For the second time in his four years in office, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter has discontinued doing a weekly radio show on WRIV 1390 AM.
Only this time, Mr. Walter says the station and radio host Bruce Tria are not to blame.
The supervisor also suggested that the three council members who also do weekly radio spots on the station instead take turns doing a Friday show, rather than each having their own weekly radio spots, as is the case now.
In 2010, Mr. Walter discontinued doing his Friday morning “Supervisor’s Report” spot with Mr. Tria because Mr. Tria’s father, Vince, who is an owner of the station, was threatening to sue the town for $10 million for removing him from the Business Improvement District Management Association.
The lawsuit was later withdrawn, and Mr. Walter went back to doing his Friday radio spot, which has been done by numerous other Riverhead supervisors over the years.
This time, Mr. Walter sent a text message to Mr. Tria on Friday — after the supervisor and Councilman John Dunleavy had just wrapped up their weekly Friday spots —saying that he cannot continue to do the show because, with four of the five board members having their own weekly radio spots, it was pitting one board member against another.
He elaborated those points in a News-Review interview Tuesday, likening the town to a corporation.
“The bottom line is that, if you look at a corporation, you have the board of directors and the [chief executive officer],” he said. “The CEO is the spokesperson for the corporation, unless they have a paid spokesperson. You never have the board of directors speaking out or lashing out against the CEO. The only time you see that is in a corporation that’s failing, or in a hostile takeover situation.”
Mr. Walter said it’s not good for the town to have “four spokespersons.”
“In most towns, the supervisor is the spokesperson,” he said. “And if not, they sometimes have a press secretary or a paid spokesperson for the town. In this town, you have four spokespeople. It’s not good business.”
In addition to Mr. Walter, Council members Jodi Giglio, Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy each have weekly radio spots on WRIV. Councilman George Gabrielsen is the only board member without a weekly radio spot.
Mr. Walter said Mr. Tria is not to blame.
“He asks every board member the same question, they just answer it in a different fashion,” Mr. Walter said. He said some board members will say one thing at a Town Board meeting or work session, and another thing on the radio.
Mr. Walter said the boiling point last week was when when Ms. Giglio and Mr. Dunleavy both went on the air saying the town either doesn’t have sound meters or they don’t work.
On Tuesday, Mr. Walter had the sound meters on his desk, and said they do work. He said the code enforcement officers had one and the police the other.
Ms. Giglio questioned on-air why the town isn’t using them to cite businesses like Gershow Recycling, where residents have complained of incessant noise.
Ms. Giglio said the supervisor initially proposed that all of the Town Board members stop doing their radio shows.
She then read from a May 30 email she said came from the supervisor:
“I would like to propose the following for WRIV. We each appear once a month on a Friday Supervisor’s report. That way, Bruce only has one Town Board member each week and will not be able to pit us against one another. We are killing ourselves if we continue as we have been.”
Ms. Giglio said she was initially asked to do the Wednesday show after the supervisor discontinued his spot in 2010, and she’s been on ever since.
Mr. Dunleavy and Mr. Wooten started doing their weekly spots more recently.
“I think it’s a good thing that all of our viewpoints are shared publicly,” Ms. Giglio said. “The public should know where we stand.”
She said the board members could discuss the supervisor’s proposal, but she believes her radio spot is a public service.
Councilman John Dunleavy also said he’s willing to discuss the supervisor’s proposal, but he also has no plans currently to stop doing his radio spot.
He said the supervisor should be the spokesman for the town when discussing things that happened in the past or that we approved by the board with his support. But he said the board members don’t alway agree with the supervisor, and they should be allowed to give their opinions.
“No one is taking my freedom of speech away from me, and I’m not a puppet,” Mr. Dunleavy said. “He’s not the ultimate ruler, he’s not the king. He’s one member of the Town Board.”
Mr. Wooten and Mr. Dunleavy both disagreed with the supervisor’s analogy of the town being like a corporation.
“He’s the chief financial officer, but he shouldn’t be the sole spokesman for town,” Mr. Wooten said. “This is a democracy, and we all carry equal votes on the Town Board.”
Mr. Wooten said he understands the supervisor’s reasoning in wanting to limit the number of board members on the air, but he said that, “As an elected official, I have a base out there that might want to hear what I have to say.”
Mr. Gabrielsen said: ”I absolutely believe they should cut it way back and stop this nonsense … You run together as a Republican board and all you’re doing is beating the crap out of one another. A lot of the time, they don’t even know what they’re talking about.”
Mr. Tria said he has spoken to the supervisor about his decision and wishes he would continue to do the show.
“I understand his thinking and there’s no ill will between us,” Mr. Tria said. “I just saw him about an hour ago. I understand his point, I just think that he’s the supervisor and he belongs in the air. But that’s his decision. He’s always welcome to come back whenever he wants.”
Mr. Walter said he will have lunch and/or coffee with Mr. Tria on a weekly basis to keep him informed on town business.