Forty years after Nixon’s resignation and 25 after the Berlin Wall fell, why does Riverhead deserve the dubious distinction as a place completely out of step with people’s hunger for free, transparent and open government?
• In public meetings, our Town Board unanimously decided to sell the Second Street firehouse. Good choice? Bad choice? You decide. But every member of our board informally agreed to sell the building — that is, until political party bosses held a closed-door caucus and the board reversed its decision.
• Our Town Board finally found a buyer to take the dilapidated East Lawn Building off taxpayers’ hands. Everyone was for it. Then a party meeting was held at headquarters. The board stopped dead in its tracks and appears to be settling in on the status quo. After all the work the board has put in up to this point, what a waste of time and energy it would be if nothing happens.
• In a scene right out of “Who’s on First?” our Town Board completely reversed itself last week and killed the idea of holding a public hearing on term limits. That meeting was so laughable that Councilman James Wooten actually backed away from his own bill and has now said publicly that he doesn’t support term limits at all. But, in the end, the board did exactly what it was told by party leadership.
So why do these inner workings of government matter to you? It’s pretty simple: It’s because, in the end, you don’t matter to Town Hall.
Oh, they’ll tell you otherwise and they’ll even let you speak at Town Hall, but they’re not listening, because no matter what they tell you in public, town business isn’t done at Town Hall anymore. It’s done at Republican party headquarters, where our one-party board meets behind closed doors and “leadership” decides what’s good for Riverhead.
Of course, they’ll deny it, but why does our board keep reversing course on previously unanimous decisions after party caucuses?
At a time when people crave more democracy, not less, here in Riverhead we’re heading backward, as terms like party leader, secret meeting and party discipline have become part of the dialogue. While we’re trying to evict Putin from Crimea, we’re talking like Ivan here in town, comrade.
There’s a lot at stake here. A double-digit tax increase is possible in coming years, our Town Board is seeking a $6 million “line of credit” and if we don’t start selling land at the Enterprise Park at Calverton soon — well, hold on to your wallet.
Good government exists and tough choices are made rationally only when elected officials are committed to the public interest and ready to lead. Bold action won’t come from minions who have to run back to check with party bosses before making big decisions.
Apparently, someone missed the memo. Town Hall is not supposed to be about Republicans or Democrats. It’s supposed to be about what’s good for Riverhead.
Anthony Coates is an investment and public affairs consultant. He lives in Riverhead and ran for Town Board in 2013.