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.

03/27/14 6:00am
03/27/2014 6:00 AM
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…)

03/23/14 8:30am
03/23/2014 8:30 AM

Testing

We’ve heard a lot recently about the “new” SAT, the national standardized test created and marketed by the private, not-for-profit College Board and used by many colleges and universities as the most important part of their admissions process. It is in the news because of the fear it instills in almost every high school student in America: the underlying message is “Blow the SAT and forget about your future.” (more…)

03/22/14 9:00am
03/22/2014 9:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The view from Route 105 bridge at Indian Island golf course as the Peconic River leads into the Bay.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The view from Route 105 bridge at Indian Island golf course as the Peconic River leads into the Bay.

This is the time for action. Recently, I announced the single most important initiative of my administration and what should be the single most important goal for all Long Islanders: curbing decades of nitrogen pollution we have been inflicting on our ground and surface waters here in Suffolk County.  (more…)

03/21/14 11:00am
03/21/2014 11:00 AM
The Reeve Farm’s farmstand on Sound Avenue in Riverhead. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

The Reeve Farm’s farmstand on Sound Avenue in Riverhead. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Imagine a working farm on or near the campus of a college or university, where students of agriculture and natural resources daily apply their growing knowledge of science and technology. Imagine, on this same property, adjoining labs and classrooms where students and professors conduct soil research and engineering tests or study the habits of local insects and wildlife. Perhaps the owners and employees of nearby farms also serve as mentors through student internship programs.

Now imagine such a facility right here in Suffolk County. (more…)