Tag Archive | "Fred Thiele"

MTA Hopes to Implement Some of SEEDS Study Before 2015

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By Claire Wall


Do you remember when you could see a flicker of light at the end of the Long Island Rail Road tunnel?

Well, according to those integrally linked to the future of transportation here on the East End, it may be faint, but it’s still there.

It’s been 10 years since local transportation experts banned together under the leadership of the New York Mass Transit Council (NYMTC) to create SEEDS: Sustainable East End Development Strategies. And while not much has been said of the plan since it came to a conclusion in 2005, those at the helm of the effort believe change is afoot.

“I’m optimistic,” said New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Jr. of the possibility of increasing rail service between Patchogue and Montauk. He noted that the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has already allotted $80 million in its capital plan for 2010 – 2015 for small diesel trains, called “scoot trains,” that would be added to rail lines to increase the frequency of train service in the east.

What’s more, as Southampton Town Director of Transportation Tom Neely pointed out, the MTA has also reserved $50 million in its five-year capital plan to create an electronic signal system on the South Fork. One of the biggest issues responsible for the infrequency of train travel between Patchogue and Montauk, Neely explained, is that train operators on this leg of the LIRR track are in “dark territory”: they’re not in communication with one another, so two trains headed for each other on the same track would have no way of knowing they’re aiming for collision.

“It’s the same way they did it 150 years ago,” he exclaimed.

While funding is only really targeted for this service at this point and is not a total guarantee, Thiele continued by saying, for him, seeing this support from the MTA “is a step in the right direction.”

It also helps, Thiele continued, that the newly elected Suffolk County Legislator Steve Bellone “has endorsed all of this,” having made transportation his number one East End issue on the campaign trail.

“We’ve had the most support we’ve ever had on this,” he added.

Comprising nearly five years of research, the SEEDS study lays out comprehensive plans for both sustainable growth in terms of population and infrastructure, and increasing the frequency and efficiency of public transportation on the East End. In the end, the two go hand-in-hand. In building up village and hamlet centers to be high-density and therefore low-impact, this would create opportunities on the East End for implementing transit centers.

Neely pointed to the new development plan at the Bulova building in Sag Harbor as a good example of sustainable growth. Because it aims to create high density residences in a downtown area, “it’s a very good example of a development that can make good use of public transportation,” he said.

Recognizing the problems with scant train service on the East End and the subsequent absence of a coordinated bus system, the SEEDS study ultimately resulted in two plans aimed at increasing train travel to and from the East End, Neely said.

The system would ideally function with inter-modal transportation hubs. After restoring train service to Calverton and Grabeski Airport, Neely said there would be at least five major inter-modal hubs (linking train and bus services) throughout the East End: East Hampton and Southampton Villages, Hampton Bays and downtown Riverhead. The SEEDS study also discussed the need for a water taxi between the North and South Forks, which would necessitate an inter-modal transportation hub in Greenport, as well.

“To move forward we would need strong political report,” said Neely, who played a significant role in overseeing the SEEDS process. The transportation projects alone are estimated to cost more than $1 million to fully implement.

While he did say Congressman Tim Bishop had once requested $1 million in earmarked funds to continue this project, the poor economic climate has impacted the state’s ability to move forward in support of this.

“Earmarks are pretty much dead in the water at this point in Congress, “Neely said.

And while Assemblyman Thiele has also drafted two bills, one to create a Peconic Bay Regional Transportation Council and the other to create a Peconic Bay Regional Transportation Authority, he said legislators have thus far failed to act on either measure.

Ideally, Neely said the five towns of the East End — Southampton, East Hampton, Shelter Island, Riverhead and Southold — should work together to create a Transportation Development District, as NYMTC recommended. However, at this moment, nothing seems to be moving forward on that front.

While he continues to hope the MTA will pull through and put its money where its mouth is, in the meantime Neely said efforts to rebuild and construct the towns of the East End in environmentally sustainable ways will have to be done on a local level. Southampton Town, for example, has adopted a Complete Streets policy that will encourage new developments to consider adding bike lanes and sidewalks, for example, when repaving town roads.

In the end, Neely hopes legislators will continue to work to get state funding to act on the SEEDS plan.

“Anything would be better than what we have right now,” he continued. “Which is nothing.”

Montauketts Vie For State Recognition

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By Claire Walla


The fight to preserve Native American cultures on the East End of Long Island gained momentum this past year when the Shinnecock Indian Nation finally received federal recognition in 2010. Now, thanks to support from Senator Ken LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele, the Montaukett Indian Nation is fighting a similar battle, this time with the state.

The tribe actually lost its recognition from New York State over 100 years ago after a court case that officially dissolved the tribe’s status as a recognized nation based on the argument that the tribe had dispersed.

“Currently, they are not recognized by the state as an Indian Nation,” Thiele declared. “The important part about that is that if you’re recognized under state laws, you can receive both education and health benefits.”

Bob Pharaoh, the tribe’s current chief and a resident of Sag Harbor, said that receiving benefits through the state is one of the perks to being a recognized tribe. But for him, the real advantage to state recognition is the ability to spread knowledge of Montaukett culture, and the tribe’s storied history.

The 1910 court case, which Pharaoh said essentially labeled the tribe “extinct,” was spurred by the relocation of many Montaukett Indian Nation members who, for financial reasons, moved further west.

“At that point, the tribe had no money,” he said. “[Tribe members] were exhausted, so they broke up and scattered to try to make a living however they could.”

While the tribe currently has close to 1,000 members total, he said there are only a handful of Montauketts still living on the East End.

Pharaoh said the Montauketts attempted to apply for federal recognition back in 1996, but the process proved to be too grueling.

“I just decided to back away from that, thinking state recognition would be faster,” he explained. “Anyway, it’s more advantageous to us now.”

With the legislation recently drafted by Senator LaValle and Assemblyman Thiele, Pharaoh said he hopes to negotiate with the state for a piece of property in Montauk to be “just for tribal use.”

“I want to try to [establish] a cultural center,” he continued. “Somewhere where people can go and see where we lived and what happened to us. My goal is to try to perpetuate the culture so that we’re not forgotten.”

There is a plethora of Montaukett artifacts now on display at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City. Pharaoh said he has a good relationship with the museum and will be able to secure much of the collection for the cultural center he envisions for the East End, for which there is already a concept in place.

“I want to keep it natural,” he explained. “The design I have for the building is very unique.”

Pharaoh has already met with the architect who designed the Pequot Museum in Connecticut (a close friend) to hash-out plans for the proposed Montaukett cultural center. While he didn’t want to get into details, he insisted the East End has never seen anything like it.

“Let’s just say, unless you know where it is, you won’t be able to see it,” Pharaoh hinted. “It’s self-operating, self-powering and it’s underground.”

Assemblyman Thiele said the legislation to he drafted with Senator LaValle will probably be addressed in the spring.

“It’s important to right this wrong,” said Thiele. “This doesn’t have anything to do with casinos and gambling. It’s just fundamental fairness. To me, as an attorney, the decision that basically determined that the Montauketts were no longer a tribe was one of the great legal injustices in the state of New York.”

College Suit Settled

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By Claire Walla


More than a year after students of Stony Brook Southampton College pressed charges against Stony Brook University after university president Samuel Stanley closed the satellite campus without fair warning, all litigation has come to an end.

The settlement — agreed upon by the students involved, members of grassroots organization Save the College and officials of Stony Brook University — entails four main components: the university will pay for the students’ outstanding attorneys fees, the Sustainability Program at Stony Brook’s main campus will be guaranteed through 2014, the state university system will fund a sustainability conference at the Southampton Campus in 2014 and University President Samuel Stanley will formally apologize to the students who were impacted by the closing of the campus.

“It certainly wasn’t everything everyone wanted, but it was important to ensuring the future of the college and, certainly, from a point of view of justice, it was important for the students, who were very much wronged, to bring this to court—and to win,” said Assemblyman Fred Thiele this week.

Along with Senator Ken LaValle, Thiele has been instrumental in reestablishing activity on the satellite campus, which this year has been completely shuttered, save for graduate programs in writing and marine sciences. The campus is an important issue for both legislators, both of whom played pivotal roles in getting the State University of New York (SUNY) to purchase the campus from Long Island University back in 2006.

President Stanley announced the campus’ closure last April, just three months before the start of the coming school year, citing the impact of state budget cuts. He came under fire for the move in large part because he had failed to consult the school’s University Council before coming to his decision. By university law, the president is obligated to consult with the council before making any “major plans,” such as closing a campus.

“In a perfect world we would have brought the sustainability program back to Southampton. [It is now being bolstered on Stony Brook’s main campus.] That is the one disappointment here,” Thiele continued. “But, we did get justice for the students.”

Thiele said his goals while guiding students through their lawsuit were, first and foremost, to achieve justice; but also to assure that the program will continue.

Now, with much of the controversy behind them, both Thiele and LaValle are looking to the future of the campus.

In a press release last week, he announced $6.9 million had been re-appropriated to the Southampton campus for a new marine sciences building, and Stony Brook recently issued $7.5 million for a new student center. Construction on both projects is expected to start within a year. These contributions exemplify what Thiele referred to in the press release as an “ambitious vision” on the part of he and Senator LaValle “that would make the campus a busy academic hub benefiting all of Eastern Long Island.”

“I see now the potential for a very bright future,” Thiele continued. He said the arts program will be “the keystone” of the future of the college, but expanded programs in marine sciences, the creation of a sustainability institute and construction on a new medical facility that will bridge a partnership between the college and Southampton Hospital will see the school into the future.

Tax Cap Cometh, Staff Cuts Likely

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By Claire Walla

By now, local governments across New York are in preparation mode.
In light of news that the state will impose a two-percent tax cap for the upcoming fiscal year (2012-2013), Southampton Town is getting ready to cut back. And it seems cuts to staff will be imminent.
“It is always my goal to avoid layoffs,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst this week. And while she said she will try to reorganize positions and even cut back on hours to prevent eliminating any positions outright, at this point some form of staff reductions will be unavoidable.
According to a presentation made by New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele last Friday, July 15, the tax cap would prevent local government districts from increasing their tax levies by more than two percent, or the cost of inflation, whichever is less. As it stands now, the inflation rate is around 1.85 percent.
During a meeting in her Southampton office this past Tuesday, Supervisor Throne-Holst communicated to members of the media some key elements of the steps she is taking leading up to the budget season. Most importantly, she said she is continuing efforts taken last year to make the budget process as inclusive as possible.
“This year, I’m going to improve on that interactive forum and bring the public into that discussion,” she said, referring to budget workshops held last October after the tentative budget was passed. The process will be a little different this year, as Throne-Holst plans to hold three public workshops the week of September 12, well before the tentative budget is due on September 30. She added that her intent is “to get some input and guidance and feedback on what matters [to the community] and why.”
Last year, Throne-Holst proposed streamlining town operations and combining services in a few departments while also resisting the urge to re-hire some recently vacated positions, most notably in the highway department. The supervisor said that she will look at reorganizing, reintroducing shared services and consolidating work duties again this year.
In the next few weeks, department heads will be meeting with the comptroller, Tamara Wright, to determine exactly what effect such a two-percent cap will have on their funding streams. Throne-Holst has challenged each department to come up with ways it will be able to cut costs in the coming year.
“For example, the highway department uses, overwhelmingly, outside engineering services,” she said. “We have an in-house engineer. This is a time to look very closely at things like that.”
But she anticipated that cutting costs will necessitate a multi-pronged approach. For instance, she added, “Maybe we can cut down on desk hours in the assessor’s office, or the clerk’s department.”
“Again, it will take a lot of careful thought,” she said.
Assemblyman Thiele suggested on Friday that the town might consider raising fees for some of its services. However, Throne-Holst addressed the issue by suggesting such measures would need to be taken into careful consideration.
“In this economy, you don’t want to whack your constituents with a fee increase that’s unsustainable,” she said. For example, if fees rise so drastically it stops the public from paying for certain services, that would dig the town into an even greater hole.
She pointed to senior services as an area that could potentially see a fee increase. “There are hundreds of seniors [at the senior center] every day for lunch. The place is packed. But, we charge very little for that,” she said, adding that even in this instance fee increases might not be the ticket.
“That’s a delicate balancing act, too,” she continued, noting that higher fees could potentially deter seniors from taking advantage of the lunch service, causing long-term health effects.
As the town makes efforts to address its financial future, Throne-Holst ultimately said she hopes the process is as collaborative as possible.
“I’m hoping that both my colleagues and our constituents will work with me through this,” she added. “We have to make sure that both our finances and our tax-payers are protected.”

Marriage Equality Bill Passes, East End Celebrates

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By Claire Walla

Ken Dorph remembers being here 32 years ago. It was 1969, just after the Stonewall riots which sparked the beginning of the gay pride movement in the United States. Back then, Dorph said the Gay Pride Parade drew just a few dozen participants.

This year, it was much different.

Last Sunday, June 26 at the annual Gay Pride Parade in New York City, Dorph stood among hundreds of people at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 37th Street next to his partner of three decades, Stuart Lowrie, and their two children, Darius and Leyla, both 10. Wearing a white cowboy hat and a perpetual smile, Dorph held up a sign: “2 Dads, 30 years, 2 Kids, 1 Mortgage, A Marriage. I [heart] NY.”

Several excitable parade participants stopped mid-procession to take a picture with the Sag Harbor resident and his hand-crafted sign, and many more paused a moment to photograph Leyla, who — eyes fixated on the parade — propped her arms and head atop a handmade sign of her own: “I [heart] My Two Dads.”

This is the first time in nearly 20 years Dorph has decided to attend the parade. And he’s done so for good reason.
Just two days earlier, on June 24, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Marriage Equality Bill, making New York the sixth state in the nation to legalize same sex marriage, giving same-sex partners the same legal benefits as heterosexual couples.

Dozens of people held signs Sunday afternoon thanking Governor Cuomo for his effort to pass the bill: “A promise kept,” they read.

The New York City Police Department estimates at least two million people eventually congregated in West Greenwich Village on Christopher Street, just outside the Stonewall Inn.

The hours-long procession saw everything from the avant garde (people wearing pasties, Speedos, silver shoulder spikes, handmade stuffed-animal-pants and skin-tight baby-blue teddy bear suits); to the professional (teachers, firefighters, police officers and flight attendants); the recreational (volleyball players, mountain climbers, skiers and sprinters); and even the conventional (church groups and politicians, including Governor Cuomo).

“It’s like a slice of every corner of society!” Dorph exclaimed. “To come to something like this and see a million gay people in one place …” Dorph’s jaw dropped as he demonstrated his joy. “It’s like, anyone can be gay. And they’re all free.”

HOW IT HAPPENED

The Marriage Equality Bill passed in New York with a vote that came down to the wire, ultimately passing 33 to 29.

This week’s legislation comes just three years after Proposition 8 in California, which overturned a state supreme court ruling giving same-sex couples a right to marry. The comparison wasn’t lost on parade-goers, who held signs condemning the west-coast proposition: “I’ll see your Prop 8, and I raise you New York,” one read.
But it also comes just two years after former New York Governor David Paterson introduced legislation to legalize gay marriage in the state. It was shot down then, even though Democrats had a majority in the Senate.

“My sense is that two years ago, if you took politics out of it, there was a majority of senators who would have voted for it then,” said State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Jr.

But by Thiele’s account, the bill failed then because too many senators were not comfortable voting their convictions. For one thing, Thiele noted that the Senate votes alphabetically in a role-call procedure; he said too many swing voters were called to cast their votes in the beginning, and few were willing to be the first to come out in support of the legislation.

“Governor Cuomo was the difference maker on this,” Thiele continued. “His leadership created a climate by which more senators voted their convictions. He instilled them with the political courage to stand up for this.”
For Thiele, the fight for marriage equality is the continuation of a decades-long movement for civil rights.

“This the latest civil rights victory in a string of civil rights legislation that goes back to the ‘60s,” he explained. He evoked a phrase used by Martin Luther King, Jr., who said “the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.”

“This is a trend toward individual rights,” he stated. “I think Governor Cuomo said it right. People were focused on the first word of the bill, marriage, when the most important word was equality. To me what’s important is we as a state government treat people equally, regardless of their sexual orientation.”

MARRIAGE EQALITY ON THE EAST END

Back at the parade and surrounded by more rainbow-colored garb than you’d find at a Grateful Dead concert — there were at least 33 unique multi-colored articles of clothing and rainbow-print accessories, from flags, leis, boas and wigs, to paper roses, nail polish and neck ties — Dorph admitted the passage of the marriage equality act “is huge.”

Though he and Lowrie were legally married in Vancouver, he said they plan to marry in Dorph’s home state of New York some time next year.

Another Sag Harbor parent who came to the parade with her young daughter — she said she’s hesitant to have her name published because she works for the public school system — added that she will eventually marry her partner of over 16 years sometime next year, as well.

Though the law legalizing gay marriage will go into effect within a month, neither couple is eager to rush to the altar.

“I don’t want to just throw something together,” the woman said. “I want to really plan it.”

Here on the East End, Pastor Katrina Foster of St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Amagansett and Incarnation Lutheran Church in Bridgehampton said she’s already received one request to perform a wedding ceremony for a lesbian couple since last week — a reality she’s incredibly excited about.

Foster herself made waves in the Christian community when — in 2002 — she officially came out to the congregation she was a part of in the Bronx. Later, in 2007, she came out on the floor of the church-wide assembly.

“It’s the highest legislative body in my denomination,” she said. “I really could have been defrocked at that moment.”

But, because of the strong support from the community immediately around her, she wasn’t. Foster has since moved to the East End where she’s brought her spirit of openness and unity to Amagansett, most recently leading the effort to establish St. Michaels as a Reconciling in Christ congregation: last month, the church officially adopted a public statement of welcome for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

Like Dorph, she said the fight for equality is not over. But she hopes the Marriage Equality Act will begin to make it more comfortable for gay people, particularly those here on the East End, to come out — and not to be fearful of the consequences.

“It still is an act of courage to be out,” she said. “People are scared of losing their jobs. But the reality is, we have a lot of gay people on the East End and a lot of gay families living here full-time. Hopefully, as gay and lesbian weddings happen, people will look around and say, I’m not the only one.”

“I think courage is contagious,” she continued, “and I think this bill will help be part of that contagion.”

Incumbents Will Seek Re-Election This June

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By Kathryn G. Menu

Incumbent Sag Harbor Village Mayor Brian Gilbride will seek a second term at the helm, along with incumbent trustees Ed Gregory and Tim Culver and appointed Sag Harbor Village Justice Andrea Schiavoni. All four will vie to keep their seats under the Sag Harbor Party, which has dominated village government throughout several administrations.

With the deadline to submit petitions to run for village office just a month away, no contenders have yet to pick up a packet from the Municipal Building, according to village administrator Beth Kamper. Interested parties have until May 5 to collect 50 resident signatures to run in the election, which will be held June 21.

For Gilbride, the decision to run for a second term — something the mayor said he would not likely do when elected two years ago — comes from a desire to see several projects, and a lawsuit, to the end before he takes his leave of public service.

The lawsuit is a $30 million one filed by East End Ventures that claimed the village intentionally re-zoned the firm’s Ferry Road parcels in order to prevent a condominium project to move forward.

While the case was dismissed earlier this winter, a judge has allowed East End Ventures attorney to re-plead one aspect of the case — that the condominium project proposed was similar to the village-approved condominium project at the former Bulova Watchcase Factory. The case is still pending.

“I would also like to see as much of the Havens Beach remediation completed,” said Gilbride.

The village recently received a proposal by its environmental planning consultant Rich Warren to remediate the drainage ditch at the popular bathing beach, which has shown unsafe levels of bacterial contamination.

Gilbride said if re-elected, he would also like to see drainage improvements on Latham, Rogers and Henry streets completed in his next term. That neighborhood bore the brunt of flooding as a result of massive rain storms last March.

Gilbride said he was thrilled the incumbent slate was running together as a team, and praised appointed village justice Andrea Schiavoni for running the village’s newly installed justice court throughout the winter.

“I have heard nothing but good responses about Andrea’s leadership and the convenience of having a court in Sag Harbor,” said Gilbride.

Incumbent trustee Ed Gregory, who brings over 20 years of experience to the board, having served as a member for close to 15 years in the 1980s and returning to the board in 2003, said like Gilbride there are projects he would like to see finished during his tenure on the board.

“We have been talking about Havens Beach for so many years now, and a plan is finally coming to fruition,” said Gregory, who added he would like to see the village through its purchase of Long Wharf from Suffolk County as well.

“I would also like to see what is going to become of Bulova,” he said. “It has been sitting there for so long and I would like the building inspector to investigate the condition of the building after this very harsh winter and see if it can still be renovated. It’s a safety concern. I am worried about bricks falling off that building.”

Culver, who for weeks now has said he would not seek a second term citing his bustling law practice and family commitments, changed his mind this week.

He said his goal is to ensure the village continues to keep its spending under control, and that the current board is on the right track, tackling issues like Havens Beach and the creation of the justice court.

“I want to continue what we have done, which is keep costs down, but address important issues like Havens Beach and preserving access to our waterfront,” said Culver.

Former mayor Pierce Hance, who was rumored to be seeking office this year, said on Monday that while anything is possible his candidacy “is not probable.”

Music Festival & Radio Station Announce Partnership

The MTK: Music to Know Festival announced a partnership this week with WEHM-FM 92.9 and 96.9, which will have exclusive broadcast rights to the summer music festival, scheduled for August 12 through August 14.

The location of the festival has yet to be finalized, as Sag Harbor residents Chris Jones and Bill Collage attempt to secure a commercial mass gathering permit to use land at the East Hampton Airport for the festival, which is expected to draw 9,500 concert goers and feature 20 bands over the two-day period.

The promoters already have approval to host the concert at Ocean View Farm in Amagansett, although a group of residents recently filed suit against the town to prevent the concert from moving forward at that location.

According to a release issued this week by public relations coordinator Michelle Fox, WEHM-FM will broadcast live during the two-day event, interviewing bands and spotlighting local charities. As a part of their permit application, Jones and Collage have agreed to make a $100,000 donation to local charities and food pantries.

In addition, WEHM-FM will promote the festival, offering a series of contests for VIP and General Admission tickets.

“We are very excited about our collaboration with MTK for the music festival this August,” said station manager Harry Wareing. “Our focus has always been ‘about the music’ and this is fantastic opportunity to share ‘EHM’s great sound with a partner who is equally enthusiastic.”

While the promoters have remained mum on who will headline the festival and what additional acts will perform, Fox said the line-up will be announced in coming weeks. Tickets are also expected to go one sale in mid-April.

Thiele Fights to Keep Saltwater Fishing License Enjoined

In a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo last week, New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. requested the state drop its appeal of a December 2010 decision to enjoin the implementation of the State Saltwater Fishing License in the waters of seven Long Island Towns including all town waters on the East End.

Last week the State Legislature included Thiele’s proposal to repeal the license and fee and replaced it with a free registry to meet the requirements of federal law as part of the 2011 State Budget.

“I strongly opposed this law from the outset as an unwarranted infringement of the right to fish and the local home rule powers of our towns under the colonial patents,” said Thiele in a release issued last week. “A State Supreme Court Judge issued an injunction and now the State Legislature has repealed the law and enacted a free registry which is consistent with federal law, the Judge’s decision and the right to fish bestowed by the colonial patents. It would be silly for the state to now appeal this decision. First, it is moot. Second it would be a waste of state and local tax dollars to continue to litigate the legality of a repealed law. The Governor should direct the DEC and the Attorney-General to drop the appeal.”

SUNY Trustees Approve Southampton Cuts

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By Claire Walla

On Wednesday, November 17 SUNY Trustees voted to ratify the decision made by SUNY Stony Brook President Dr. Samuel Stanley last April to shutter residential buildings at the university’s Southampton location and relocate undergraduate programs to the main campus.

This decision comes nearly three months after the New York State Supreme Court on August 30 effectively annulled Stanley’s decision last April, ruling that he did not act in compliance with state education laws, which require all “big decisions” to be presented to and receive recommendations from the university council. Even though the council eventually voted on October 4 to support Stanley’s decision, and even though the SUNY trustees recently voted the same, State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. and State Senator Ken LaValle maintain that the university continues to defy the law.

“Stony Brook is consistently acting illegally,” Thiele said, adding that “[The trustees] ratified something that the court has already annulled.”
He and Senator LaValle will continue to challenge the university’s court case, which Thiele said he expects to see a final decision on by Christmas.

“A key pressure point for us is that, come January, Senator LaValle will probably become Chairman of the [state’s] Higher Education Commission,” Thiele explained. This is possible, he added, because the Republicans have taken control of the Senate, giving LaValle—a republican who lost his seat on this commission under the democratic majority—a leg up.

However, Thiele added, the court case is not the main issue at hand. “The ultimate goal is to get the campus reopened,” he said.

Though he and LaValle have already drafted legislation to turn the campus into a separate branch of the SUNY system, this is move is not likely to take place overnight. In the meantime, SBU has laid-out tentative plans for the space, like creating an arts campus or partnering with Southampton Hospital. These are plans Thiele said he and LaValle are willing to work with in order to get the campus functioning again.
“It’s still not going to be a fully operating campus by September—we’re not going to be able to attract new students in sizable numbers,” Thiele noted.

However, he added that “Senator LaValle and my goal is to put the next pieces in place by the next budget process.”

The environmental sustainability program was moved to the main Stony Brook campus at the beginning of this academic year, leaving only graduate programs in marine science and creative writing in Southampton.

Task Force to Look Into Creating Independent SUNY School at Southampton Campus

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By Claire Walla


Last week, the battle to keep higher education alive in Southampton raged on.

Responding to SUNY Stony Brook’s decision in early April to end its residential and undergraduate programs at its Southampton campus, State Assemblyman Fred Thiele and State Senator Ken LaValle introduced legislation to create a task force that would explore the option of turning the 82-acre, seaside property into an independent branch of the SUNY system. If all goes according to plan, this would allow the Southampton campus to function, for the first time since its founding in 1963, without the oversight of a parent institution.

“It doesn’t work to have Southampton as a satellite campus,” Mr. Thiele said. “My bottom line is to provide people in the East End with access to a real college. Stony Brook just wanted to use the campus to benefit Stony Brook.

“The ultimate goal has to be an independent SUNY campus,” Thiele continued. “It’s the best use of [the State’s] investment.”

Since 2005, when SUNY Stony Brook acquired the Southampton facilities from Long Island University, the state has spent nearly $75 million to improve the buildings and accommodate programs in environmental sustainability and marine biology. The campus grew to include about 400 students this past year and would have had twice that amount in the fall, but Stony Brook was forced to shift gears.

According to Lauren Sheprow, a spokesperson for SUNY Stony Brook, the university has suffered a 20 percent cut in state funding over the past two years. “With no relief in sight, and facing such an enormous deficit, Stony Brook was forced to streamline operations, including those at Southampton where the cost of educating a student is 2.5 times great than on Stony Brook University Main Campus,” she wrote in an email.

The university estimates it will save about $6.7 million annually by relocating most of Southampton’s academic programs to the main campus, a decision fully backed by the SUNY system. According to an email from a spokesperson for SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, the whole SUNY system has lost $424 million in funding over the last two years, and “the chancellor supports Stanley’s decision to live within the means available to him.”

With many Southampton buildings no longer in use, Stony Brook recently established an Advisory Committee to explore options for future use of the campus, such as developing a center for the creative arts and expanding graduate programs. Members of the Committee consist of university officials, others from the SUNY system, business and planning delegates, and two community members (including Laura Baudo Sillerman, whose husband served as Dean of the Southampton campus when it was still owned by LIU).

 Thiele, however, insists that Stony Brook hasn’t done enough to bolster undergraduate education, an oversight he sees as a fundamental shift in priorities at the university. Stony Brook, he said, is now focusing on more lucrative programs in the sciences and mostly at the graduate level.

 “One of the reasons why I’m so passionate about this campus is because of my own experience,” Thiele said. “I went to high school in Sag Harbor and then I went to Cornell. But, my family fell on some tough times—the economy was pretty bad then and both of my parents were out of work, so I had to come home. If that college hadn’t been there, then I wouldn’t have gotten my diploma.”

He continued, “But it’s not just about individual dreams and individual students. Higher education creates several hundred jobs and trained employees.”

No proceedings are yet underway—the plan is still very much in the gestation phase. But, Mr. Thiele said that he hopes discussions will pick-up quickly so that the campus will be up and running again as a four-year institution by next year. 

Village Gets OK to Look for Judges in the Towns

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By Kathryn G. Menu

On June 15, New York State Governor David Patterson signed into law legislation that allows residents of the Village of Sag Harbor the right to elect a village justice from outside the village – specifically from the towns of East Hampton and Southampton –without opening the race to the whole of Suffolk County.

The bill was introduced in January – sponsored by New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., a lifelong resident of Sag Harbor and the village trustees’ own legal counsel.

While the village was entitled to create its own justice court, which Sag Harbor officials have embarked upon for the second time in five years, its justices must legally reside in Sag Harbor Village or candidacy must be opened up to residents throughout Suffolk County.

Sag Harbor’s population is below 2500 residents, according to 2000 census data. The same census estimates the county’s population at closer to 1.4 million.

“This law presents some geographical issues in that the village of Sag Harbor is only two square miles and Suffolk County consists of 1,000 square miles,” argues Thiele in the bill. “Accordingly, this presents problems for Sag Harbor Village in that the candidate pool for qualified individuals seeking a position as a village justice is either too small or too large. Further, the village of Sag Harbor is located within the Town of Southampton and the Town of East Hampton.”

 “I used the ‘Three Bears’ analogy on this one,” said Thiele on Monday. “Sag Harbor is too small, the county is too large and using the two towns is just right.”

Thiele explained the new state law would enable the village to expand the pool of candidates for village justice in a reasonable way.

According to Thiele, the change in law will have no impact on a suit filed by Sag Harbor attorney Patricia Weiss earlier this month over the village trustees passage of law creating the office of village justice, the first step in a second try at creating a justice court for Sag Harbor residents. The court is proposed to only hear cases involving traffic infractions and violations as well as misdemeanor crimes and would boast one elected justice and another acting justice. Facilities would be located in the village Municipal Building where court would take place in the second floor meeting room often home to village board meetings, with justice chambers in the mayor’s or trustees’ offices.

Weiss’s suit is the second she has filed in relation to a village justice court. In 2006, she halted similar efforts by the village, with the New York State Supreme Court ruling in her favor after finding trustees had not officially passed a paper resolution creating the court.

While trustees were more careful in this last effort, filing a unanimous resolution in support of the village justice law after keeping a public hearing open on the legislation for six months, in mid-June Weiss filed suit with the United States District Court charging the creation of village justice positions violates her rights under the Constitution for a number of reasons, namely that village law does not demand the elected and acting justices be legally trained.

“Those provisions are state wide provisions, not just within the Village of Sag Harbor,” said Thiele on Monday, adding there have been unsuccessful attempts at changing some of the issues Weiss raises in her suit.

“The village will send a copy of this litigation to the attorney general because the state has a stake in this,” he said. “This is nothing the village, specifically, has proposed or done.” 

Thiele et al Sit Down With Stony Brook Over College’s Future

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By Bryan Boyhan

While local officials would like to see the Southampton campus of Stony Brook University become an independent college of the state university system, the Stony Brook University administration appears unwilling to give up the school they acquired four years ago. A meeting set for  Thursday between the two parties may lead to a resolution.

At least, said State Assemblyman Fred Thiele yesterday, he hopes they can find a way to keep the campus operating as a full time, four-year residential school.

Three weeks ago, Stony Brook University’s president Dr. Samuel L. Stanley announced he would be closing most of the campus, including the dormitories and recently renovated library, and move all programs except marine sciences classes and the masters writing program, to the main campus. The move, he said, was an effort to close a budget gap that has resulted from a dramatic cut of $54 million in state aid. The closure would result in an estimated savings of about $7 million.

Local officials, including Thiele, State Senator Ken Lavalle and Congressman Tim Bishop — all who helped shepherd the deal for the state to acquire the campus from Long Island University in 2006 — argue the plan disrupts the college careers of the nearly 400 students currently on campus, and the roughly 400 more who were expected there this fall. In addition, it removes from the East End the only local four-year school, and one with a much heralded progressive program in the sustainable sciences.

Two weeks ago Thiele and Lavalle were on campus with officials from the Town of Southampton to announce the town would be interested in buying the development rights for the 82 acres on campus, the revenues of which, they said, would more than satisfy the financial needs of the university. In addition, the officials proposed the school become independent of Stony Brook and requested a meeting with university officials.

Dr. Stanley agreed, and in a letter last week proposed today’s meeting, although he gave no indication they were willing to surrender the campus.

In the letter, Dr. Stanley and State University Chancellor Nancy Zimpher wrote: “We too are concerned about the future of Southampton and remain committed to its students. Most importantly, despite repeated claims to the contrary, the Southampton campus will remain open. To this end, we will maintain the Southampton location as a vital and vibrant site for teaching and research, most notably at the pioneering Marine Station, home of Stony Brook’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, and through the renowned Southampton Writers Workshop. Currently, plans are in the works for several other SUNY campuses to make productive and expanded use of Southampton’s facilities.”

This week Thiele questioned the possibility of other state schools using the local campus.

“That’s been part of the party line for a while,” said Thiele. “But when you look at it, nothing has materialized.”

The letter also observes it costs about $30,000 annually to educate one student at the college.

“With SUNY’s tuition set at $4,970, and average State support for all campuses (excluding community colleges) of $5,500 per student, we are left with an unfunded balance of $19,530 per student,” the administrators write.

They further argue that Long Island University had a similar problem and were unsuccessful in balancing their budget.

Thiele dismissed the comparison between a private and public school, and said the underlying issue is political.

“Southampton is being used by SUNY,” the assemblyman asserted. “It’s all about their attempt to get control of their campuses’ tuitions.”

Thiele said the state university system has made a proposal for determining their own tuition rates for all the campuses, and in the last budget cycle did not even ask for more money, instead asking the state to pass legislation giving SUNY autonomy.

“That failed, and now they’re just going to hold their breath,” said Thiele.

Asked about his hope for today’s meeting’s outcome, Thiele said: “We want to talk about what we’ve proposed; but I’m willing to discuss any proposal that will keep the campus open as a full time, four-year school.”