State Assemblyman Fred Thiele remained cagey on Monday night about his presumed leap from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party, but the Sag Harbor native did not mince words about the state of the state’s government.
“I’ve never had a more frustrating or less satisfying year,” Thiele told the members of the Noyac Civic Council, where he was guest speaker at the organization’s monthly meeting.
Thiele was at the meeting to fill in his constituents on business in Albany, and quickly qualified his remarks saying he was not a member of the senate, which had thrown government into chaos for more than a month.
“The power in state government is far too concentrated,” said Thiele. “This year was so egregious that for five weeks nothing got done. You had two senators basically leveraging for power.”
“You’ve described a terrible year and it looks like only two or three people are running the state government,” observed NCC member Jim Marquardt. “It seems like Albany is dysfunctional, and it’s a bit embarrassing. What can we do to make it better?”
“You finally say this is dysfunctional,” Thiele told Marquardt. “My hope is that the public demands a greater spreading of power.”
Thiele said there was some good news from the capitol this year, including a bill that would toughen laws governing the price of gasoline to consumers. The assemblyman noted that the East End, which had a history of being gouged by prices at the pump, was seeing prices more consistent with the West End of Long Island.
Also, Thiele said the state passed a law enabling the consolidation of special districts — like sewer districts — making it easier for residents to force a vote trough initiative and referendum.
The law, he said, does not include school districts, “although it should,” he opined.
NCC member Carmine Martino, who was an administrator in the New York City school system, said it would not be unusual to have 30,000 to 40,000 students per superintendent.
“In the city, 10,000 students was drop in the bucket,” said Martino. “Why doesn’t the state education department do something about this?”
Thiele agreed, and noted in some states there are county-wide school districts, although he conceded that would not work in Suffolk where there are about 1.5 million people.
“There are over 20 school districts in my assembly district,” said Thiele, “and nobody wants to give up their local district. Schools are the center of life in these communities.”
He added, however, “there is something to be said about centralizing administration.”
As an example, he said East Hampton has several feeder districts, each with its own administration. This overall expense could be reduced, if the districts centralized. There are financial hurdles however, and he said Amagansett, which has a tremendous amount of assessment and few kids, would likely balk at consolidation since their tax rates would likely increase, as opposed to Springs, whose property assessment is not that great, but has a lot of school-aged children.
“The state hasn’t been providing incentives,” said Thiele. “We need to get districts to do initial feasibility studies.”
“If you leave it to the districts to do it themselves, they have too much of a vested interest in maintaining the status quo,” he said. “You need government to allow people to get it on the ballot through initiative and referendum.”
Thiele went so far as to suggest the state consider a constitutional convention to rethink its governing document.
“The last time it was rewritten in any meaningful way was in 1938,” he said. “We need to change the way things are.”
NCC member Elena Loreto raised concerns about Noyac Road, and how it is becoming increasingly dangerous with high traffic and trucks. She noted a jogger was injured last week after being clipped by a small garbage truck, and needed to be airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital.
“Has there been any movement in getting traffic calming on Noyac Road,” asked Loreto. “Is there any federal stimulus money available?”
“There’s got to be some consensus locally for a particular project,” Thiele told Loreto. “Money goes where there is a popular project.”
He said the job really falls to the town to have a project planned and “shovel ready.”
“The feds are going to ask, ‘do you have something that’s ready to go?’”
Thiele added that local government has the ability to designate truck routes and set weight limits.
NCC president Chuck Neuman added hos organization is planning a meeting wit the North Sea Citizens Advisory Committee to discuss Southampton Town taking over Noyac and North Sea roads from the county, which the town is poised to do.
Finally, Thiele was asked by Loreto about his interest in the Democratic Party.
“How do you see yourself fitting in with Rangel, Pelossi and that group,” asked Loreto.
“I don’t,” said Thiele. “I see myself as an independent and work with people on both sides of the aisle. “There are people who are highly partisan on both sides; but most people just want to know how you’re going to represent them.”
Asked if he had decided to make the jump, Thiele said: “I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people in both parties, and I’m going to continue to do that for the next week or so.”