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Some Say “No” To Drug-Sniffing Dogs

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By Claire Walla

For some parents and community members, measures the Sag Harbor School District is taking to combat the use of drugs and alcohol among students is aggressive — too aggressive.

“Do we want our middle and high school building to mimic a prison?” parent Marianna Levine asked school board members at a regularly scheduled meeting on Monday.

Levine said she shared her perspective with several other parents of children in the Sag Harbor School District who strongly oppose the use of drug-sniffing dogs on campus. She argues that bringing in a police K-9 unit would essentially create a dynamic similar to a “totalitarian state” where students are stripped of their rights.

Community member Leah Oppenheimer also expressed her concerns with bringing drug-sniffing dogs on campus.

“I’m really worried about the link of trust between the children and [the administration],” she said. “Dogs don’t have a good reputation. They really signify something scary, even if the intent behind it is good.”

Elementary school parent Lawrence LaRose agreed.

“This is going to erode the bond that this school has with its students,” he said.

And by forcing all students to stay in classrooms during a sniff search based on evidence that some students have been found in possession of drugs, LaRose further contended, “You’re putting that suspicion on all students.”

Levine took particular issue with the notion that the school would go into what it called a “lock-down” scenario at the time of the so-called drug sniff.

“That’s a prison term,” she said.

During the course of the meeting, several board members expressed a keen interest in changing the terminology for the school’s lock-down procedure so that it would be referred to as a “safety check” instead, as Levine suggested.

However, Dr. John Gratto, the district’s superintendent, said the board disagreed with some of Levine’s comments.

“We certainly don’t think you’re correct in saying it would engender a police state,” he stated. “We have, as a basic philosophy, a desire to build relationships with students. Some of you have characterized this as an either/or issue; I don’t think it is. We’ll still continue to build relationships with students, [drug-sniffing dogs] are just another deterrent to keep kids free of drugs and alcohol.”

School Board President Mary Anne Miller added, “Where this conversation came from and why we got here today was never about putative measures.”

She said that based on survey results conducted by an organization called OASIS, the board has determined that the use of drugs and alcohol among students needs to decrease.

“This is not a knee-jerk reaction,” she continued. “This is something that’s always on the table here.”

Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols added to that by explaining he is currently working to finalize a community coalition to prevent substance abuse. It’s made up of people from 12 different constituents from the community, including parents, teachers, police officers, doctors and even students.

“The goal of the coalition would be to look at what we’re doing comprehensively to lessen the likelihood that students would engage in drugs and drinking,” Nichols said. “Hopefully, we can address this in a way that involves different parts of the community to get different perspectives on the issue.”

Levine said she was pleased to hear that the school would be working to counsel students who may be found in possession of drugs as a consequence of drug-sniffing dogs on campus, and encouraged by the start of the coalition Nichols is putting together.

“I do appreciate that they’ve started the conversation on this,” she said. “And I have some hope that maybe the community coalition will come up with some better counseling solutions.”

However, she said she is still adamantly opposed to having drug-sniffing police units on campus.

“I just believe that the energy they’ve put into the dogs can be better spent looking into counseling programs,” she said.

“I think alcohol is the big problem at the school,” she continued. “And I don’t think the dogs are going to help with that.”

Incumbents Keep Their Seats in North Haven Village

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Current North Haven Village Trustees Jeff Sander and Jim Smyth will maintain their seats on the village board after beating out newcomer Lawrence LaRose on Tuesday, June 21.

The village saw a marked turnout of voters this year with 191 total ballots cast (12 absentee). According to Mayor Laura Nolan, last year’s election only had 63 voters. In all, Sander and Smyth each received an equal 125 votes, while LaRose earned 73.

Point of View: Can You Hear Me Now


By Lawrence LaRose

In a day and age when many people feel cell phone coverage is a constitutional right, I feel like a bit of an anomaly. Living in North Haven, I have adequate coverage at my house, though sometimes have a dropped call in other places of the village. Honestly, I don’t care. Many people I’ve spoken with don’t care either; they embrace the rural nature of our hamlet and are happy to say “call me on my landline.”

That said, I would not presume tell others that they should not care about their cellular service. Perhaps they want to ditch their landlines, engage in business out of doors, or watch Hulu in the Hot Tub. Who knows? Similarly, I would hope those who want the best coverage possible would not presume to tell me not to care about our beautiful natural environment in North Haven. Ours is a rural beauty that decades of Trustees have guarded assiduously. Now, the majority of our village trustees want to throw all that away and erect a 140-foot cell tower.

So in the interest of improving cellular coverage and preserving the rural character of North Haven, are there options other than a 140-foot cell tower? Most certainly, and better ones. For one, AT&T is offering free MicroCells to customers in low coverage areas. A MicroCell works as a signal extender, boosting your broadband connection to a new 3G connection within your home for very good coverage.

But some may want a more comprehensive solution and there is one that will not forever besmirch the skyscape of North Haven. How do I know? Because I spoke with Camille Rose, a Selectman in Aquinnah, Massachussets – a 5-square mile teardrop of land on Martha’s Vineyard that had poor cell phone reception. When a cellular company approached a local church to place a tower in its steeple, the 311 local residents were in an uproar. Rose studied the situation and put out an RFP for a different technology called a Distributed Antenna System, or DAS. Aquinnah was initially offered $125,000 per cellular carrier on the network, plus a cut of the yearly revenue. While that rate was reduced after the economic downturn, Rose was nonetheless thrilled that Aquinnah would get better reception and a nice revenue stream while maintaining the historic look and feel of her coastal town.

What is DAS? It is a series of nodes that are placed on top of existing telephone poles. There is a box 36 inches high and 18 inches in diameter – similar to some that you already see on poles – and whip antenna a few feet high above them. Rose was told by the cellular company that these would be placed every half-mile to mile to carry the signal. I admitted this sounded great but asked her how the DAS system compared in terms of Radio Frequency (RF) and Microwave (MW) radiation, knowing that a traditional cellular pole emits radiation many times greater than average microwave oven. She said the radiation level was virtually non-existent, as the levels from sector-type antennas are very low.

I wanted to know how this could be and learned that a typical cell tower transmits at 150 watts, a DAS node transmits at 20 watts. To put this in perspective, your handheld device transmits at ½ watt or less.

Wanting to know more, I spoke with Michael Whitley at Extenet Systems, a neutral host provider that creates networks for cellular companies to utilize. He explained that towers are the fastest and cheapest solution for cellular companies. The proposed 140-foot tower can transmit for 10 miles or more. Given that North Haven is only 2.7 square miles, it struck me as a massive overbuild that exploits us more than serves us. He also said that DAS “is a better long term play,” because “proximity is the name of the game; just as household WiFi is great near the base station, and increasingly bad as you move away from it, a DAS system has better data thru-put because the distributed nodes are closer to you.” He also characterized DAS as a more forward-thinking technology, as the closer proximity to nodes is better for data hungry devices like iPads, wireless Kindles, and tablet computers.

Mr. Whitley also explained that data transfer is a two-way street: a tall tower may be able to get to you, but your phone signal must also get to it. When a tower is far from you, your cell phone needs to power up to communicate with the tower. In effect, the phone zaps your brain at a greater rate, raising your temperature and, less severely, draining your battery faster.

The medical community is not agreed on the effects of RF and MW radiation that result from cell phone towers. Some doctors assert that “it is worse than smoking cigarettes.” Others say that there is no effect at all. I’m not a neuro-toxicologist, but common sense would dictate that the answer is somewhere in between: if these signals can pass through solid walls and two inches into your brain, there has to be some sort of electro-chemical response. There is no conclusive longitudinal evidence proving the technology safe. And that is just the point: No one knows. We are living in an enormous medical experiment. In light of this, wouldn’t it be prudent to pursue a course that adopts the least radiation, not the most? Shouldn’t our trustees protect our citizens rather than exploit them for financial gain?

Often a cellular company will say is that it is too difficult to install a DAS system, or that it will take too long – but that is their profit and loss statement speaking. Yes, it is more expensive, for them. Sure, that might result in less revenue for North Haven, but it will protect something priceless: our natural habitat. We should insist on a cellular solution that both serves and protects North Haven, and a DAS solution would do that. The comparatively negligible aesthetic burden would be shared by all, and cell phone service will be improved with tomorrow’s technology, not yesterday’s. In short, a DAS solution will offer better coverage, an expandable network, better data thru-put, and less zappage.

If you’re still in doubt, just watch the current AT&T ad, which brags about how they are building the best cellular network possible while showing cityscapes covered with leaves and flowers to demonstrate the reach of their radioactive waves. Over buildings, streets, fields, bridges, parks — even the Seattle Space Needle — the foliage cascades over horizons in beautiful seamless coverage. Conspicuously absent throughout the whole ad: a cell phone tower. Clearly, everyone agrees the sight of one would ruin the landscape.

Dems Add Bender to Incumbent Mix

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By Claire Walla

On Monday, May 16 members of the Democratic Party of Southampton Town gathered to announce the names of the candidates it would endorse for the 2011-2012 election this November.

Current Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst (Ind.) will seek her second term, and current board member Bridget Fleming (Dem.) who was voted into office mid-election cycle last June, will seek her first full-term in office. Added to the mix will be newcomer Brad Bender (Ind.) who has his sights on the third seat that will open up on the board.

Nancy Graboski (Rep.) has announced she will retire from Southampton Town Council when her term is up in November. So, should Throne-Holst and Fleming maintain hold of their seats, and should Bender secure a seat in his first official foray into town politics, this would shift the dynamics of the now-republican-majority board.

Since being elected to a town board position in 2008, Throne-Holst has made the town’s finances her main focus. Then a board member, she initiated efforts to bring on a forensic audit, which ultimately revealed overspending within the town, which had resulted in multi-million dollar deficits.

Anna Throne-Holst

Throne-Holst, who was elected supervisor in 2009, has called herself a “natural consensus-builder” who is “committed to working transparently.”

Most significantly, she points to her effort to transform Planned Development District (PDD) legislation, a process she referred to in a press release as “easily the most significant planning initiative from a town-wide perspective.”

The supervisor also highlights her efforts to instigate a planning study for County Road 39, and says she remains committed to reevaluating the current system for evaluating tax assessments, a process that, she noted, could save tax payers money in the long run.

Overall, Throne-Holst highlights her “determination to put public service over politics,” which has “fueled her many accomplishments and won her public praise, despite being a minority leader on a politically divided town board.”

Bridget Fleming

A Noyac resident who owns a private law practice next to Provisions on Main Street in Sag Harbor, Fleming joined the Southampton Town Board in March of last year, during a special, mid-term election.

“I’m happy to say I feel as though I’ve gotten a lot done in a short time,” she said. “And I’m in the minority, I’m the only Democrat on the board.”

(Though Throne-Holst has garnered support from the Democratic Party, she is a registered Independent.)

Briefly listing what she’s accomplished in the past year, Fleming mentioned four main initiatives: adopting legislation to remove all damaged double utility poles from the town’s roadways, legislation to provide health insurance for volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers, a project called Farm Fresh Foods (which would start-up a farmers market in Riverhead) and her efforts to create a Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan for the town.

“What I would like to continue to focus on is three main priorities: economic opportunities for everyone, environmental stewardship, and continued efforts to achieve financial responsibility,” Fleming said.

Brad Bender
Though new to politics at the town-wide level, Brad Bender a resident of Northampton (an area near Riverhead) has been active on the local level for the past five years as a board member, vice president and now president of the Flanders/Riverside/Northampton Community Association.

“We’re kind of a drive-by community,” Bender said. In an effort to build the community’s aesthetic appeal, Bender headed two major beautification projects. With help from the county and the town, he replanted the flowerbeds and restored the flagpole at the traffic circle at the end of Route 24, and recently spearheaded an effort to post “Welcome To” signs throughout the community to orient unknown passersby and give the community a sense of place.

“My whole campaign is to continue to bring open and transparent government to the town of Southampton, in order to protect the small-town, rural feel” he said. “The big thing is to bring responsibility [to the town board].”