Tag Archive | "League of Women Voters of the Hamptons"

East Hampton Considers Town Manager Position

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By Mara Certic

In what they say is an effort to maintain continuity and increase efficiency in East Hampton town government, Supervisor Larry Cantwell and the other members of the Town Board are seriously considering the creation of a town manager position.

Supervisor Cantwell announced during the 2015 organizational meeting last week that the board would consider the adoption of a town manager role, something several local civic organizations have researched and advocated for in the past.

The town manager would oversee the day-to-day business of the town and act as an advisor, allowing board members to focus more on legislation.

There are only a few town managers in New York. The position is more common in other states, such as New Jersey. According to Mr. Cantwell, it is equivalent to the role of village administrator, which he filled in East Hampton Village, until he became supervisor.

The village administrator and the manager position report findings to the board, but are not involved in enacting policy.  The town manager would serve at the pleasure of the town board, managing all of the town departments thus giving the councilmembers more time to fulfill election promises.

“With 300 employees and a $70 million budget, with supervisors coming and going every two to four years, the management structure’s subject to change,” Mr. Cantwell said over the phone on Monday.

“The idea is to establish that continuity and improve the operations of the town,” he added.

The League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, The Group for Good Government and the East Hampton Business Alliance have all advocated for the creation of this role in the past and in 2013, the three organizations co-sponsored a forum on the topic.

“Many people erroneously believe that the town supervisor is the town’s chief executive officer. Under town law, the five-member Town Board, as a group, is the town’s chief executive officer. The supervisor is the town’s chief financial officer and is the presiding officer at Town Board meetings,” Arthur Malman, co-chair of the Group for Good Government, wrote in a release about the 2013 forum.

“Having five people act as both the legislative body and the administrative body may lead to difficulties, and the actual functioning of the Town Board will depend on the personalities of its ever-changing members. Hearing directions from five people can cause problems for town employees, and East Hampton’s Town Board has set up liaison responsibilities for its board members with varying success,” he continued.

The real aim of the creation of this position “is really to free up the supervisor to look at big picture things,” said Margaret Turner, executive director of the East Hampton Business Alliance.

Ms. Turner added that her organization believes many of the current problems within the town are a result of a lack of planning, and hopes that a town manager would allow members of the board to spend more time thinking towards the future.

“We support [this] because the role of the town council has changed and requires some administrative and financial skills that may perhaps be beyond the capabilities of some of the council members, who are elected to set policy,” Judy Samuelson, co-president of the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, said on Tuesday.

The League of Women Voters, however, will only support the creation of this position if the appointed manager is appropriately qualified and certified, Ms. Samuelson said.

“Our primary concern is the criteria for choosing town manager,” she said, adding that the appointee must be certified by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).

“We would also like to stress that the town manager has no political affiliation, nor does the manager set policy,” she said. “It’s a position outside the council not subject to the vagaries of the election,” she added.

Ms. Turner agreed that it cannot be a political appointment.

“One thing you really want to do is keep politics out of it and put in the best candidate for the position,” she said, adding that her ideal candidate would have experience in the role of town manager as well as a background in both government and business.

Mr. Cantwell would not provide details about specific responsibilities or duties of the new role, or of potential candidates.

“We are in the process of putting that together and in the next few months we’ll have a specific proposal,” he said.

According to Mr. Cantwell, the proposal will require a public hearing before any vote can take place.

 

 

Bishop, Zeldin Offer Divergent Views at Debate

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Congressman Tim Bishop addresses the Concerned Citizens of Montauk on Sunday, as his challenger, Lee Zeldin, listens. Michael Heller photo,

Congressman Tim Bishop addresses the Concerned Citizens of Montauk on Sunday, as his challenger, Lee Zeldin, listens. Michael Heller photo.

By Stephen J. Kotz

In what has become an almost daily occurrence in this year’s campaign, the two candidates for Congress in the 1st District, incumbent Democrat Tim Bishop and Republican challenger Lee Zeldin, offered up sharply differing views in a debate last Thursday, October 16.

Mr. Bishop touted his track record of providing excellent constituent service and his ability to bring the federal government “to the table to solve individual problems,” calling it “life-altering work.” He said he was recently told he had “a laser-like focus on my constituents. I took that as very high praise because that is exactly what I have done.”

Mr. Zeldin, who repeatedly attacked the size of government, wasteful spending as well as the domestic and foreign policies of President Barack Obama and said he supported term limits, said Mr. Bishop was part of the problem. “If you elected enough people like my opponent,” he said, “Nancy Pelosi would be the Speaker of the House.”

With the spread of the Ebola virus into the United States a top news story in recent weeks, both candidates said they agreed on at least one thing: that President Obama has not done enough.

“I think the president is making a mistake in not putting into place a travel ban to west Africa,” where the virus is spreading unchecked, said Mr. Bishop. He said he would support reconvening Congress before its scheduled November 12 session to deal with the problem.

Mr. Zeldin described the president’s handling of the health crisis as “terrible” and said it was time to “have maximum security procedures at our airports.”

Last week’s debate, one of some 75 joint appearances by the candidates scheduled between Labor Day and Election Day, was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons and held at Westhampton Beach High School. The pair also faced off at a candidates’ forum sponsored by the Concerned Citizens of Montauk on Sunday.

Both candidates spent a considerable amount of time complaining about the negative tone the campaign has taken, with political action committees on both sides filling mailboxes with literature and radio and television with ads targeting the opponent.

Mr. Zeldin said “Nancy Pelosi’s super PAC is spending seven figures targeting us, trying to scare women” into believing that if he were elected women would wind up paying more for health care coverage and lose the right to have abortions. Other campaign literature wrongly suggested he would require taxpayers to foot the bill for corporate polluters, Mr. Zeldin complained.

“You can repeat a lie over and over and over again and eventually people will be believe it,” he said.

That brought a chuckle from Mr. Bishop. “It’s pretty cheeky on the part of my opponent to talk about our end, given the scurrilous nature of the ads his side is running against us,” he said.

The incumbent Congressman said Supreme Court rulings opening campaigns to unlimited corporate and special interest financing were “fundamentally imperiling our democracy. We are now in the realm where elections are bought and sold as opposed to won or lost,” he said.

Mr. Zeldin complained that a Bishop ad campaign was trying to scare senior citizens into believing he wanted to cut Social Security payments. “I would never vote for any piece of legislation that would take one dime away from anyone who is a senior or close to retirement,” Mr. Zeldin said.

But Mr. Bishop said Mr. Zeldin has in the past supported the idea of allowing those 40 and younger to put their Social Security withholding into personal investment accounts. “That’s privatization, folks,” he said. And the result would be dramatic shortfall in funding for the Social Security trust fund, which would require a reduction in benefits paid to current retirees.

“We either tell seniors we were only kidding or we borrow,” said Mr. Bishop, adding, “My opponent obviously does not understand how the trust fund works.”

The $17.8 billion national debt is growing beyond control, according to Mr. Zeldin, who said both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations had spent too much money. “We need to pick a number…. $18 trillion? $20 trillion? $22 trillion? When is enough in regards to our nation’s debt,” he said.

“The easiest thing in the world is to say cut spending,” responded Mr. Bishop. “The hardest thing in the world is to actually do it.”

To illustrate his point, he said 48 cents of every federal dollar is earmarked for retirees, 18 cents for defense and 9 cents for interest on the national debt. That leaves only 25 cents of every federal dollar eligible for cuts, he said, adding that he was not going to be the one to cut Social Security payments, veterans’ healthcare or federal law enforcement.”

Mr. Zeldin said that more needs to be done to reduce welfare fraud and provide private sector jobs to entice people to leave the unemployment rolls.

“The incumbent is not giving you a single thing that is going to make this bloated federal government operate more efficiently,” Mr Zeldin said.

“What the incumbent Congressman has done was vote for a piece of legislation that capped the growth of domestic spending and saved $2 trillion,” Mr. Bishop shot back.

The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, was also a topic of contention, with Mr. Zeldin saying there were portions of the sweeping healthcare legislation that should be preserved, such as allowing children to remain on their parents’ policies until the age of 26 and the requirement that prevents insurers from refusing coverage to those with preexisting conditions. But most of the program needs to be scrapped because it has resulted in higher premiums, fewer choices for consumers and other problems,” he said.

“There should be a productive dialog between Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives” to fix the healthcare system, he said.

“I suppose that conversation should begin with repeal rather than fixing,” said Mr. Bishop, pointing out that “there is no commitment on the part of the majority party to fix it,” noting that the House has voted more than 50 times, along party lines, to repeal the legislation. He described it as “a work in progress” that needs to be improved. “There are many good things that we should keep and build on and elements that we should fix,” he said.

On immigration, Mr. Zeldin said the first order of business was to tighten border security. “When you a leak, the first thing you do is shut off the faucet,” he said. “You don’t grab a mop.”

Mr. Bishop said that the Republican-controlled House has refused to recognize the need to deal with the millions of illegal immigrants who are already here. A bipartisan Senate bill offered increased border security as well as a path to citizenship, he said, but the House would not act on it. “Is it perfect?” he said. “No. But it is a way that is dealing with a problem that has no easy solutions.”

Mr. Zeldin also criticized President Obama’s leadership against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, saying the president’s strategy would never be successful in defeating the militants. For his part, Mr. Bishop cited the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff who told a Senate committee there was no easy way to militarily defeat ISIS. Mr. Bishop said he would not support a return of American troops to Iraq.

The candidates parted along predictable party lines on a number of other issues, with Mr. Bishop supporting an increase in the minimum wage, a woman’s right to have an abortion, and same sex marriage, while Mr. Zeldin said a minimum wage hike would backfire, that he was pro-life and that he believed marriage should be considered between a man and a woman.

Mr., Bishop said he would work for federal money to help solve some of the growing problems with Long Island’s groundwater, while Mr. Zeldin said he thought such solutions were better left at the state and local level.

Although it is a state initiative, Mr. Zeldin said he opposed Common Core, which he said was setting school children up to fail, while Mr. Bishop said he supported higher educational standards and recognized that the “rollout of Common Core was the only thing that could make the rollout of Obamacare look good.”

League Offers Stony Brook Southampton Tour

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The League of Women Voters of the Hamptons has invited the public to take part in a tour of Stony Brook Southampton’s state-of-the-art School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences Building on Monday, June 16, at 5:30 p.m. and to learn about the program from its manager, Christopher Paparo.

The $8.3 million, two-story, 15,000-square-foot building, which opened last fall, is a high tech research facility on Little Neck Road, overlooking Old Fort Pond, which connects to Shinnecock Bay.

It houses a seawater laboratory with a computerized circulation system, two wet labs, an analytical lab, classrooms, a conference room, and other spaces such as an outdoor tank area.

Moored outside is a fleet of three research vessels used to collect specimens and conduct classes.

The facility is being used for Stony Brook University’s graduate programs in marine sciences, four undergraduate degrees and programs such as Semester-by-the-Sea, and high school field trips and two-week summer oceanography classes.

Refreshments will be served at the beginning of the meeting.

Parking is available on Little Neck Road, just past the SoMAS building, which is diagonally across from the Stony Brook Southampton campus on Montauk Highway.

Additional information is available from the League at (631) 324-4637 or by visiting www.lwvhamptons.org.

Supervisors Talk Budget Constraints, Sharing Services & Deer at League of Women Voters Forum

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East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell and Southampton Town Supervisor at a League of Women Voters-sponsored forum Monday night at the Hampton Library in Bridgehampton. 

By Mara Certic

Newly-elected East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell joined re-elected Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst at a League of Women Voters forum at the Hampton Library in Bridgehampton on Monday to discuss plans to improve quality of life through cooperation and consolidation across town boundaries.

Being a supervisor is “about balancing the needs of the community with balancing the need for environmental protection, with a need for economic development and local jobs,”  said Mr.Cantwell, “and finding that balance is really what we do almost every day.”

The supervisors discussed how improving water quality, affordable housing, sustainable energy, transportation and deer management within the constraints of their budgets would meet the towns’ needs. In order to do that, both supervisors said sharing services was critical in order to fall below a New York State-mandated 2-percent property tax levy cap.

Ms. Throne-Holst discussed potential benefits of a centralized information technology core that would allow for information-sharing between towns and villages and would expedite permit approval processes.

“East Hampton has been involved in consolidating some services and facilities between the town and the village,” said Mr. Cantwell, referring to a $400,000 government grant to build a new joint-fuel facility. “Over time we’re going to save millions of dollars because instead of building three, we’re going to build one, and that’s the whole point of the consolidation process.”

He added, however, that he is “not a big fan” of the 2-percent tax cap.

“In communities that are growing,” he explained, “you’re increasing your tax base and therefore increasing the amount of property tax collected. If you’re in a growth community and more services are required, you can’t take advantage of that increase in growth of the tax base because there is a 2-percent tax cap, not on the rate, but on the amount that you can raise taxes.”

Mr. Cantwell said the budget restrictions will force the towns to become more cost-effective, but also help them find other sources of income to balance the budget and fund the needs of the community. An example is East Hampton Town’s planned participation in three energy proposals through PSEG, which, if approved, would produce renewable energy in East Hampton by leasing appropriate town-owned sites to solar contractors. The contractors, in turn, would build solar arrays that would feed into the electric grid. The revenues from those arrays would be shared by the contractor and the town, and would help supply an already overburdened electric grid.

“There’s a potential here to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars of additional revenue for the town and to contribute to the energy needs of the South Fork and to do it in a sustainable way,” said Mr. Cantwell.

While stating that the assessment system in East Hampton Town is “broken and should be fixed,” Mr. Cantwell does not envision the town spending the required $3 to $5 million for reassessment in the near future.

“The system is archaic and creates a lot of inequities, but how those balance out is in the detail,” he said.  In Springs, for example, reassessment would not necessarily shift away the tax burden to another area, he explained.

“The assessed value base of the Springs School District is still going to be the same,” he said. “The truth of the matter is, the tax dollars are in your school taxes.”

Ms. Throne-Holst was asked to comment on the recent lawsuits that challenged the financial practices of the Southampton Town Trustees.

“Lawsuits questioned how they spend their money and questioned whose jurisdiction some pieces of land belonged under,” she said. “I, 100 percent, if not more, support the trustees.”

“I did not bring those lawsuits,” added Ms. Throne-Holst. “I have supported them in fighting those lawsuits and will continue to do that.”

Ms. Throne-Holst explained that although trustees have complied with the judge’s orders to  hand over their books to the board, there is a system in place for that allows them to retain autonomy over their finances while they put together their appeal.

On the subject of water quality, Ms. Throne-Holst stated that all local industry relies on ground and surface water, but that nitrogen and pathogen pollution have degraded water quality to a critical level.

Although there are retrofitting systems and technologies available today to mitigate this situation, she said, the price tag of $15,000 to $30,000 per household makes them cost-prohibitive.

“The idea that each and every homeowner would be able to cough that money up is not realistic,” said Ms. Throne-Holst.

Ms. Throne-Holst has created a proposal already presented to Governor Cuomo, where the state would work with the county, county health department, SUNY Stony Brook and other organizations to tackle water degradation problems cooperatively. The first phase of her proposal involves a feasibility study in which every waterway in the region is mapped in order to understand more fully their levels of degradation. The second phase is to create a water technology hub on the East End.

“Think Silicon Valley for information technology, think Suffolk County for clean water technology,” she said. Ms. Throne-Holst suggested that this would be an opportunity to deal with this environmental crisis while creating economic development and jobs.

Ms. Throne-Holst lamented how “woefully inadequate” the town has been in terms of the availability and types of affordable housing, which she deems vital to Southampton so young professionals can afford to live here and provide necessary services. “We cannot attract school teachers out here, or retain our volunteer firefighters,” she said. She aims to design and put forward a master affordable housing plan to conquer this problem.

The supervisors were asked about the possibility of resurrecting plans for the Five Town Rural Transit Authority, which was intended to create a transit authority for the East End, a concept that has had support but failed to gain steam before largely folding in 2008 as an economic crisis bloomed. Although costly and difficult to execute due to local geography, Ms. Throne-Holst proclaims herself a “huge proponent of mass transit.” She said the creation of a new transit authority must be reconsidered as the economy continues to improve. “It’s the way of the future,” she said.

When asked about East Hampton’s new flexible deer management plan, Mr. Cantwell explained that it will expand the opportunity for local hunters to take deer while also exploring more humane methods such as immunocontraception and 4-Poster devices, deer feeding stations that apply a tickicide to the necks of feeding deer and are designed specifically to reduce the tick population.

Ms. Throne-Holst pointed out the many shortcomings of the Long Island Farm Bureau’s planned cull, explaining that a wider, more scientific and long-term approach would be more successful. She said she is working with the DEC and other agencies to create such a proposal.

“I think this is a perfect example of how we need to come together as a region”, she said. “Deer don’t know boundaries,” Supervisor Throne-Holst said. “I can put out a great plan in Southampton and they’ll all just run over to East Hampton.”

Jobs, Affordability & Preservation Top East Hampton Town Board Candidates Debate

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web East Hampton council Debate 10-17-11_3698

With five of the six candidates vying for seats on the East Hampton Town Board on November 8 gathered together for their first televised debate on Monday night at LTV Studios, one may expected a contentious evening. However, while some had differing views on how to tackle issues in East Hampton, the forum remained friendly, candidates taking the time to introduce themselves and their views to the community, rather than take shots at each other.

The biggest debate revolved around the East Hampton Airport and whether or not the town should accept Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding moving forward.

The Quiet Skies Coalition, a grassroots organization founded this year has vocally opposed the town taking the money, citing noise and environmental pollution caused by the growing airport as a key quality of life issue for town residents and beyond. They contend if the town does not take more funding it can wrest control of the airport back in the town’s hands and place some restrictions on incoming and outgoing flights to protect residents.

Independence Party candidate Marilyn Behan, the wife of veteran politician John Behan and former director of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce, said she supported the town taking FAA funding.

“The safety facilities need to be updated,” said Behan, specifically referring to the installation of a deer fence and repaving of the defunct runway 4-22.

“The facility is an important facility to East Hampton Town,” she said. “It makes a lot of money. We need to be more vigilant in the accessibility of helicopters and the approach they take and I believe the installation of a control tower will do that.”

Democratic Party and Working Families Party candidate Peter Van Scoyoc, a former member of the town’s zoning board of appeals and current planning board member disagreed.

“We don’t believe it is required or necessary to take FAA money to address the short term needs of the airport,” he said, noting the control tower is already budgeted for in the 2012 proposed spending plan.

“Rather than tie ourselves to FAA money, at this point the reasonable approach would be to take an in-depth analysis on what the cost of the airport is moving forward,” he said.

Richard Haeg, a decorated veteran who has served as a Suffolk County Police Department officer and detective, said he did not understand why this was an issue up for debate.

Haeg said he believes the FAA would still have control over the airport regardless of whether the town takes grant money from the FAA. Haeg added the airport is a critical asset, in particular should an emergency arise.

Van Scoyoc countered that come 2015, if the town does not take any more FAA funding, it could place “reasonable restrictions on the airport, including a nighttime curfew.”

“The other part about the airport is we have already restricted or banned ferries,” said Van Scoyoc, noting that was upheld in regards to violating inter-state commerce in a court of law.

“He is absolutely right,” said Haeg. “We can take steps to take back our airport. The control tower, in my mind, is the most important tool we have.”

Suing the FAA for control, he added, doesn’t mean the town will win and could cost millions.

Author Steven Gaines, who is running with the Republican Party, agreed with Haeg, adding he would be “happy” to ban helicopters, but doesn’t think that will be legal.

“The only certainty is the airport noise is intolerable,” said Gaines.

“We should not take any FAA money until we know the tower works,” said Democratic and Working Families parties candidate Sylvia Overby, a former member of the town planning board.

Overby said the airport was an asset and like all candidates agreed a control tower was a step in the right director. However, she said the town also needs to look at “reasonable restrictions” at the airport to protect residents.

When asked about the reduction of employees within the Town of East Hampton, which was accomplished through voluntary early retirement agreements last year, Van Scoyoc called the situation “difficult.”

“You have the issue of wanting to keep jobs here in the town and year round jobs are very important in a seasonal economy,” he said.

He said he would like to see promotion of local farming and fishing, as well as other industries that do not impact the town in a negative way.

“I don’t think there was a lot of choice in what we had to do,” responded Haeg of cutting the positions, adding Southampton Town is a larger municipality with a smaller workforce.

“I fully believe at this point in time we need to partner with private businesses to create jobs,” he said, adding affordable housing is meaningless without the jobs to keep people here year round.

“Bill Wilkinson was handed a terrible mess,” said Gaines, referring to the almost $30 million deficit the town faced from the prior administration. Since Wilkinson was elected in 2009, he cut spending, and jobs through voluntary retirement.

“We do not need jobs in the government sector, but we have to create jobs in the private sector,” said Gaines.

“The 51 jobs that were laid off or through voluntary separation, those are my neighbors and friends, parents and coaches and there were a two additional layoffs that occurred recently,” said Overby. “It is harmful to the economy.”

She suggested the town could open itself up to the ability to hire people on a part time basis, which reduces the burden on the taxpayer.

“I do believe that cutting jobs is a very diff thing and I believe the present admin might have gone about it a little heartlessly,” said Behan, although she added she would like to research alternatives before announcing a solid plan.

Preservation of land has long been at the core of protecting quality of life on the East End, and the candidates were questioned on how the town can also preserve human resources through affordable housing.

I am in favor of continuing those programs which includes the government subsidizing housing in some way so it becomes affordable,” said Van Scoyoc. However, he added, dense communities like Springs should be protected from more housing.

Haeg said affordable housing was not the issue as much as job creation.

“We haven’t solved affordable housing because we still need the jobs so people can earn the money to keep the homes,” he said, calling for a two-fold job creation plan coupled with affordable housing.

Gaines blamed zoning from keeping a middle class in East Hampton.

“We have no middle class,” he said. “When kids graduate from school they have to leave.”

Like Haeg, Gaines said the key was job creation through low-density businesses like software companies.

“Ten percent of people living in East Hampton are living in poverty,” he said. “They are prisoners of a 16-week economy.”

Overby and Behan both noted the town has had affordable housing opportunities for decades.

“We need it,” said Behan. “I am in favor of it, but more importantly, we need to offer these children jobs.”

Independence Party candidate Bill Mott was the only contender absent from Monday’s debate, having a scheduling conflict that was planned even before he screened before the Independence, Democratic and Republican parties last spring. In his stead, a statement was read by the League of Women Voters, which sponsored Monday evening’s debate.

Mott, a veteran who was born and raised in East Hampton and has served for six terms on the East Hampton Town Trustees, said he is an independent thinker who believes in open communication between the town board and its residents and has vowed to protect the town’s waterfront.

In his statement Mott said his main focus, if elected to the town board, said Mott was ensuring all bays and waterways are kept open to residents and that shell fishing and commercial fishing industries are supported by the town board.

One of the main initiatives Mott said he would like the town to undertake in the next year in regards to the waterfront is purchasing its own dredge in an effort to preserve water quality and ensure safe navigation in and out of the town’s harbors.

Mott cautioned that the lawsuit filed by a group of Napeague property owners seeking to prohibit access to the beach in front of their homes via vehicles – the only viable way to access the beach – is “the latest attack on our traditions” and could open the door to other lawsuits if successful.

“We have many residents with deep pockets residing in our town who also live on water and may decide they want to have their own beach,” said Mott.