Why politicians voted against holding more meetings in Riverhead

05/01/2015 2:00 PM |
The red districts voted against holding more meetings further east, while the green areas voted for it. (Credit: Paul Squire,  Suffolk County district map)

The red districts voted against holding more meetings further east, while the green areas voted for it. (Credit: Paul Squire, Suffolk County district map)

The Suffolk County legislators’ reasons for voting ‘no’ varied: the inconvenience of moving staff, the cost of added mileage or a reluctance to mess with a government they say already works.

But there was one thing universally true for all the legislators who voted against a proposal holding more meetings on the East End: they all represent districts far west of here.

The North Fork’s County Legislator Al Krupski came close Tuesday to having the governmental body move a series of meetings into Riverhead, the traditional and official county seat.

Close, but not enough.

A motion by North Fork Legislator Al Krupski to hold several committee meetings each year at the legislature’s Riverhead location — an effort, he said, to boost participation in local government for East Enders — was deadlocked at Tuesday’s meeting.

Since Mr. Krupski couldn’t get one vote to break the 9-9 tie, the motion didn’t get a majority and failed.

“My procedural motion would have allowed one meeting out here so that you’ll see that it’s actually productive,” the legislator told the News-Review.

The split vote could almost be traced with a straight line on a map. Of the county’s 18 districts, all the legislators representing the eastern ones, save Ronkonkoma’s District 4, voted to hold more committee meetings in the Riverhead county complex.

The motion also had support from two western districts: Leg. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) and presiding officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville).

But every Republican — and three western Democrats — voted against the proposal.

Mr. Krupski believes that the inconvenience of traveling played a role in the legislators’ split vote.

“I explained that it’s not about them,” he said. “They’re public servants.”

But County Legislator and Minority Leader Kevin McCaffrey told the News-Review that moving more meetings east would decrease productivity for county workers called in to advise legislators at the committee meetings.

“It’s not as if we’re not listening to the public … I just think it just slows down our way of doing business,” Mr. McCaffrey said. “I think it has a lot more to do with the support staff than it does with the legislators going out there.”

The minority leader also mentioned that the legislature already holds a handful of full legislative sessions in Riverhead each year, giving East Enders access to their county government.

Mr. McCaffrey told the News-Review he spoke with Mr. Krupski after the vote and said they would work to come to a “workable solution,” such as holding select meetings on the East End that would be of particular interest to residents.

The Republicans were buoyed by Democrats William Spencer of Huntington, Steve Stern of Dix Hills, and Lou D’Amaro of North Babylon.

In an interview this week, Mr. Spencer said he could see the validity to Mr. Krupski’s claims that the East End would be better served by having more county meetings there.

“I struggled with this to the end,” Mr. Spencer said. But ultimately, he sided with opponents of the motion, saying it would slow government down to move committee meetings away from the hub of county government.

“Most of the infrastructure of the county, the executive office, the planning boards, the health department, are based in the Hauppauge area,” he said. “Suffolk County Government is very functional. I feel there’s 20 legislators and they’re very hands on.”

Mr. Spencer also mentioned the added cost to move the meetings held him back, considering a multi-million dollar budget deficit.

That cost? About $$2,159, according to the nonpartisan Budget Review Office.

That’s not a good enough reason, said deputy presiding officer Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk).

“I don’t buy that,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “The East End is providing one third of all the property taxes to the county. We’re probably a third of all the sales tax.”

“This is about access more than anything,” he continued, echoing Mr. Krupski.

Both legislators were encouraged by the split result and said they intend to push for more East End meetings again.

That’s welcome news to the North Fork’s town supervisors, both of whom support the proposal.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell — who spoke in favor of the plan at Tuesday’s meeting — said he was “very disappointed” in the failed vote.

“It’s not just beneficial to the East End to engage the East End,” he said. “It’s beneficial to the legislature because of the knowledge and talent out here. I wouldn’t exclude any segment of the population out here for input.”

“Riverhead is the county seat,” said Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter. “Unfortunately, somewhere along the line that became in name only.”

Mr. Walter said he was unable to attend the legislature’s meeting Tuesday. He had to attend a economic development meeting and couldn’t make it to Hauppauge in time.

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