The last time someone from the tiny northern town of Hadley chaired the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, the county had less than 100,000 people.
Current Hadley Town Supervisor Arthur Morris “Mo” Wright wasn’t even alive when L. Taylor Smead chaired the county board in 1963 — back before the Northway’s impact turned Saratoga into one of the fastest-growing counties in the state.
On Monday, the 51-year-old Wright is scheduled to become the 2016 board chairman.
“It is an honor. Obviously, you have to stay in office long enough to do it,” said Wright, who is starting his ninth year as supervisor.
Wright will succeed Matthew Veitch, R-Saratoga Springs, under a system in which leadership is rotated annually among the Republican majority. The rotation is based on seniority among those who haven’t previously chaired the 23-member board.
“I think Mo is going to take a fairly conservative approach, which is good for taxpayers,” Veitch said Thursday.
He said it’s good that county leadership can come from small towns like Hadley, as well as thrivingly growing communities like Saratoga Springs and Clifton Park.
“It gives a different perspective,” Veitch said. “One of the great things about Saratoga County is the way we have a variety of communities.”
“With the yearly rotation, it gives all of us a chance to put their stamp on the county,” he said.
Looking to the new year, Wright said the county needs to do more to support law enforcement, citing the heroin problem.
“Heroin is tearing people apart right here in Hadley,” Wright said in an interview at Town Hall. “When I grew up, it was in alleys in cities. But it’s right here. It’s an epidemic.”
As chairman of the county Law and Finance Committee in 2015, Wright saw to inclusion of money for a prisoner transportation team in the sheriff’s new budget — a move that should put more deputies on road patrol.
“We need to do everything we can to support [law enforcement],” he said.
Wright would also like to see more done for the economy, even if it means offering tax cuts to attract new businesses.
“People don’t want to hear it, but tax breaks work,” he said.
In 2012-13, Wright was a critical player in the county’s decision to sell the Maplewood Manor nursing home to end multimillion-dollar annual losses. He calls it “one of the hardest decisions we ever had to make,” but adds that the sale has given the county budget stability. He’d like to see the county rebuild its cash reserves, though, rather than launch new spending programs.
Wright comes by his conservative management philosophy through a life spent in a southern Adirondack community with only a few thousand people. The 19th century mills are gone, but logging remains a significant industry.
He grew up in Luzerne, just across the Hudson River from Hadley. He graduated from Hadley-Luzerne High School and went right to work, mostly doing residential construction jobs.
As a child, he knew Smead, who was a member of the same hunting club as his father. Smead served 24 years as supervisor, until his death in 1979.
“I thought it was cool I knew the town supervisor, but I never dreamed I would fill Sam’s shoes,” Wright said.
Since Smead, Hadley supervisors haven’t lasted long enough to get to county leadership posts. As of today, in fact, Wright became the second-longest tenured Hadley supervisor, behind only Smead.
He ran for a Town Board seat in 1997, when his friend and fellow contractor Tom Mason ran for supervisor an asked him to run. When Mason decided to retire in 2005, Wright ran for supervisor but lost to Jeff Trottier, a town justice. In 2007, he ran against Trottier in a Republican primary and beat him.
Wright said his tenure as town supervisor has been reasonably quiet — though the town had a remarkable achievement in 2015, receiving a state comptroller’s bookkeeping audit that contained no criticisms at all.
“We gave them everything they wanted, and they searched and searched and couldn’t find anything,” he said.
Wright was at a wilderness hunting camp in Warren County when the audit was released in November. Hunting has been an autumn tradition for Wright since he was old enough.
His hobbies include “hunting, fishing, camping, pretty much anything outdoors.”
The board chairman earns $25,690 annually, about $6,800 more than other supervisors receive from the county. Supervisors also draw a salary from the town they lead — $35,420 in Wright’s case.
The swearing-in will take place to an organizational meeting at 3 p.m. Monday at the county board room in Ballston Spa.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.