03/27/14 6:00am
NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | The state Armory building on Route 58.

The state Armory building on Route 58. (Credit: file)

When I ran for Riverhead Town Board last year, I made positive suggestions that I believe might help the board through the embarrassing bickering “Honeymooners” moment it is struggling with now. Currently, the board is mud wrestling over important topics like what to do with the Second Street firehouse, the East Lawn building and the armory on Route 58. The board is in a tizzy over how to provide our town justices a safe environment to try cases and we seem to be back to square one on the animal shelter issue.  (more…)

11/15/13 11:00am
MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Hall on Howell Avenue.

MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Hall on Howell Avenue.

The road signs are gone (mostly), the ballots have been scanned, the results have been counted and it’s time for the new/old Town Board to make plans to govern. What should its priorities be? What’s the agenda?

Everyone has their own take; here’s my crack at what I think would represent two years of good work.

Can’t we all just get along?: A Town Board that fights over issues is fine; this last board fought over nothing. You’re all going to be together for at least two years, so shake hands and put the silliness behind you. Let’s all treat each other with respect. The five of you also need to sit down soon with the major boards like planning and zoning and clue them in that they have to be more open, more sensitive and include the public at the table.

Address our quality of life: Let’s face it, some of Riverhead is getting rough around the edges. It’s not the fault of either political party, it’s a natural occurrence, trees need pruning. Yes, there are more police downtown but I can tell you by sight where those that would do harm hang out. Let’s tackle the problem, not walk by it. Grangebel Park looks nice but it needs to become family-friendly. How about a schedule of events so we push the bad guys out? The interchange at Roanoke, Peconic and Main is a mess; it needs to be addressed. We have two live theaters downtown, let’s help them put people on the street.

PSE&G takes over for LIPA. They seem to get it; let’s work with them to bury some electric lines, particularly near farm fields so we preserve beautiful vistas. Let’s quickly select a proper vendor to restore the town’s East Lawn building and Second Street firehouse. Let’s get those buildings into tax-paying private sector hands.

There seems to be consensus that a movie theater is not coming downtown. Recruit one to Route 58 and, finally, we put a man on the moon, fix the downtown dumpster problem and get security cameras up for pete’s sake.

Good government: Revisit the issue of designating Riverhead a town of the First Class; it would make for a more responsive government. And, speaking of responsive government, everyone on the board says they are for term limits, so submit and pass a bill. While we’re at it, put some teeth into our ethics code. Right now there are too many loopholes. Close them.

Slay the financial dragon: We are looking at a huge tax increase in the eye unless we bring in new revenue or cut the size of government. Do both. On the expense side of the budget, no one wants to hear about staff decreases but, whether by attrition or layoffs, we still need to further pare down the size of government. On the supply side, we passed landmark legislation that will allow us to fast-track development at the Enterprise Park at Calverton. Good, now let’s get it done. 2014 must be the year we complete the subdivision at EPCAL and start to sell land at the former Grumman site. Let’s have a few large, cash-rich clients in mind so we make some land sales the first day we can. Let’s also continue the town’s lobbying efforts that proved successful at EPCAL to find state, federal and county money for infrastructure there.

Mind the gap: Riverhead town government is property rich and cash poor. 2014 or ’15 could bring a time of reckoning. Next year we may find ourselves not quite ready to sell property at EPCAL in time to avert a huge tax increase. That reality will make the pressure to make a bad deal at Grumman enormous. Riverhead can’t sell out our future because we need a payday loan. The board needs to take steps now to explore alternatives. Reach out today to find strategic partners in the private equity markets that can provide creative interim financing alternatives so we don’t have to sell out the town’s future to avoid the politically unpalatable.

As you can see, there’s much to be done and, working together, I know this board can do it. Enjoy Thanksgiving, then let’s get to work.

Anthony Coates is an investment adviser and Riverhead resident. He ran an unsuccessful primary for a Republican town council nomination in 2013.

08/29/13 2:30pm
ANTHONY COATES COURTESY PHOTO |  Anthony Coates

ANTHONY COATES COURTESY PHOTO | Anthony Coates

They’re worried. Yesterday, Councilman Jim Wooten sounded retreat and the Old Guard Republicans started circling the wagons because they are worried.

They are worried it might be closing time for their clubhouse.

I came to the race for Town Council vowing to shake up Town Hall and it seems there is a whole lot of shaking going on. Harry Truman said, “I never gave ‘em Hell, I told the truth and they thought it was Hell,” and that’s what’s happening here in Riverhead.

I have dared speak the truth about public officials that care more about their pensions than the public good. I have dared speak out about the constant cost overruns that are a result of Town Board mismanagement. I have dared speak out about council members that are rarely at their desks. I have dared speak out about tax breaks that are given out to the Republican Party’s friends and family network but not to you. I’ve called for term limits and for reforms to keep politics out of Town Hall. I have called for full disclosure and I’ve offered a positive plan to get this town moving forward.

You see folks, it’s all about jobs. Oh, not your job, it’s about theirs and their ability to live off the system. Councilman James Wooten is not happy that I was honest with the public when I spoke out about the odd jobs he holds in addition to the municipal pension he receives and his salary as a councilman. Councilwoman Jodi Giglio was not happy when it was uncovered that she has had avoided paying her proper property taxes for over a decade, because she failed to get permits for her home — though she owns a permit expediting business that represents developers.

Ms. Giglio was not happy when it came to light that she and her partners received every tax break under the sun and $2.4 million in taxpayer money for their subsidized housing project downtown. Those are the facts and I didn’t report them, this newspaper did. The council members didn’t like that I put a video on YouTube showing them not in their offices. The recreation department head was not happy when I made an issue of the fact that he presided over huge cost overruns at the Calverton ball fields and still got an $8,000 raise.

Mr. Wooten calls that, “Negative” I call it telling the truth.

Truth brings reform and reform worries the Old Guard because they fear change. The tired Clubhouse knows I am a reform candidate that means what he says, that I won’t take “no” for an answer and they are worried I will win; they wouldn’t be attacking me if my message were not getting through.

When I go door-to-door, I see that people are wising up to the fact that the “in” crowd at Town Hall has had it their way for about 50 years and their legacy is that Riverhead is the highest taxed, poorest and most indebted town on the East End. This town can do better.

The Old Guard sees power slipping out of the grasp of their cynical fingers and they are worried. I was the Town Board’s pal when I ran their campaigns for 10 years. I was the Town Board’s pal when they unanimously appointed me to the BID board, but now that I have spoken out about their attitude of entitlement and how they milk the system, I am a bad man and they have called me names.

I have been and I will continue to be your watchdog. I have no interest in being part of their club. They can threaten me, call me names, yell, scream, stomp their feet and hold their breath but I don’t care because I have vowed to run a different type of campaign and I am.

I’m not in it for the salary, as they are. I’m not in it for the title, as they are. I am about public service, not self service.

I am in it to represent you and they are worried because they know their time is just about up.

Mr. Coates is a downtown resident and financial adviser who is running a Republican primary for a Town Council nomination.

08/12/13 2:00pm

When you drive Route 58, you shake your head and wonder how we even have town taxes. Every major chain calls Route 58 home. So, given Riverhead’s small population, how is it all of these meccas of commerce don’t throw off enough revenue to keep our taxes low? After all, Riverhead is the highest taxed, most indebted, poorest town on the East End. How can that be?

Because here in Riverhead, we give the store away.

When the national chains come a-calling, I don’t know whether they bring candy or flowers but the big guys always seem to have their way with us. Maybe we feel we are not worthy, maybe we are bad negotiators, but when it comes to granting tax breaks, Riverhead seems to roll over like a sea lion in the sun, leaving much-needed revenue on the table that could and should be adding to our tax base.

Take our Industrial Development Agency. Our IDA grants tax abatements like free smooches at the county fair kissing booth. New in town? Don’t want to pay taxes? You got it. Why do we give in so easy? Perhaps it is because our IDA director gets paid based on what the agency gives away. It’s hard to believe but the IDA director’s salary is generated by granting tax freebies. That’s as sensible as giving a raise to the bartender who pours free drinks. Tax breaks “Riverhead-style” are as lucrative as it gets. Our tax breaks are the 10-year kind. So that big box store being built today may not generate its fair share of revenue until at least 2023. I say “at least” because when they are ready to expire, we have been known to extend our tax breaks even longer, just to be neighborly.

The stores on 58 require heavy police protection, increased attention from our fire departments and a host of other services that strain our cash-strapped government to the breaking point. Those government services need to be paid for by someone — and that someone is you. You don’t like the traffic, clear cutting or ugliness Route 58 brings? You paid for it. In Brookhaven, Huntington and Islip, the commercial district subsidizes the homeowner. Here it seems the other way round. What to do?

One, performance audit IDA breaks. Are we really netting out the dollars we think we are? Let’s find out. Two, end Route 58 tax breaks. There was a time when 58 was barren. Today it’s the place everyone wants to be. Stop the giveaways. Tax abatements should instead be targeted to downtown, where we have trouble attracting suitors. Three, change the “IDA incentive.” It makes no sense to compensate an IDA director based on what he or she gives away. Retool the position to make it more results-driven. Let’s pay for net revenue in — not gross dollars out. Four, consider impact fees. When a chain wants to come here, not only should we not roll over and play dead, we should charge premiums. We should craft impact fees so that new box stores will pick up the costs of roads, traffic lights and other improvements. They do it in Florida and the Carolinas and California, why not here? Do you really think they’ll stop coming because we ask them to pay?

Right now Riverhead gets all of the bad and none of the good that comes from the parade of 58 box stores. Let’s stop giving the store away.

 Anthony Coates is a downtown resident who is running a Republican primary for a town council nomination.

Riverhead IDA sign

02/08/13 3:05am

In my home, when the last chocolate chip cookie goes missing, or there isn’t an ice cube left in the tray, or the milk gets put back with nary a sip left, I call out to my daughters and ask, “Who did this?”

Invariably the response is: “Not me?”

When it comes to employing the “who me?” defense; my kids have nothing on the Riverhead Town Board.

Watching meetings and work sessions, I don’t know whether to be amused or sad as board members duck and cover. I shake my head with a smile and wonder “do these guys really believe what they are saying”? One clarification, I have to leave out John Dunleavy here, that guy gets things done for Riverhead. Otherwise, Channel 22 has become a bad movie you can’t stop watching but it isn’t as funny as it used to be.

A couple of months ago the matter of Calverton Manor came up at a gathering. For those who may not be following every twist and turn, Calverton Manor is the hamlet-changing project proposed for the quiet Calverton community. Houses, traffic and commerce. When residents protested and the media asked tough questions about this behemoth subdivision ready to pass without opposition, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio feigned shock and asked how could this be?

Who allowed this to happen?

Never mind that the good councilwoman has been on the Town Board for some three years plus. Never mind the reams of paperwork, meetings and memos that got us to this point. Jodi asked,”Who me?” How could this occur? She said she will investigate what happened. We are still waiting for her report.

More recently it was the Concordia Assisted Living facility. Like it or not, you have to admit the community proposed for Middle Road has been in the news a wee bit. Hearings at the county level and town level. Zoning changes, public input, testimony, committee meetings, work sessions, code changes. Lots of chatter, it’s all been going on about two years now. Concordia has been on the agenda at 200 Howell Avenue. Enter Councilwoman Giglio: She huffed and she puffed. Why wasn’t I informed? When did this happen? Who me? Concordia voted down, time and money wasted.

Perhaps the greatest responsibility board members have is passing the town budget.

The supervisor submitted his budget when required by state law. The council members did nothing with the document. No input, no new ideas, no nothing. Right before the vote is scheduled, like high school students cramming for the big exam, the board scribbles down a few ill thought out proposals. End result? A budget that spends more than the Supervisor called for and brings Riverhead the highest tax increase of any neighboring town. Ask the board about the tax increase…who me?

A new apartment complex proposed for West Main Street. Could be a game changer in our rebuilding downtown. Councilwoman Giglio: no one told me about this. I haven’t seen the renderings. That’s odd, they were drawn by that very able architect and the councilwoman’s business partner, Martin Sendlewksi. Who me?

Each week the Town Council members make their pilgrimage to WRIV radio to soak up attention and pat themselves on the back.  The board actually increased spending greater than what the supervisor’s budget called for? It did. Without warning the board publicly flogged and fired the town board coordinator?  It did. The ballfields at EPCAL remain gated and closed? They are. Another bad decision? Must be our attorney’s fault. Listen closely. The board members speak in the most bemused and detached way; as if they are observers not board members. As if these weren’t their decisions. “Who me”?

If you are going to serve in government take joy in the task. Take pride in doing the people’s business. Don’t take “no” for an answer. Take ownership of the job you do. Don’t blame others.This is a great town. We deserve a government as good as our people.  I think the thing I love most about Riverhead is our small town feel. The Blue Waves won. You’ll hear it at Pappa Nick’s. Did you see that overturned car? People were talking about it at “the Grind”.

What’s that building going up? Pull up a chair at Jamesport Country Kitchen and listen. With all due respect to the local media, if it happens in Riverhead you’ll hear about it quickly through our grapevine.

Seems everyone knows what’s going on in this town. Everyone but our town board that is.

Anthony Coates is a downtown resident seeking the Republican nomination to run for Town Council in November.

He is also a political adviser to Superivsor Sean Walter.

R052611_RHTown_BE_R.jpg

06/01/12 5:00pm

Some ideas are just bad. New Coke, the Edsel, Anthony Weiner’s text messages, Elaine Benes’ suggestion that New Yorkers wear name tags, all leap to mind. Last week, in Riverhead, we were treated to another bit of bad reasoning that ranks right up there with the Betamax in the annals of ditsy deduction, as Jodi Giglio and James Wooten try their level best to kill a job-creating, clean environment, tax base-enhancing proposal that is also good for our farmers.

Both council members are burning the midnight oil in their attempt to block the creation of a produce supply depot in Riverhead and you sort of have to ask, “What are they thinking?”

John King of J. Kings Food Service Professionals Inc., the food purveyor, wants to open a distribution center on Sound Avenue in the old Blackman plumbing building. J. Kings will purchase the property and fully utilize that deteriorating eyesore on Sound. J. Kings will spruce up the building and in doing so create about 30 new jobs for area residents; good paying jobs in the agricultural business — and, last I heard, Ag was kind of big here in Riverhead.

The new warehouse would be a place where Riverhead farmers could more efficiently bring their goods to market. The depot would be a site that would bring healthy, locally grown produce to area residents. The depot would increase local business activity, which in turn, would bring in tax revenue and, no doubt, new businesses would spring up to feed off this supply hub.

Sounds like the proverbial win, win, win, right? Yet, Jodi and Jim are still against this private sector, job-creating infusion of life. Why?

Near as I can tell, Jodi’s main argument is the site could increase truck traffic on Sound Avenue. Apparently, Jodi was out sick the day of the class trip. When I was a kid we all hopped onto rickety buses and rode out to tour the Treat potato chip factory. Treat used to operate at the same property as Blackman. I was just a kid, but I do recall there was much coming and going all day long at that plant. This was also in the days before FedEx, so I am guessing those chips came to market by truck and weren’t mailed to stores. Therefore, there probably were many trucks on Sound Avenue oh those many years ago. In fact, I distinctly remember seeing trucks on Sound just the other day.

Councilman Wooten muttered last week that he is against this dynamic project because “he was not informed about it before it went public.” That seems a bit self-indulgent. You want to kill a good idea because no one checked with you first? God didn’t call me last week to tell me it was going to rain but the rain did seem to help the crops. So I’m for the rain. This isn’t about personal pique, Jim, it’s about generating revenue and tax base. Perhaps that’s why leaders like Joe Gergela and Frank Beyrodt so vocally support this job-creating proposal.

Politicians amaze me; at election time they love to pose in front of flags and talk a good game about being “pro business” and “job creators.” Believe me, I know. I’ve written enough of those campaign pieces over the years; but roaring rhetoric is one thing, real results another. A few times a year, your council members are called upon to cast key votes and that’s how you measure results. Politics is one thing, governing another. Sometimes politicians count on you forgetting that.

Come fall of 2013, when the air turns crisp and the politicians once again show up in front of your favorite supermarket, think back to this first week of a humid June 2012 and remember that farmers and taxpayers want to see jobs and opportunity, an increasing marketplace and the ability to rapidly get goods to consumers.

Farmers already know about fertilizer.

Anthony Coates is a downtown resident and adviser to Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter. He is also a member of the downtown Riverhead Business Improvement District.

03/29/12 7:00am

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | EPCAL's north gate on Route 25 in Calverton.

I used to drink way too much. I would joke that I was “young and irresponsible.” Then one day, I realized, I wasn’t so young any more and my behavior was long past the point of being cute or funny.

Maybe you know someone like me. Maybe you are like me. I could be your son or your daughter, your aunt or your friend. I can only speak for me but one day I got tired of disappointing my kids. I was tired of wasting my talents — I wanted to actually lead my life, not just be an actor in it. I wanted to soberly enjoy whatever path lay ahead for me. I sought help. I’ve made changes.

You might have read about me in last week’s News-Review. I was proposed for a position with the Town of Riverhead. In the course of covering the story this paper saw fit to focus on my past drinking. I’ve been doing politics a long time and I’ve never seen coverage like last week’s. In my opinion, this paper got its facts wrong and brought forward personal issues in a way this town hasn’t seen before. When I confronted the reporter about what he wrote, he said, “Oops.” My daughters cried and, frankly, it was embarrassing walking up Main Street to catcalls and stares, but I hold my head high. I am proud of the way I’ve turned my life around. I am at peace with the person I am. I have the love of two great children and a wealth of special friends.

Lost in the titillation is the valuable discussion Riverhead needs to have about the position that was proposed, and where we are headed as a town. I was up for appointment as director of the former Grumman property at EPCAL. The job requires a driven individual, first, to pass the legislation creating a commission to expedite the approvals process to stir development activity at that property and, secondly, a person to become salesperson in chief, to attract clean, high paying, meaningful job-creating businesses to EPCAL so that we can finally begin to relieve the tax burden placed upon our citizens.

When I was a candidate for that job some local wags blogged that we should not create any new jobs at Town Hall because two years ago we laid off some part- and full-time workers. Those layoffs are exactly why we should put financial resources into EPCAL. Riverhead is a hamster on a Habitrail in a stationary race that we can’t win. Seventy percent of our town budget is salaries, 15 percent is debt service and 15 percent is contractual obligations. Unless we create tax base, we as a town are destined to a permanent future filled with layoffs and tax increases. We have a jewel at EPCAL, an annuity that no other municipality on this island possesses.

Yet in the 10 years I have lived here we have not tapped EPCAL’s potential bounty. Instead, EPCAL has been the place where silly and embarrassing ideas get floated and deals that should never see the light of day get proposed. The Town Board has embarked upon a plan to subdivide the property into smaller, more marketable lots; a good plan — but it won’t happen without a commission, marketing, seed capital, strong advocacy and a roll-up-your sleeves attitude to bring action to this long dormant property. EPCAL isn’t just going to happen. Baseball stadiums, airports, trade centers and skyscrapers don’t sprout up like crocuses. Somewhere in the life of all major municipal projects there are voices that prod, advocate and cajole to get results. We need new leadership and a strong voice to properly develop and market EPCAL.

Personal foibles make for good gossip and water cooler humor but the issue here is much bigger. It is about the future of our town.

As for me, I intend to stay in public service. I intend to be a voice. I will continue on the proper path in life and I will work my heart out to move Riverhead forward.

Editor’s note: The reporter referred to in this piece, longtime News-Review staffer Tim Gannon, denies saying ‘Oops’ or making any factual errors in his reporting. The News-Review stands by the report.

Mr. Coates is a Riverhead resident and political consultant to Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter.

09/08/11 5:36am

I read with a chuckle Phil Cardinale’s column last week on how to improve downtown Riverhead. Listening to Phil Cardinale lecture about how to improve downtown is like listening to a blind man describe the wonder of an evening sunset.

As our former town supervisor, Mr. Cardinale had the luxury of presiding over downtown during the best real estate market Long Island has ever seen. Yet, while Mr. Cardinale was supervisor, I could have set up a table and chairs, lit candles, placed down formal china, held a quiet dinner party in the center of Main Street and not worried about being hit by a car.

When Mr. Cardinale took over from prior supervisor Bob Kozakiewicz, downtown was filled to the brim with stores, shops and offices. Mr. Cardinale’s administration brought us a multitude of “For Rent” signs and the return of the tumbleweed. Mr. Cardinale’s grand plan for Main Street was the Apollo project. You may remember a gorgeous artist’s drawing that appeared on the front cover of Long Island’s daily newspaper when Mr. Cardinale outlined his “comprehensive” development plan. Mr. Cardinale painted a vision of a downtown that would look like something out of the Jetsons or the ’64 World’s Fair, but all of that balderdash never came to pass because the plan wasn’t real. It was public relations.

Under Mr. Cardinale, Riverhead was constantly subjected to a litany of “It’s coming soon” press conferences, false hopes, idle thoughts and artist’s renderings. If Mr. Cardinale has such brilliant ideas for how to improve Main Street why was it a ghost town during the six years he served as supervisor?

Enter Sean Walter. His administration has a novel plan for improving Main Street; the old fashioned way; hard work, and a store-by-store, block-by-block approach. In one of the worst economic times this nation has ever seen, this administration has brought you The Red Collection antique store, The Riverhead Project Restaurant, expansions at Dark Horse Restaurant, Cody’s Barbeque, Long Ireland Brewery, The New Hyatt Hotel, an expanded Aquarium, kept the Blue Door Gallery in town, a newly expanded Athens Grill and a refurbished Riverhead Grill. Last Friday, I was proud to witness the lighting of the new marquee at the Suffolk Theatre and as I watch that treasure rehabilitate itself to its former majestic grandeur I think of how Mr. Cardinale tried to close it down.

If Mr. Cardinale actually had any interest in downtown he would attend the many events that have brought new life to Main Street, as this summer has seen car shows and concerts, antique shows and festivals, parades and progress. Grangebel Park is renewed, the sidewalks are getting fixed, the street lights work, there is a new community garden and there is a new spirit downtown. Mr. Cardinale, that didn’t happen when you were in Town Hall. The only ribbon Phil Cardinale ever cut was on a Christmas gift.

There is an old saying that “those who can’t do, teach.” After 10 years in Town Hall and a track record of not getting it done during the best of economic circumstances, Mr. Cardinale now apparently feels a need to “teach.”

I for one will skip this dry lecture and run across campus, to where the action is.

Mr. Coates is a downtown resident and political advisor to Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter. He is also on the downtown Business Improvement District Management Association’s board of directors.