Retirement Road Ahead for North Adams Highway ChiefNORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Leo Senecal has plenty of stories to tell after 42 years keeping the city streets plowed, paved and patched.
"They're all little stories, but boy, they were funny at the time," laughed Senecal on Thursday, his last day as highway superintendent. His colleagues at the city yard and City Hall had surprised the veteran highwayman with a cake and a collage of pictures, with a little blue Corvette driving away with a "bye-bye!"
Senecal will have more time to spend tinkering on his beloved Corvette now. He plans to spend the summer puttering around, spending time with his wife, Margaret, working on his mother-in-law's home, and just relaxing.
The North Adams native graduated from the former St. Joseph's High School and entered what was then North Adams State College.
"I wasn't a very good student," he said, which meant he was eligible for the draft. "I went from 2-S college deferment to 1-A." Senecal spent six years in the National Guard, based at the North Adams Armory.
He joined the city's Highway Department in 1967 under late Mayor Francis C. Florini and worked his way up through the division. He was appointed superintendent in 1995, replacing the retiring Harvey Hinkell.
"There were some bad storms, back in 1969 we had about 54 inches of snow. It just didn't stop," he said. "It took us a month to clean that one up. And the storm in 1987, in October, that was a freak storm. It's been interesting."
Senecal credits the hard work of his crew, which has taken on more and more responsibilities even as its size has shrunk. "When I started I was No. 43 in the Highway Department; now there's maybe a couple dozen men in all the departments."
Cutbacks over the years have greatly reduced the size of the city's workforce, and once separate departments like parks and recreation and cemetery have been rolled into the Highway Department.
"I feel as though I'm losing my right arm," said Mayor John Barrett III. The city prides itself on its ability to keep its streets clear and in good repair — basic services that residents have come to expect. "I give credit to a lot of what we've accomplished to Leo."
The relationship got off to rocky start 25 years ago when the then novice mayor went up against the union local president in negotiations. "I came to respect him," said Barrett.
Senecal's retirement almost didn't go as planned; an incident more than a decade ago put his pension in danger. He was convicted of dumping hazardous waste (oil) and came afoul of a state law meant to prevent corrupt public officials from collecting a pension. Senecal was fined and suspended but served no jail time.
Meanwhile, he kept paying into the pension system until nearly two years ago, when he was informed he didn't qualify for the $36,000 annual retirement. Local officials went to bat for Senecal, who they felt had been unfairly singled out for a misguided attempt to save the city money.
A home-rule petition from the City Council was passed over the governor's veto last August after lobbying (it passed 128-27 in the House) by Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, Mayor John Barrett III and other local officials.
"The City Council, Dan Bosley, the mayor, they really stood by me. I can't thank them enough I really appreciate what they did for me," said Senecal.
Once the junior in a crew filled with World War II veterans, Senecal is among the few left with more than 30 years of service. He'll be replaced in the interim by Paul Markland of the Building Department.
"He's got some big shoes to fill," said Councilor Marie Harpin, as Markland nodded in reply. "Leo's is getting an overdue and well-deserved retirement.
The first thing Senecal planned to do this morning was get up early— just as he has every weekday for the past 42 years. Then he was going to do whatever he felt like doing. But the mayor told him not to stray too far from his phone. "If there's an emergency I might need him."