08/27/13 11:20am
08/27/2013 11:20 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Democratic candidates (L-R) Ann Cotten-DeGrasse and Angela Devito.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | (L-R) Ann Cotten-DeGrasse and Angela Devito.

In Monday night’s debate between Democratic supervisor candidates Angela DeVito and Ann Cotten-DeGrasse, both candidates criticized the incumbent Republican administration of Sean Walter while touching on major issues facing the town.

They also, at times, took issue with each other.

The debate, entitled “Riverhead at the Crossroads,” was sponsored by local media outlets Riverhead News-Review and RiverheadLOCAL.com and held at the Suffolk Theater.

Ms. DeVito, the Riverhead Democratic Committee nominee, is being challenged by Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse. Both are retired and both have served as Riverhead school board presidents, a position Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse currently holds.

RELATED: See the entire video of Monday night’s debate

The winner of the Sept. 10 primary will take on incumbent Republican Supervisor Sean Walter in the Nov. 5 general election.

Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse is a former Riverhead High School teacher and union president who said she has made a difference in the lives of many of the students she taught and hopes to do the same as supervisor.

“Do we want to continue with the two-party system or do we want to break from that?” she asked.

“Town government isn’t working,” said Ms. DeVito, who worked for the Long Island Building Trades Council and is a former civic association president in Jamesport.

She said there is too much bickering and cronyism in town government.

“We need a candidate who can defeat Sean Walter and I am that person,” she told the crowd of more than 200 people downtown.

Among the issues the two differed on, Ms. DeVito said she would support using eminent domain to acquire empty downtown buildings through condemnation.

“We’ve waited long enough” for buildings owned by Riverhead Enterprise to be developed or sold, she said.

Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said she might have supported eminent domain in the past, but doesn’t think the town can afford it now.

In eminent domain, the town must convince a court it needs property for a public purpose, and the courts, if it agrees, would determine the sales price later.

The two also disagreed on the role of the town’s Industrial Development Agency, which grants tax breaks to businesses to help lure them to town.

Ms. DeVito, who served on that board a few years ago, thinks the IDA is necessary, but believes the current board has made some bad decisions.

Ms. Cotten-Degrasse said the IDA “has never seen a proposal they don’t love.” She said she is not opposed to tax abatements, but is opposed to giving them to companies that would have come here anyway.

Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said the IDA gave a 10-year, 100-percent property tax abatement to Atlantis aquarium and the Hyatt hotel when Ms DeVito was on the board. Ms. DeVito said she voted against that abatement, though later voted for a measure that allowed the building plan to move forward.

Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said the town needs to prioritize its spending, because it needs expensive items like sewer and infrastructure improvements in downtown and the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

Ms. DeVito said Riverhead needs to partner with Southampton Town to clean up blight in neighboring Riverside.

“As long as that side of the river remains blighted, we’re going to continue to have quality of life issues in downtown Riverhead,” she said.

“We must raise revenue,” Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse responded. “We are fighting a deficit.”

She said the town needs to closely audit its operation and “look at cutting staff,” she said, adding that Republican Supervisor Sean Walter “is not supervising.”

Ms. DeVito suggested using temporary workers in some town positions to save money and trying to get the state and county to share some of the sales tax revenue generated in Riverhead.

Mr. Cotten-DeGrasse then countered she didn’t favor hiring “part-time workers,” to which Ms. DeVito said she never mentioned part-timers, only temporary workers.

On developing EPCAL, Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said she envisions the former Grumman plant property becoming a “Silicon Valley” of Suffolk County, adding she would form a committee of people with real estate or development backgrounds to help bring development to EPCAL.

Ms. DeVito warned the town must be wary of speculators buying key pieces of the subdivided EPCAL property in order to hike up the price of the those parcels when developments nearby need them. She also feels that the town should work with scientists at Brookhaven National Lab and Stony Brook University to bring scientific research to EPCAL.

Both were asked about the school board’s long-alleged conducting of business in closed, executive sessions that should be public.

Ms. Cotten-Degrasse denied this claim, saying school board members get a packet containing background information on matter that will come to vote several days before a meeting, and do not discuss public business behind closed doors.

Ms. DeVito disagreed, saying the public’s business is being conducted behind closed doors, and it was when she was on the school board, too.

Both candidates said they would sign pledges promising to uphold the state’s open meeting laws.

The event raised $1,045 for the Brendan House, a Sound Avenue facility that will provide 24-hour care for people people withe brain injuries.

tgannon@timesreview.com

Monday night’s debate also featured Republican council candidates Anthony Coates, John Dunleavy and Jodi Giglio.

08/27/13 9:00am
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Town Board candidate Anthony Coates, from left, and Town board members John Dunleavy and Jodi Giglio address the moderators at Monday's debate at the Suffolk Theater.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Town Board candidate Anthony Coates, from left, and Town board members John Dunleavy and Jodi Giglio address the moderators at Monday’s debate at the Suffolk Theater.

The first of two town political debates sponsored by local media took place at the historic Suffolk Theater Monday night.

Monday’s first debate featured Democratic supervisor candidates Ann Cotten-DeGrasse and Angela DeVito, followed by Republican town council candidates Anthony Coates, John Dunleavy and Jodi Giglio.

The debates were moderated by News-Review executive editor Grant Parpan, RiverheadLOCAL editor and publisher Denise Civiletti and News-Review editor Michael White.

The Democratic candidates debated first, for about 45 minutes, followed by the Republican candidates.

The debate can be rewatched at the link below. The Democrats start at the 7-minute mark; Republicans begin one hour, 20 minutes in.

08/23/13 8:00am
Joe Ogeka retires from Riverhead

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Joe Ogeka talks to Riverhead school officials on election night.

Recently retired Riverhead School District administrator Joe Ogeka will be paid his full salary throughout the coming school year as he assists the district with “transition and restructuring,” according to an agreement between Mr. Ogeka and the district.

The agreement was unanimously approved by the school board and signed by board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse on June 25. It was obtained by the News-Review through a Freedom of Information Law request. [Scroll down to view Mr. Ogeka’s agreement]

Superintendent Nancy Carney said the plan to have Mr. Ogeka, who served as assistant superintendent for personnel and community services, stay with the district to assist with administrative transitions, came as a “clause in his original contract,” which was approved June 26, 2012, and was set to expire June 30, 2015. Mr. Ogeka retired this past June after working in the district for about 30 years. His total annual salary, listed on SeeThroughNY.net is $173,041.

“There’s a clause,” Ms. Carney explained. “We had to give him his 12 months and he does get his salary. We have to fulfill the contract.”

When reached for comment Tuesday, Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said she believed Mr. Ogeka’s unused sick time was being used to make up his salary.

When told by a reporter that the agreement states Mr. Ogeka is entitled to his accrued sick and vacation time in addition to his full salary for the 2013-14 school years, Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said, “I don’t know exactly how it was worded, but I thought that the sick time made up the salary. That was my understanding.”

She also said she didn’t know the details of what Mr. Ogeka’s day-to-day duties would be in the district.

“That’s really not our purview,” she said. “It’s Nancy Carney’s, because she is in charge of making the district office run. We don’t micromanage that. I can’t comment on what he’s going to be doing.”

Later Tuesday, Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse left the News-Review a voicemail message in which she said she had since spoken with Ms. Carney and she wanted to make it clear that if she had given the impression that she didn’t know Mr. Ogeka was to receive a year’s salary, then she had “misrepresented” the matter.

“I knew he was getting the year’s salary, but I thought that it was coming from unused sick days,” Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said. “In reality, it was a clause in his contract that said if he was going to be replaced or … excessed, he got 12 months notice.

“He’s been talking about retiring for a couple of years,” she said.

Ms. Carney described the 12-month agreement as a retirement incentive that was included in Mr. Ogeka’s original contract that would go into effect should the district choose not to fill his position. The 12 months pay was also referred to as an incentive in the agreement.

She added Mr. Ogeka’s salary was budgeted for the 2013-14 school year. Since the district hasn’t filled the position, she said, his salary isn’t costing the district any additional money.

Asked why Mr. Ogeka and the district had parted ways, Ms. Carney said he had “talked about wanting to retire and the district is looking to go in a new direction … It was mutually agreeable for both parties. We’re going in a different direction and, during that time, he’s completely available to us for anything we need.”

The agreement also includes clauses that would preclude Mr. Ogeka from filing any claims against the district.

Mr. Ogeka’s agreement, June 25, 2013

08/18/13 10:00am
08/18/2013 10:00 AM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | A new 16,700-square-foot building on this site off Miller Way in Calverton will be home to Allied Building Products’ first East End site.

As Riverhead Town residents, our property taxes pay for the services we receive, such as town water and sewage systems, schools, police, sanitation collection, recreation and road maintenance. Our personal property taxes are supplemented by taxes collected from businesses within the town. Having a strong economic base is a necessity; therefore, new businesses should be encouraged to come to Riverhead.

The original purpose of the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency was to promote, develop, encourage and assist in acquiring, developing and equipping various business facilities, thereby advancing job opportunities and resulting in an increase in the general prosperity and economic welfare of the people of the town. The IDA has the power to abate property, sales and mortgage tax. Under federal tax law, IDAs can issue tax-exempt bonds to cover manufacturing facilities, governmental projects, nonprofit projects (a YMCA or civic facility) and exempt facilities (airports, solid waste facilities). The creation of new, well-paying jobs was expected to be a direct result of this exchange.

Adchem Corp. is one of Riverhead’s success stories. The company’s IDA process worked according to criteria that had to be met in order to be eligible to apply for tax exemptions. These included local and regional economic conditions, the creation of new jobs, the type of industrial or commercial activity, the benefit afforded to residents and the project location. After the company’s abatement period was over, substantial local jobs were created and they continue to make a significant contribution to our tax base.

I have been attending IDA meetings for almost a year. I can truthfully say that many of the projects approved met very few of these criteria. Two new businesses come to mind. In June 2013, Theriac Enterprises was granted tax abatements for the renovation of the old PC Richard & Sons building on Route 58. This company has offices in 28 states and seven foreign countries. It is well-established and its 21st Century Oncology facility will compete with a local business, North Fork Radiology, right around the corner on Roanoke Avenue. Theriac plans to occupy a third of the new building and rent out the remaining two-thirds. What criteria they met to be granted their abatement is unknown. This is outrageous!

Then, last week, Allied Building Products was granted IDA tax abatements. The public commentary was unclear but it seemed the Riverhead IDA was under the impression that, if not granted, the company would locate in Westhampton, where it was being offered Suffolk County IDA abatements. However, David Doran of Allied Business Products later admitted the company had not filed with the Suffolk County IDA at all. Again, Allied Building Products has over 180 locations and employs 3,100 people. It is well-established. Why does it need tax abatements from us to expand the business?

Has the current IDA board ever seen a proposal it didn’t like? Are we granting every application in order to create a salary base for an employee? Over the past year I have been attending IDA meetings; this board did not deny a single application, with board members often failing to ask pertinent questions along the way.

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has continuously been critical of IDA practice statewide. You can access actual NYS IDA audits online and read how few real jobs have been created for the large tax breaks received. Mr. DiNapoli is currently sponsoring legislation that would provide taxpayers with the ability to evaluate if the IDAs are deriving the promised economic benefits, as they state. In cases where criteria are not met and jobs are not forthcoming, benefits can be “clawed-back.”

There are many fine regional examples of IDAs that share, and are proud of, their ability to grow their town’s economic base. If one were to access the Town of Islip, there is a transparent website explaining their projects, current and past, at islipida.com. They celebrate and share their success stories openly; financial reports and projects are there for all to see. In Islip Town, IDA board members and Town Board members are one and the same. They are directly responsible to the taxpayers.

Contrast theirs with ours at www.riverheadida.org and click on the “Projects” tab. There is nothing there. Information is unknown. There is no transparency for the taxpayer. This has become another runaway train.

Here’s the bottom line: Businesses that come to town immediately create the need for the additional services listed in my opening paragraph. Since the business’ taxes are abated, the burden of providing those services fall on the taxpayer. It’s time to re-evaluate the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency and send the responsibilities of the Riverhead IDA back to the Town Board.

Ann Cotten-DeGrasse is a Riverhead resident and current president of the Riverhead school board. She is running a Democratic primary for town supervisor.

08/12/13 12:20pm
08/12/2013 12:20 PM
NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTOS | Ann Cotten-DeGrasse and Angela DeVito

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTOS | Ann Cotten-DeGrasse and Angela DeVito

There will be a Democratic primary for Riverhead Town supervisor between party designee Angela DeVito and challenger Ann Cotten-DeGrasse.

The Suffolk County Board of Elections on Friday failed to have unanimous support between its two commissioners for the challenge to Ms. DeGrasse’s nominating petitions and because of this, the petition is deemed valid.

Suffolk County Democratic Commissioner Anita Katz supported the challenge, while Republican Commissioner Wayne Rogers did not. In order for a challenge to be valid, both commissioners must agree.

Ms. DeGrasse’s petitions were challenged by three registered Democrats in town, largely on the issue of her address, which she listed as 8 Legend Lane in Jamesport. The town several years ago changed her house number to 37 for the e-911 emergency system, and people in Jamesport who get mail delivered to their houses get mail from the Riverhead Post Office, not the Jamesport one, so challengers stated her address should have been listed as Riverhead, not Jamesport.

Michael Panchak

Michael Panchak

Meanwhile, Michael Panchak, who was the Republican party nominee for highway superintendent, is officially off the ballot on that line, according to county officials.

He did not challenge a court ruling bumping him from the ballot within the allotted three days, officials said.

Mr. Panchak is a registered “blank,” meaning he has no political party affiliation, and as such, he needed a certificate of authorization from the county Republican leadership in order to appear on the Republican ballot, and he did not have their certificate.

Mr. Panchak will still appear on the Conservation line, and said he plans to run an active campaign.

tgannon@timesreview.com

08/01/13 8:00am
08/01/2013 8:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Town supervisor hopeful Ann Cotten-Degrasse at a Riverhead Board of Education meeting in May.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Town supervisor hopeful Ann Cotten-Degrasse at a Riverhead Board of Education meeting in May.

Looking at the July campaign finance disclosure report filed by town supervisor hopeful Ann Cotten-DeGrasse, we couldn’t help but feel a little uneasy.

You all know Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse as a retired Riverhead teacher, former union president and current president of the Riverhead Board of Education. And even if you didn’t know her in those roles, you would probably get a sense of her involvement with education from seeing who’s donated to her town campaign. The list is a who’s who of school officials: the teachers union, its recent past president and even the current superintendent have all supported Ms. Cotten-Degrasse’s candidacy.

To be clear, nobody has broken any laws. It’s just a little awkward to see these donations, especially since a town supervisor can do very little, if anything at all, to help advance local education issues. If she were anyone other than president of the school board, what benefit could school officials expect to receive from helping elect her town supervisor?

Sure, educators are free to donate to whatever political cause they see fit, just as any other individuals are, but we’re not sure it’s a great reflection on Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse to accept their donations. Consider whether it’s appropriate for a volunteer school board member to accept a donation from district employees, who serve at her pleasure, to run for a political office that has nothing to do with education. Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse has even used the union’s office on Roanoke Avenue for campaign meeting purposes.

It’s all bit icky.

It’s also a little curious that the teachers union would donate money and offer in-kind support in a town election, considering that many of its members might not agree with their dues being designated for such a cause. It’s hard to imagine the actions of a town supervisor having positive effects on the professional lives of most Riverhead teachers.

We recognize that many local political contributions are probably intended to curry favor, but we’d like to think our school board members would keep their friends in education at a distance when seeking town office.

07/31/13 12:00pm
07/31/2013 12:00 PM

The Riverhead News-Review and RiverheadLOCAL.com are partnering with the Suffolk Theater to host a pair of Riverhead Town debates this election season.

The first event will be held Monday, Aug. 26, in advance of the Sept. 10 Republican primary for town council and the Democratic primary for town supervisor. All five candidates vying for the two posts have accepted an invitation to participate in the debate. The second debate will be held Thursday, Oct. 24, before the Nov. 5 general election.

“We’re very excited to be working together to bring these debates to the public,” said Times/Review Newsgroup executive editor Grant Parpan. “Given the current political climate in this town, there’s no doubt these events will be good shows worthy of the theater’s grand stage.”

Both debates will be moderated by Mr. Parpan, RiverheadLOCAL editor and publisher Denise Civiletti and News-Review editor Michael White.

“Riverhead is at a crossroads,” Ms. Civiletti said. “The next town board will be making crucial decisions that will affect our future for generations to come. Voters need to know where the candidates stand on important local issues.”

The Aug. 26 debate will feature Democratic supervisor candidates Ann Cotten-DeGrasse and Angela Devito, followed by Republican town council candidates Anthony Coates, John Dunleavy and Jodi Giglio,

All questions for the debates will be written in advance by the three moderators and the candidates will be given time to make closing statements. Readers can submit questions in advance to denise@riverheadlocal.com or mwhite@timesreview.com.

The events are scheduled for 7 p.m. and the theater will offer beverage service before and after the debates. The bar will open at 5 p.m.

Admission to the debates will be $5; all proceeds will be donated to a local charity.

07/24/13 12:48pm
07/24/2013 12:48 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Town supervisor hopeful Ann Cotten-Degrasse at a Riverhead Board of Education meeting in May.

Three challenges have been filed to the nominating petitions of Ann Cotten-DeGrasse, who is opposing party nominee Angela DeVito for the Riverhead Democratic party’s supervisor nomination in a Sept. 10 primary.

Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse filed petitions with 429 signatures, and said she received a package in the mail on Tuesday notifying her that one person had challenged 186 of those signatures for various reasons, while two other people challenged all of her petitions on a residency issue.

The Board of Elections will rule on the challenges in the coming weeks, said Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse, who added that she has to respond to the challenges by Thursday.

“It appears to me that I am being denied my right to run for election by petty actions which restrict, if not confound, the Democratic process,” Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said. “Why does my opponent fear a primary election, which would allow the registered Democratic voters to decide on their candidate?”

One of the objections was filed by Keisha Washington Dean,  a member of the Demcoratic committee working on Ms. DeVito’s campaign.

Ms. DeVito said she did not initiate the challenges to her opponent’s petitions, but she supports people’s rights to do so.

“I think that just the same as every individual has the right to carry petitions for a candidate, citizens retain the right to file objections to those petitions,” Ms. DeVito said Wednesday.

She said Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse should have been aware of the rules.

“Whoever’s giving her advice is giving her advice that’s not correct,” she said.

Ms. Cotten DeGrasse listed her address as 8 Legend Lane in Jamesport, an address she’s used for 30 years.

But she said the town changed her house address to 37 Legend Lane for the e911 program several years ago, and since she has a mailbox, her mailing address is from the Riverhead 11901 zip code, rather than the Jamesport 11947 zip code.

That’s because Jamesport doesn’t do mail delivery to mailboxes, and only has post office boxes. People in Jamesport who get their mail delivered to a mail box, such as Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse, get their mail from the Riverhead Post Office.

She said she uses the 37 Legend Lane address on bills and credit cards because it became a problem with deliveries, but she never thought to change the address on her voter registration.

Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said it’s ironic that the package from the Board of Elections was mailed to her home and got there with no problem.

She said hers is the only home on Legend Lane with a mailbox.

tgannon@timesreview.com