Categorized | A Conversation With

Greg Ferraris

Posted on 26 June 2009

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The Sag Harbor Mayor, who will finish his final term with the board of trustees on July 1, talks about his hopes for the village’s future, challenges ahead and what he thinks is wrong with politics.

Now that you are stepping aside from village government, what are your hopes for this new board of trustees over the course of the next two years?
Well, I hope they can continue to work together to further the progress we as a board have made over the last six years. They will certainly have a very difficult situation dealing with the next budget cycle. While the current administration has been able to continue to provide a level of services to village residents consistently, and has been able to do so with a low tax rate and healthy fund balance, that will be difficult to maintain in coming years.

What are some of the other challenges you see the board facing?
Again, I think much of it will be budgetary. I will quote [former] Mayor Pierce Hance, who told me that as a board you don’t prepare a budget in February and March, you prepare it throughout the year as organizations and residents come to you requesting services. I think the current board understands that, but the two new board members, Robby [Stein] and Tim [Culver] will have to learn that process as they go along. Every time a group or an individual requests additional services it equates to a cost and budgetary concerns. The existing members know that, but our new board members will need to come to grasp that concept.

Sag Harbor has seen an increase in development over the years. What do you see for the future of Sag Harbor in this capacity and what is the role of government in dealing with development?
In all honesty, I believe the village is somewhat built-out for commercial development; however our new [village zoning] code was drafted to deal with both commercial development and redevelopment and I believe the provisions enacted will provide the controls that will lead to smart growth in the commercial district.

What makes Sag Harbor an ideal commercial district?
I think the village business district is comprised of a vibrant retail business district and contains our gem of a waterfront, as well as cultural and social institutions. Our current district, the way it is now, is the heartbeat of what makes Sag Harbor special, and that is not to take away from our historic residential district. We have a great mix of retail, restaurants, gallery spaces and cultural institutions.

Water quality at Havens Beach was one of the more debated issues during your tenure on the board. What would you like to see happen in the next two years at the beach?
I think the new administration, I would hope, will follow the course we have laid out over the last year, which is expected to continue in the next month with the completion of testing. The source testing will provide them with the data to make an informed, educated decision on what remediation plan should happen at the beach.
Unfortunately with this issue, the facts and the reality took a back seat to misinformation. The fact is unfortunately this situation was blinded by the politics involved, and at the village level that just should not happen.

Now that you are returning to a life outside public office, what do you view as the responsibility of a resident of the village when dealing with local government?
Certainly, I think, elected officials are often viewed in a negative light. I think people should realize they are elected to serve the people, but that the people also need to work with us. None of us always have the right answers, but in making it a more open public process we have more success as a board. Unfortunately, there is a difference between activists and activism. While activists can often sit back and hurl negative comments, it is activism, when people really get involved, that I like to see. It promotes good government.

There were whispers of a possibility that you may seek higher office. What are your political aspirations and do you plan to stay involved in village government?
I don’t anticipate running for any other public office at this time; however, I do intend to stay involved with what goes on in this community. I have agreed to commit to serving in a couple of community board positions, in addition to the ones I already serve on. I won’t be mayor, but I still feel a responsibility to give back to the community.
In my opinion, the party politics that exists today on the town level and on a grander scale on the state level has contributed greatly to the demise of good government. The experience I have gained over the last six years makes me question those who vote on party lines rather than for the most experienced candidate. It is really beyond me.
If there is anyone I would emulate in public office, it would be [New York State] Assemblyman Fred Thiele. He has shown he represents the people rather than the party and he has shown an ability to vote along the lines of what the people want rather than play party politics. If we had more people like him in government, maybe we wouldn’t be dealing with the situations we are facing in both towns and the state.

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