Difference of Opinion in Noyac

Posted on 15 May 2009

By Bryan Boyhan

Following an informative, but uneventful presentation on the benefits of becoming more environmentally sensitive, things erupted at the monthly meeting of the Noyac Civic Council on Tuesday night when a sharply divided room of Noyacans argued over whether or not there was to be a discussion about the proposed Sag Harbor school budget.

Chuck Schwartz, and environmental engineer and executive director of LI Green was the guest speaker at Tuesday’s meeting and offered a slide presentation that focused on how individuals can be more responsible in conservation and protecting the environment. It was a healthy choice, Schwartz told the audience of about 40, for both the individual and the planet.

Among his suggestions was getting a free energy audit from his organization, which is funded by Stony Brook University, consider alternative ways of heating and powering residences with geothermal or solar energy, and being careful not to use toxic materials when landscaping, instead using organic fertilizers or pesticides — or even learning to be tolerant about pests.

“I believe there is a great opportunity for growth opportunities in green businesses,” said an optimistic Schwartz.

But it wasn’t the environment that many in the audience had come to talk about.

As civic council president Chuck Neuman was about to call for a motion to close the meeting following Schwartz’s presentation, Peter Solow, a teacher at Pierson High School and Noyac resident, stood and wanted to know what had happened to a discussion about the school budget.

The council had intended to have the discussion and take a straw poll at their last meeting, in April, but Neuman demurred at the time, saying instead he would try to reach out to the membership through email to take a survey.

And here’s where things got confusing.

“I’m concerned,” said Solow to Neuman. “I received an email from you saying that there would be a discussion of school matters tonight.”

Neuman then apparently glanced at a copy of the email that had been sent to civic council members and asked Solow: “Tell me where it says we’re going to talk about school?”

What followed was a heated debate about whether Neuman had intended to have a discussion about the school’s budget, or if Solow and others — many of them part of a growing membership of parents with children in the district — had simply misunderstood. At the April meeting there were several dozen parents and others in the school community who had attended, clearly expecting a discussion about the budget.

They were attracted, said Solow, by an email sent to council membership by Neuman urging their attendance that read, in part:

“But, please, one more time, your presence is needed at our upcoming meeting on the 14th, so that we may discuss our stand on this school budget. Do we either accept it as an exercise in futility, or openly voice our opposition with the intention to vote against it?”

That discussion never happened, and instead Neuman said he would take a poll using his email list, but conceded this week, it was not particularly successful, receiving only slightly more than 20 responses, only 16 from dues-paying council members.

“If you care to participate in this poll – unscientific and not confidential – please, do so,” he wrote in the email that accompanied the survey and meeting announcement. Neither indicated there would actually be a discussion of the results or a straw poll.

 “I think it would be beneficial to have a public and open discussion to share our thoughts,” urged Solow. “We came to the last meeting thinking there would be some discussion of the school and budget. And we came to this meeting thinking there would be a discussion.”

Neuman indicated the results of the poll were not significant and added, “I was asked to take a poll, but those who asked did not understand the ramifications, that it would not be private.” He said later the civic council was taking steps to find a more private way of conducting an electronic survey.

Gary Goldstein asked the council to refrain from announcing or declaring a position until there can be an open discussion about the budget.

“Does the Noyac Civic Council have an official position about voting for the school budget,”saked Tice.

“No,” declared Neuman.

Following the meeting Neuman revealed that the votes he had received from his email survey resulted in eight in favor of the budget and eight opposed. 

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