By Kathryn G. Menu; photography by Michael Heller
With issues like stormwater runoff, the ongoing contract dispute with the Sag Harbor Police Benevolent Association (PBA), flooding and the future of Long Wharf at stake, on Tuesday Sag Harbor Village residents will turn out to vote in one of the most hotly contested mayoral races in recent memory.
Four candidates are seeking to lead the village for the next two years, including incumbent Mayor Brian Gilbride, 65, who is seeking a third consecutive term as mayor after serving on the village board since 1994. Gilbride is running as a member of the Sag Harbor Party with incumbent trustee Ed Gregory, one of four candidates seeking two, two-year terms as a member of the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees.
Gilbride is facing a longtime political foe in former village mayor Pierce Hance, 68, who served at the helm of the village board from 1993 to 1999. Hance is running independently as a member of The Economy Party.
Gilbride, a 44 year member of the Sag Harbor Fire Department and former chief, formerly worked as a sanitation supervisor for Southampton Town before becoming a manager for Emil Norsic & Sons.
The incumbent is seeking another term, in part, to see through negotiations with the Sag Harbor PBA, as well as to see other projects to fruition like remediation of Havens Beach.
Hance has been an almost constant presence at village board meetings over the last two years. Hance is a self-employed financial analyst and business consultant. He is also a member of the Sag Harbor Historical Society and the Breakwater Yacht Club Community Sailing Center
One of the primary reasons Hance has cited for seeking re-election as mayor is his belief that the Sag Harbor Village Board has lost its transparency. He would also like to see better communication between village departments and the administration.
Also running is Sandra Schroeder, 56, who was the village clerk from 2002 to 2008 and the village administrator from 2008 to 2010 until her retirement. Running as a member of The Residents Party, this is Schroeder’s first foray into politics.
Schroeder is a lifelong resident of Sag Harbor and began working for Sag Harbor Village in 1989. Schroeder has volunteered for the Sag Harbor Cub Scouts and is an honorary member of the Sag Harbor Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary. Schroeder has called for comprehensive planning for village boards like the Harbor Committee, and would like to see drainage issues addressed.
Harbor Committee Chairman Bruce Tait, 61, is also a first time candidate for elected office and is seeking the mayor’s seat on The Preservation Party line.
Tait, who owns the yacht brokerage firm Bruce Tait and Associates on Bay Street, first served as a member of the Harbor Committee in the early 1980s and was reappointed to that board 12 years ago, named chairman in 2005.
Tait is on the board of directors of the Breakwater Yacht Club Community Sailing Center and helped start the junior sailing program at Pierson Middle-High School.
Waterfront issues facing Sag Harbor, such as drainage, water quality and planning for the future of Long Wharf are chief reasons Tait has decided to seek the mayoral seat.
The race for village board is also contested, Four candidates are vying for two seats, including Gregory, 67, who is seeking his 13th term on the board on the Sag Harbor Party line. In addition to Gregory’s seat on the village board, candidates are also seeking to fill the seat vacated by Tim Culver last summer after he moved outside of Sag Harbor Village.
Gregory has been a member of the village board since 1978 and has lived in Sag Harbor for 44 years. A graduate of Bridgehampton School, he runs his family business, Gregory Electric in Bridgehampton. He is a member of the Sag Harbor Volunteer Ambulance Corps and is a former member of the Sag Harbor Fire Department.
He has cited his desire to see certain projects, like the remediation of Havens Beach and planning for the future use of Long Wharf as reasons for seeking another term.
Also running for trustee is Ed Deyermond, 60, who served as the village’s mayor from 2003 to 2006 and as trustee from 2007 to 2009. Deyermond was also a member of the village board in the 1990s, and served as East Hampton Town’s tax assessor for close to two decades before becoming Southampton Town’s assessor from 1990 to 2001, and again in 2006 through 2010. Deyermond has also served as North Haven Village Clerk. Deyermond is running on The Progressive Party line.
Deyermond, a 35-year member of the fire department, said he hopes to bring his years of government experience to issues like the ongoing police contract negotiations as well as village finances.
Also seeking re-election is Bruce Stafford, 55, a two-year member of the village board who was ousted last year by political newcomer Kevin Duchemin. Stafford is running on the Conservative Party line. For Stafford, a self-employed landscaper and 36 year member of the Sag Harbor Fire Department, currently on that department’s board of wardens, seeking another term was an opportunity to give back to his community.
Stafford is president of the Sag Harbor Fire Department Benevolent Association and is chairman of the board at the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church. He also serves as a fire department liaison to the Sag Harbor Boy Scout Troop 455.
New to the political arena is trustee candidate Ken O’Donnell, 45, the owner of La Superica Mexican restaurant in Sag Harbor. He will be running on the Citizens for Common Sense line.
O’Donnell said he has decided to seek office as a way of giving back to his community, but also in an effort to bring a new perspective to the Sag Harbor Village Board — that of a business owner who has over 19 years of management experience. Water quality and contract negotiations are two issues he would like to focus on if elected.
On Sunday, all eight candidates gathered in front of a crowd of some 30 residents in the Pierson Middle-High School auditorium to debate issues facing Sag Harbor Village. The forum was sponsored by The Sag Harbor Express and issues ranged from ongoing police contract negotiations, management styles, flooding and drainage and the future of Long Wharf.
Gregory believes over the next two years the Sag Harbor Village budget — constrained by a two-percent property tax levy cap imposed two years ago by the state — should be focused on addressing waterfront issues. Long Wharf, acquired by the village from Suffolk County last year, was estimated to need over $600,000 in repairs as of 2010, according to a report completed that year by the county. None of that work has been completed.
“We will be doing our own study to see what it will cost us to maintain Long Wharf,” said Gregory, who believes spending priorities should also include looking at improving drainage in the Garden Street neighborhood.
“I believe we have to concentrate on the waterfront as well,” agreed O’Donnell, who said his concern was water quality in the coves and flooding in low lying neighborhoods. “I believe we need to be more proactive in preparing for flooding.”
Deyermond agreed water quality in Sag Harbor Cove was something the village needed to take a close look at. He applauded the remediation of Havens Beach, but said more work was still necessary, noting a problematic sump on Rysam Street — thought to be remediated — struggled during the last big storm.
“Water quality is a big issue here and I know we have a new street sweeper with a vacuum and I think we should put that to use to clean some of our catch basins,” he added.
“I am very concerned our village needs a comprehensive plan,” said Schroeder, adding a plan could give the village boards stronger laws to protect the village. “It would be a tool different boards would be able to use. “
“I think one of the things we have to pay attention to is the stormwater runoff problem,” said Tait. “Environmentally it is degrading the bays and it is also causing a hardship for people living in low lying areas.”
Tait believes the village should be seeking funding for waterfront projects like addressing water quality issues through the Peconic Estuary Program. Drainage off Long Island Avenue, said Tait is a particular concern — not just for residents but in terms of the impact on water quality when stormwater water is streaming past catch basins and straight into the bays.
“I think the overriding issue for me is the quality of life in the village,” said Hance of his spending priorities which include waterfront issues, improving parks and streets and using resources like the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP) as tools to help chart a course for the village.
“As a planner, I feel it is important for the village to do the research, and prioritize from there,” he said. “The first thing is identifying the problems and then prioritizing the finances.”
“The question is as far as I am concerned spending in the village. Every year we boil it down to where we are arguing about $50,000,” said Gilbride.
However, the village is also operating in a time where buying a fire truck costs about $500,000.
“The bottom line is we continue to service the village,” he said. “That’s fire department, ambulance, public works, police, village boards. We have an $8 million budget and that money is carved out fairly evenly. We haven’t cut any services in the village.”
Stafford said he agreed the waterfront was a critical resource to protect. Financial planning, added Stafford, will enable the village to do more with less.
“Recently Mayor Gilbride purchased the last two fire trucks through the reserve where in previous years we have bonded for those trucks — with some trucks being traded in before they are even paid off.”
Keeping taxes low at the same time, said Stafford, was important to keep the year round community in Sag Harbor.
Regarding the future of Long Wharf, O’Donnell noted that while it cost $1 to purchase from the county, it comes with liabilities. In addition to making the wharf safer, O’Donnell said he would also like the village to explore bringing water and electricity onto the wharf to attract larger yachts. Ultimately, O’Donnell said he would like residents and the Harbor Committee to formulate a plan for the facility.
“But we are going to have to figure out a way to bring revenue to Long Wharf to make it pay for itself,” he said.
“I don’t have any idea of any additional uses we could have outside of what is already there — boating and parking,” said Deyermond, other uses would reduce parking — a critical issue in Sag Harbor. The wharf, he agreed, should be made safer from a liability standpoint.
Schroeder agreed electricity and water should be brought to the wharf and also encouraged its use for special events. While she would like to see more greenery added to the wharf, Schroeder said she was not sure other uses would fit appropriately on the wharf.
Tait said he believes the wharf is underutilized and would ultimately like to see parking pulled back to accommodate open space parkland at the end of the wharf. Looking into whether the Community Preservation Fund (CPF) could help fund this would be another idea to explore, said Tait.
“Because of how expensive it is going to be to keep it and maintain it, I would personally open it up to the village for a village wide discussion on what we should do,” he added.
“I think what we need to do is look at the balance and the focus of Long Wharf,” said Hance adding amenities on Long Wharf, like green space, power and water is investing in the community.
“Can we have water and power poles and still have public access,” asked Hance. “It is about taking what we have there, refining it and improving it.”
While Sag Harbor officially owns Long Wharf, Gilbride noted the village has managed it for over 20 years. Gilbride said the village has always maintained liability insurance on the wharf and would like to see it remain an important parking and boating asset, also providing venues for organizations like Bay Street Theatre for fundraisers.
Stafford agreed that in terms of parking in Sag Harbor, it was too precious to lose any on Long Wharf.
“I would suggest taxpayer input — they are the ones who ultimately pay for it and are using it,” he said.
“I think what we should do is set up a committee,” said Gregory, noting that was something originally suggested by Tait. “I would like to see it greened up a little. It provides a lot of parking, but let’s face it — it’s not the most attractive place out there.”
Easily the most contested issue as of late in Sag Harbor has been the ongoing contract negotiations with the Sag Harbor PBA. That contract is now in arbitration more than two years since the force last worked with a contract. During the course of the last year, one position was eliminated from the police force through attrition and another through a lay-off in the adopted 2013-2014 budget.
Deyermond said he believed the rhetoric needed to be toned down to move negotiations in a positive direction.
“People are talking so loud no one is listening,” he said.
“It is really tough,” said Schroeder who would like to see more diversity in terms of pay grades within the department. She added she believed positions should be eliminated through attrition not lay offs.
“We are in a difficult spot because of the failure to negotiate with the PBA prior to arbitration,” said Tait, who added Albany needed to be lobbied to help the village deal with the pension system.
Hance, who became mayor in 1993 during a similar situation, said the key is looking at the coverage needs of the village, what kind of activity is happening and what kind of budget that justifies.
“What do people want? What does the activity warrant and then what does that cost,” asked Hance. “If people want to pay it, fine. Otherwise we have to go another way.”
“The bottom line is it was the police who chose to go to arbitration,” said Gilbride, who has negotiated with the PBA as the village police commissioner and been the target of attacks as a result — at public meetings, in print and even in negative campaign signs found throughout the village last week.
Gilbride said he believes he has placed the village in a good position as it enters arbitration.
“I believe 10 officers and a chief gets us 365 days, seven days a week with two people on and 190 extra shifts left over,” he said, adding the village has saved $375,000 in this budget year by reducing the size of the police department.
Stafford said he liked the men in the department, but many village employs draw far smaller salaries and it was his hope the PBA would have waited a year or two through the end of a shaky economy before seeking a raise. Ten officers, he added, should be able to provide enough coverage to the village. Part time staff can fill in, he said.
“Brian, as police commissioner, has come back to us and shown us the department will work this way,” he said, noting he would like to explore legislation to cut down on the amount of retirement costs incurred by the village.
“First regarding negotiations, if you are going to negotiate anything in order for it to be successful you have to remove emotions and I think that has been lacking on both sides,” said O’Donnell.
He added he would not want to see single officer shifts and if there is a study showing 10 officers would provide sufficient coverage he would like to see it publicly vetted.
“If it works with one [chief] and 10 [officers], fine,” said Deyermond. However no one has seen that report, he noted. Deyermond added the economy is picking up and the waterfront expanding.
“I agree with Pierce that we need to look at what we need to have,” said Tait.
In closing, Tait said he considered himself in good company among the mayoral candidates — all who come with a lot of experience.
“I may not have the most experience, but experience alone is not a guarantee for success,” he said. “Sometimes I think it puts you in a rut and you start going to the same things over and over again.”
Flooding issues, Long Wharf and traffic calming will be his top priorities if elected mayor, he said.
Hance said ultimately he would like to see more open, transparent discussions about village issues.
“That would be my objective — address all these issues but do so in the public eye and with public input,” he said.
“We have gotten a fair amount of projects done in the last four years,” noted Gilbride who said he was running on his record.
“I would like to see the village and all its boards have all the tools they need to do their reviews,” said Schroeder. “I want to see personnel issues worked out.”