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Town Board considering term limits, extending supervisor’s term

02/04/2016 12:15 PM |

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Riverhead Town Board members are considering maxing out term limits for the supervisor and members of the Town Board while also extending the term for town supervisor from two to four years.

Supervisor Sean Walter suggested the proposals and members of the Town Board discussed them both at Thursday morning’s work session, agreeing to bring them both to a public hearing.

Officials would be maxed out as 12 consecutive years in office, though would be able to run for the same position again after taking a break from office.

The way the law is written currently, Councilmen Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy would be unable to immediately run again for town council. Councilwoman Jodi Giglio would able to run again for council in 2017, though she would be maxed out after that.

“It breaks the cycle of power,” said the supervisor, who cited legislation which has passed the state Senate in Albany which would limit elected officials in Albany to eight years in office. The proposal came in the wake of several scandals in recent years involving longtime leaders of the state Senate and Assembly.

He also noted Suffolk County’s 12-year term limit.

“It is the intent of the Town Board of the Town of Riverhead to increase the accountability of and expand participation in the governance of the Town of Riverhead,” the draft legislation regarding term limits notes.

Councilman John Dunleavy voiced opposition to the proposal, noting that Riverhead’s elected positions are different than state and federal ones — and if a local official doesn’t do his or her job, it won’t go unnoticed.

“We had one supervisor for 18 years because he did his job,” Mr. Dunleavy said. “We had another for two years because he didn’t do his job. We’re not a state agency. We’re not a federal government agency. We have contact with our townspeople every single day.”

Under the draft proposal, officials could max out their term limits and immediately seek another position.

Separately, the supervisor suggested putting a referendum on the ballot this upcoming fall that would extend the town’s two-term limit for the position to four years.

In 2007, the same referendum was placed on the ballot. It failed by a vote of 3,317 to 3,026. That same year, a referendum vote to extend the town clerk position from two years to four passed, and two years later, the highway superintendent position was extended from two to four as well.

The referendum would come on an off year for local elections, however high turnout can be expected with a presidential election upcoming.

If both proposals were to pass, Mr. Walter could be affected by the legislation himself. If he runs for office in 2017 and wins a four-year term, he would be maxed out at 12 years, having first been voted into office in 2009.

The proposed legislation would not extend his current term.

Town Board members unofficially agreed to go to a public hearing on both proposals, a date on both for which will be set at an upcoming Town Board meeting.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that John Dunleavy was voted into office in 2009. He was elected in 2005.

Photo caption: Councilman Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy, and Supervisor Sean Walter at Thursday morning’s work session. (Credit: Joseph Pincaro)

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