03/28/14 9:00am
03/28/2014 9:00 AM
Riverhead Town Hall (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Riverhead Town Hall (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

As if journalists needed another reason to call for more open government, the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 2005 started Sunshine Week, a “national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.”

Sunshine Week was actually last week, March 16-22. But this week has provided us with a couple of reminders about how various elected officials could easily improve their efforts to open up to the public.

It’s not exactly breaking news that Riverhead’s all-Republican Town Board meets in caucus from time to time. Precedent supports the legality of such meetings. Supervisor Sean Walter’s allegation that board members are discussing public business during the meetings, however — and the fact that board members are meeting so frequently — is noteworthy, as it appears to fly in the face of state open meetings laws.

RELATED STORY: ‘SUPE TAKES AIM AT CLOSED-DOOR MEETINGS AMONG BOARD MEMBERS

Board members who attend the caucus meetings, as well as the current Riverhead Republican Committee chairman, deny the allegations, describing the meetings as discussions about the political impact of board members’ decisions and not the decisions themselves.

The timing the supervisor picked to bring all of this to light could be considered curious. He’s suffered the loss of a few votes on the public stage recently — likely stemming from discussions during these caucuses — so this could be construed as a political counter-punch. But there’s really no way for the public to know the whole truth unless the all-Republican Town Board stops meeting in caucus. And the only way to accomplish that, it would seem, would be to diversify the party affiliations of Town Board members.

Meanwhile, in the school district, a couple of instances this past week show room for improvement as well.

Superintendent Nancy Carney gave a thorough presentation Tuesday night about a $4 million bond proposal now set to go before voters in May, after which the school board voted to adopt it as a ballot proposition. But the proposal had never been publicly discussed at any previous school board meeting.

Without speaking on the merits of the bond itself, one might think these publicly elected officials — albeit volunteers — would want to inform and seek input from their constituents before setting the stage to borrow $4 million.

And following the presentation, it raises eyebrows to see a unanimous vote on such a costly plan without any discussion whatsoever — between members of the public and the school board or within the school board itself.

RELATED COVERAGE FROM TUESDAY NIGHT’S SCHOOL BOARD MEETING

Another note from Tuesday night: The school board approved a plan to spend $456,000 from the district’s capital reserve fund right after closing a public hearing on the matter. While it’s not uncommon for public boards to adopt more mundane measures immediately following a public hearing, voters deserve more time to weigh in on $456,000 in expenses for a fund they voted to create.

So, in all, the school board may spend about $4.5 million with little public discussion or input from the people being asked to come up with the money.

If taxpayers in the town and school district feel they’re being increasingly marginalized when it comes to big decisions — and their leaders are opting to keep them out of the discussion to avoid headaches, slowdowns or the outright blockage of measures — then the public’s only recourse is to demand change through their votes.

03/14/14 6:00am
03/14/2014 6:00 AM

Seven Republicans, two Conservatives, and a Blank walk into Riverhead Town Hall …

That might sound like the beginning of a bad joke to some, but after the most recent Planning Board appointment, it’s the actual political makeup of Riverhead Town’s planning and zoning boards.

And that’s no joke. (more…)

03/07/14 6:00am
03/07/2014 6:00 AM
(Credit: Jim Colligan, file)

(Credit: Jim Colligan, file)

TOWNS OUT IN FRONT

Over the last six months, a plan to hire federal sharpshooters to thin the white-tailed deer herd across the East End has divided many in our communities — and has unexpectedly united hunters with those who hope to protect the deer.

The letters in this newspaper probably illustrate those divisions better than anything else.  (more…)

02/27/14 8:00am
02/27/2014 8:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Melissa Barrington, 31, of Riverhead broke down into tears as she told her story of becoming homeless in 2012.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Melissa Barrington, 33, of Riverhead broke down into tears as she told her story of becoming homeless in 2012.

Some of the area’s most vulnerable people have been hit harder this winter than any in recent memory — and much harder than the average citizen. While most of us grapple with icy roads, higher-than-average heating bills and the overall nuisance of having to bear nearly five feet of snow, an undetermined number of homeless people wander local streets daily.

(more…)

02/21/14 9:00am
02/21/2014 9:00 AM

McGann-Mercy athletes: Fiona Nunez (left), Paul Annunziata and Kayla Schroeher. (Photos by Garret Meade, Robert O’Rourk)

At several points during a nearly two-hour meeting last week between McGann-Mercy High School administrators and parents of football team members, principal Carl Semmler reiterated that his decisions put the best interests of the students first.

It’s hard to see how.  (more…)

02/13/14 12:00pm
02/13/2014 12:00 PM

It’s a sad state of affairs when someone who admits to causing a death while driving under the influence of drugs is sentenced to just six months in jail.

The 57-year-old victim, Steven Kane, was a Coast Guard Academy graduate, a scientist at Brookhaven National Lab, a brother and son. He was killed doing one of his favorite activities — cycling — on Route 25 in Calverton.

But while Mr. Kane’s family and friends must now live a lifetime without him, the man who hit him while driving under the influence of methadone coming from a county clinic — with four kids in the car, no less — will soon walk free.

Whether it’s a loophole in state laws, a flawed methadone administration program or a failure to gather and present evidence remains a moot point now.

We can only hope that those who are in positions to do so will fix whatever problems exist so Mr. Kane’s death was not in vain.

FLICKR image/courtesy DonkeyHotey

FLICKR image/courtesy DonkeyHotey

02/06/14 12:00pm
02/06/2014 12:00 PM
Annual CPF totals of the five East End towns, year-by-year.

Annual CPF totals of the five East End towns, year-by-year.

One of the last words any taxpayer wants to hear an elected official say is “bankrupt.”

But that’s how Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter describes the town’s Community Preservation Fund. Luckily, the term is not being used literally in this case, though the difference seems to be semantic: The town will be doing nothing besides paying down debt on a loan for another 16 years until it’s paid off.

(more…)