a little bit of a reprimanding of voicing his opinion to, to not be lockstep with the town board.
They wanted to reprimand him for past indiscretions or reported indiscretions, and instead of redefining their process and coming up with a way to write this person up or to have a record of offenses or a strike 1, 2, 3, none of those things were in place.
And so they just chose to eliminate the entire program, which was, which was really unpopular. A local constable program in a small town, like Highland, works really well because. The constables not only work here, but they lived here and they were constantly in motion, just driving to and from work, whatever their other jobs or other activities were in town, but you had this real sense of they knew, whose car was supposed to be in whose driveway, whose kids were supposed to be at whose house.
And you can’t beat that. That’s 1 of the great benefits of living in a small town. And so, to hastily eliminate that and replace it with this anonymous. Policing, as it were, doesn’t really sing to the community and it didn’t really it wasn’t done with the community’s input.
And I think that was, like, the fatal flaw is that there was no town summit of, like, how do you feel if we move in the direction of working with the sheriff’s department for patrolling versus the constable program? And they eliminated jobs for local people. And I think that’s also.
Something that we really need to work on and focus on is building up residents within the community to work and to lead in the community. The constables are just 1 instance, but, we use outsourced programs for our code [00:04:00] enforcement and for our building inspection, those could be local jobs.
The same thing with the constables. Those should be local jobs. And I think, once you turn away from taxpayers and the people who are funding all these programs I think you lose. I think you lose by not bringing everybody to the table and including everybody in the dialogue.
Patricio Robayo: It seems that’s the vision for the town. So we can talk about that more. I know you talked about it in during your election campaign, but talk about your vision for the town of Highland going forward.
John Pizzolato: Yeah, I think it’s like a it’s a collage, right?
Of all the people that I’ve spoken to. I think the thing that I learned, especially the 1st time, is there’s no national political story. That’s present in the town of Highland. There’s no Democrat. There’s no Republican. There’s nothing that like, really, truly defines us or aligns us with the, with this national rhetoric.
And I think that we should learn from that national rhetoric that it’s not working when you just oppose people. Yeah. By label and title only, you’re going to eliminate so many people from the conversation and from participating in the dialogue, which I think is really important. I think that also, it was a long battle.
Our democratic committee chair was really was really prolific in that she aligned new leadership. Back in 2019, she really brought myself and younger people into the fold and brought us into the dialogue of what do we want our town to look like in the future.
And I think that her sort of including new people in the dialogue really opened up a place for new leadership. It was the sort of like lockstep, oh, nobody wants these jobs. So we’re going to fill them kind of mentality when really it wasn’t that nobody wanted the jobs.
It’s we didn’t know how to get involved because it was such a closed door. And I think that, with the democratic leadership I think that she also. Thank you. He has this really wonderful eye on the prize of unity beyond party politics, which is great and very unique to our town.
I think that people have a good. We’ll call it, I’ll censor myself here and call it a BS meter, but I think that people know when things are earnest and I think they know when people are speaking truthfully and speaking the truth about why certain things are going on. And and I think that, the people of our town are smart, and I don’t think that, I, for 1, don’t want to be in my position for more than a couple terms, because I think there’s so many smart people in town. And I think that it should be a changing of the guard frequently. So that, once I can hopefully reset things and find out where we can do better and where we can save money.
And where we can build up programs that are popular again, I’d love to pass it on and get a different perspective. And I think that’s 1 of the most important things about leadership is keeping folks around you that don’t necessarily 100 percent lockstep agree with you because somewhere.
In the middle is where the is where the sort of popular opinion comes out and the remedy for what should be. That’s where it comes out. And that’s where it comes into the light when you are able to listen to people who don’t necessarily agree with you and come to, a thoughtful kind of collaboration versus like this autonomous dictatorship that I feel like a lot of people were feeling from our town board.
Patricio Robayo: Yeah, that’s one thing I got from this past election because even speaking to like the head of the Republican party for Sullivan County, it really was, folks were tired of what’s happening nationally and didn’t want it to infiltrate what’s happening locally. And when I noticed that we, moving up from the city to up here, upstate New York is that really the lines get blurred with the Republicans and Democrats and really just people want to work together for the betterment of the town or village because really we’re all friends and we’re all neighbors, really.
Yeah. You’re going to see somebody in packs. You’re going to see somebody dropping off your kid off at school. And I think that’s what I got. Out of this election was that people were tired of the national rhetoric and want to get back to work. Did you feel that way, or did you get that sense?
John Pizzolato: No, 100%, and when we were going to door, there’s a lot of people that have a lot of strong feelings of what the national rhetoric is, people have big Trump flags and, comments about the election being stolen or whatever else.
But I never saw that as an elimination of an opportunity to work with somebody, I may not agree with their exact opinion, but I think that our remedies are similar, right? It’s that people really want new energy. They want to feel represented. They want to feel invited and I don’t think that’s a Democratic or Republican value.
I think that everybody wants to be included, and everybody wants to feel like they’re taken care of and acknowledged and represented. And I think that the previous leadership. Was so hell bent on. We know what’s right. We know the diagnostic of what’s going to make things better and don’t pay attention.
Check out. We don’t want you involved, and I don’t think that works. And I think that’s, I think that’s what’s got us into the sort of mud of the national story and rhetoric is that oh, we’re career politicians will tell you what time it is. And nobody wants to hear that. Yeah. The government should be for the people of the people, not like this sort of just sit back and listen and take a backseat and do as you’re told.
I don’t think that works. And I think that played out locally [00:09:00] in a really big way. And I also think that I was really proud to run with a wonderful supervisor of highways. His candidacy was really well received, as well as I ran with Laura Burrell last time as a council person.
And then we we also ran with Rebecca Morbito, who was a fabulous candidate and, who still may be in the running where one of the races for the second council seat is a little bit in question, but I hope she doesn’t give up because she was a fantastic candidate. Who can advocate for families in a big way and I think what I noticed about all of us is that we all represented a different opinion.
We come from different vocations. We come from different places. Rebecca and Joe, our lifelong residents of the town of Highland, Laura came from rural Pennsylvania in a very similar climate. I came from Illinois and from New York City and have lived up here for 18 years.
We all really reflected a cross segment of the population in town. And I think that also was wonderful that we were able to team up and give people the option of a new shared vision instead [00:10:00] of this sort of piecemeal of more complacency and more of the same.
Patricio Robayo: We have just recently had a, boom of folks coming in, into this area a lot of them have got into, have gone politically involved. Because they’re caring of what where they live and what’s happening and say, school boards and what’s happening in town boards
So can we talk about that? You mentioned one thing in your campaign website about partnering with school districts and the county and other agencies to improve educational opportunities for residents. Can you go and tell me a little bit?
John Pizzolato: Sure, we’ve had a business in town for the past for the past 11 years, and it’s given me an interesting purview into, the local workforce and the local schools and what’s going on at the high school, we’ve employed a lot of kids, that are in high school and a lot of local people in general, and I always ask questions like, what are you hearing at school?
What would be helpful for you? How would you want your school to change? And I think that the Eldred school district is moving in a really great. Okay. Direction. It seems like the new superintendent has really breathed new life into our high school and middle school and in elementary school, as it were.
But I think that vocational training is really important. I’m experiencing this with my own niece, she was in college for a month and was ready to leave. and I asked her why and it’s she really wanted to get in into the beauty industry and go straight for it.
And my sister, being very sensible and logical, was like, why don’t you get a business degree? So you learn how to run your own business and then you can have your own business 1 day. But I don’t think that every kid is wired for that. And I think that vocational training is so important. And we have a very large 2nd homeowner community.
And vacation community in our neck of the woods. And people that have services and skills to offer, like plumbers and HVAC and electricians and and all those wonderful contractors, those are the future of the economy in our town. And I think that. They need somebody to pass the torch to, and kids need to learn again.
I was part of the, the 90s, everybody has to go to college kind of mentality and I don’t believe that it paid off, I think it left a lot of kids with mountains of debt in liberal arts education, which I’m very grateful for. And I think it prepared me for what I’m doing now.
But. I don’t think that’s everybody’s story. And I think that vocational training is very important. So I want to support any instance of that in our town. And I also want to work with neighboring communities, because I think our rural life in, the Western side of the county.
It looks a little different than some of the larger towns; we are a sort of river district. And so I really want to focus on that with neighboring communities, like Lumberlin and Tustin and even up through Bethel now that we’re part of our a larger legislative district, but, I want to look to see where we can incorporate shared services, not only for educational opportunities, but for rebuilding our constable program maybe increasing our, ambulance district and other shared services where we can come together and share and learn from each other and grow together. I think that those are really wonderful opportunities. And hopefully they are, hopefully the other legislators and town officials in those towns are ready to collaborate because I sure am.
I’m excited to explore.
Patricio Robayo: you just mentioned about the vocational training 1st thing that pops to mind when you said that I know a person, I believe she’s in Jeff. She went to Sullivan BOCES and got her beautification with whatever, I don’t know the exact title for it, but for it to do hair salon.
And she has a thriving business in Jeff. On main street there direct graduate Sullivan BOCES who went down that path.
John Pizzolato: That’s exactly what I’m talking about. It’s like in our town, we need a pharmacy. It’s let’s get a kid that’s excited about coming back to their hometown and go get their degree as a pharmacist and come back and open a pharmacy.
I want to support those things like long-range plans where we can empower kids to say, Hey, you can be an active part of your community. Here’s where we’re lacking things. Here are the professions where we need more skilled tradespeople and go get the training. And we have a job waiting for you and we want to support you.
I think it’s that like thoughtful leaving, I feel like What I’ve gotten from the current administration of our town is that they want to lead lead, and then go retire someplace else and leave and put their put their wealth and, their wages into another community to retire and escape.
That seems to be like the big payoff in our area. And I really want to keep things back. I want families to come back. I want people to think about retiring here. And I want to increase services and make it a very desirable place to be long term, not to just skim off the top and take off.
Patricio Robayo: I don’t think that’s how we should build a small town, and I don’t think there’s any place for it. John, before we go, is there anything else I have not touched on? You want folks to know about you, or you say, going forward and as a town supervisor for the town of Highland?
John Pizzolato: Yeah, I really just want to keep the door open. I want to, I’ve published my phone number everywhere with all my campaign things. I don’t mind somebody dropping me a text and asking me simple questions or more complicated questions. It’s I want to answer to the people.
I always want to keep an open door. I don’t have this divine agenda. There’s nothing, Specific that I want to accomplish, except to make things better to rebuild our constable program to build a sustainable ambulance core to lower taxes. I know that these are very lofty goals, but I think if we can get everybody to buy in and participate, we’ll be in good shape.
And I really feel the sort of wind of change in our town. I think a lot of people want to get involved, and I’m very grateful for it. And I hope that folks come out and really participate.
Patricio Robayo: Absolutely. Yeah, I definitely feel that window change. I think throughout the county, it seems like this past election.
So we’re talking to the new town supervisor for the town of Highland John Pizzolato oh, thank you so much for joining us on the program and let us know your thoughts on the issues and we look forward to seeing your progress as you. Yeah,
John Pizzolato: I can’t wait to work with everybody. Thanks again for having me.