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.

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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 [email protected] or [email protected].

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.

[email protected]

06/25/13 10:30pm
06/25/2013 10:30 PM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Riverhead School Board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse hands a plaque to assistant superintendent Joe Ogeka at Tuesday night’s meeting. Ogeka is retiring after 30 years in the district.

The Riverhead School Board approved a resolution Tuesday night encouraging state and federal regulators to cut back on the “overreliance” of standardized testing.

“The growing reliance on and misalignment of standardized testing is eroding student learning time, narrowing the curriculum, and jeopardizing the rich, meaningful education our students need and deserve,” the resolution approved Tuesday states.

The resolution calls on the state education commissioner and the Board of Regents to reduce its reliance on such tests. It also calls on Congress and the president to do likewise. Research recommends, according to the resolution, the use of multiple measures to gauge student performance and teacher effectiveness. The state’s growing reliance on standardized testing adversely affects students, lowers morale among teachers and drains district resources, the resolution says.

Last year, more than 1,000 college professors from throughout the state signed a petition urging the same message. Riverhead school board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse said numerous other school boards have done the same.

“The amount of time taken away from instruction is exorbitant,” she said.

Reserve funds approved

The board on Tuesday authorized transferring “excess fund balance” from the current budget to several existing reserve funds to guard against unexpected shortfalls.

The amounts approved were $50,000 for the retirement contribution reserve fund; $50,000 for the workers compensation reserve; $910,000 for the employee benefit accrued liability reserve; $632,237 for the repair reserve; and $3.5 million for the transportation and athletic fields capital reserve.

Sam Schneider, the assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations, said the resolutions merely authorizes the transfer of up to those amounts if needed. He said it won’t be known how much actually needs to be transferred into each account until the books are closed at the end of the school year, June 30.

Resident Laurie Downs said that when added up, “that’s an awful lot of money that was left over from” this school year’s budget.

Falisi thanked

Outgoing school board member Jeff Falisi was given a plaque thanking him for his three years of service on the board Tuesday. Mr. Falisi was defeated in his bid for reelection, and his spot on the board will be taken by Chris Dorr. Board members also accepted the retirement of assistant superintendent Joe Ogeka and approved several administrative moves.

Irrigation donation

The East End Football Club, also known as Riverhead Soccer, will pay for the installation of irrigation on the athletic field at the Riley Avenue Elementary School School in an agreement that would give them preference for use of the field over any other outside organization that seeks to reserve the field.

District use of the field will still have priority over Riverhead Soccer.

The school board approved that agreement Tuesday night.

Cut teachers return

The board on Tuesday approved the probationary return of four teachers whose positions had been eliminated in the budget for the 2013-14 school year. The openings were made possible by the high number of retirements among district teachers this year, officials said.

The four returning teachers are Maureen Hollett, Amanda Jester, Jutta Mariotti and Timothy McCready.

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05/24/13 3:29pm
05/24/2013 3:29 PM
NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTOS | Ann Cotten-DeGrasse and Angela DeVito

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

After being passed over by the Riverhead Democratic Committee in her bid for a supervisor nomination Thursday night, Riverhead school board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse said she will be running a primary against nominee Angela DeVito.

And she likes her chances.

Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse, a former Riverhead School District teacher and union leader, is also the founder and a past president of the North Fork Breast Health Coalition advocacy group.

“I’ve met a whole lot of people [in Riverhead], many of whom I’ve taught in the school district, so I’ve got a pretty good base,” she said. “Between that and the breast cancer coalition, I’m not too worried about how I’m going to fare in this primary.”

She was also the leading vote-getter in her re-election to the Riverhead school board in 2011, with 1,960 votes.

Reached Friday, Ms. DeVito said she didn’t think a primary would be too much of a distraction in the run-up to Election Day.

“I don’t think it’s going to put me off course in focusing on the target, which is Nov. 5,” she said. “I look at it as an opportunity for the people of Riverhead to vote for me twice.

“I respect Ann Cotten-DeGrasse greatly, she is right when she says she’s made a contribution to our community,” Ms. DeVito continued. “I, too, have made an equal contribution. I had hoped that last evening, when she saw the tremendous support I got from within the committee, she would have re-thought it.

“If the vote last night would have been close, then pursuing a primary would have made more sense.”

Ms. DeVito is a member and former president of the Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association and is retired from her position as director of workforce development with the Long Island Building Trades Council.

She served on the Riverhead school board from 2006 to 2011 and was board president in the 2009-10 school year.

She announced she would step down from the school board in 2011, a year before her term was set to end, during a public debate with Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse during a meeting.

On Friday, Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said she had fully committed to run a primary before Thursday night’s convention.

“I didn’t go to the convention last night with the idea that I was going to overturn the screening committee’s recommendation [in Ms. Devito],” she said.

Ms. Cotten DeGrasse got only about 10 percent of the committee’s support for the nomination.

Between the two women, Ms. DeVito was the first to announce publicly she would run for supervisor, something Ms. DeGrasse said might have hurt her chances.

“I came late to the dance,” Ms. Cotten DeGrasse said. “I had really been thinking about this for about a year.”

She had been going back and forth on whether to run for supervisor, she said, when she was approached from people within the committee to run and finally decided to do so.

As for Ms. DeVito, she, too, had said she would not rule out running a primary if she didn’t get the nomination Thursday night.

But, she said, an overwhelming defeat at the convention might have changed her mind.

“It does create a distraction,” she said. “It weakens the party’s chances, but it is her right to do that, and I respect the process.” 

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