05/10/13 6:15pm
05/10/2013 6:15 PM
JOHN FINNEGAN COURTESY PHOTO | A proposed Riverfront zip line in downtown Riverhead is receiving backlash from the business community.

JOHN FINNEGAN COURTESY PHOTO | A proposed Riverfront zip line in downtown Riverhead is receiving backlash from the business community.

A Westchester man with hopes of bringing a 900-foot-long zip line to the Peconic waterfront in downtown Riverhead plans to address the Town Board at its work session Thursday. He aims to prove that his proposed ride is the type of attraction that will help bring foot traffic to downtown businesses.

But those same business owners he says he hopes to help say they’ll be right there waiting for him Thursday morning, prepared to argue that a downtown Riverhead zip line is something they don’t want.

“I don’t think for a minute you could ride a zip line with boats and fishermen underneath,” said downtown Riverhead Business Improvement District president Ray Pickersgill. “What are they going to do, close off the waterfront?”

Urban Jungle Zip Lines principal John Finnegan says he’s been in talks with Councilman George Gabrielsen for more than a year about his plans to erect a 70-foot tower with a zip line carrying riders over the river to a slightly shorter tower 900 feet away. The draft proposal suggests constructing the towers in the downtown parking lot that runs south of East Main Street.

Mr. Finnegan, who according to state records formed his company just six months ago, said he agreed to pay the town roughly $40,000 this year for use of its land during a meeting between himself, Mr. Gabrielsen and other town employees earlier this week. That payment would increase anywhere from 10 or 15 percent if the town decided to extend the lease next year, Mr. Gabrielsen said.

The Riverhead location, which was first reported earlier this week by riverheadlocal.com, would be the first zip line venture for Mr. Finnegan, who has previously worked as a salesman for a sports publication. The site is one of three currently being considered by Urban Jungle, the North Salem resident said. He’s been in discussions with officials in Westchester to build a ride there and has named Bryant Park in New York City as a possible site.

He said Friday he’s closest to bringing a zip line to Riverhead, where he hopes to open the ride June 28, though he has yet to file a formal application with the town. The zip line would run seven days, from noon to 10 p.m. during the peak summer months, April through October, he said.

A business plan Mr. Finnegan posted online shows that he has been seeking investors to cover 80 percent of the shares in his business, amounting to $500,000. In order for the company to break even on its investment, his business plan states that it would need to attract more than 100 riders per day, per year. The plan states that customers would pay $20 to ride the zip line and would have the option to purchase a photo for an additional $20.

Though his plan suggests advertisements would be papered on the towers, he said advertisements are not being considered at the Riverhead site.

Mr. Gabrielsen, a proponent of the project, estimates the zip line could attract more than 100 riders each weekday and up to 200 riders during weekend days.

“It’s a great idea, it’s a family event,” Mr. Gabrielsen said. “We need foot traffic and this will help facilitate that.”

But Mr. Pickersgill, who owns Robert James Salon & Spa on Main Street, said he believes construction would severely impact parking in the downtown area.

He and other business owners fear customers will be deterred from shopping locally if inconvenienced by insufficient parking, he said.

“Riverhead doesn’t need a zip line,” Mr. Pickersgill said. “It needs a parking garage.”

Further complicating the matter, the Riverhead Parking District shares ownership of the proposed site with the town.

“We pay special taxes to have rights over that property,” Mr. Pickersgill said. “We will take [the town] to court if need be.”

He said he and other business owners plan to protest the proposal when it’s brought up at Thursday’s work session.

But Mr. Finnegan, who spent his childhood summering in Jamesport, said he believes Riverhead is an ideal location for the project because of the downtown’s recent revitalization.

“I think we can help each other,” said Mr. Finnegan, who estimates the business will add 20 to 25 seasonal jobs to the local economy. “Without a question this is realistic. The town already does a great job of bringing in people to the waterfront and when word gets out about us, we will bring in more tourism.”

Thursday’s work session is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at Riverhead Town Hall. Before construction on the zip line can begin, the site plan needs to be approved by both the Town Board and the New York State Department of Labor, Mr. Gabrielsen said.

cmurray@timesreview.com

04/04/13 7:30am
04/04/2013 7:30 AM
NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Hall on Howell Avenue.

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Hall on Howell Avenue.

The Riverhead Town Board is meeting in a closed-door executive session today to interview candidates seeking to fill the vacant Town Board coordinator position, officials said.

And apparently, there is a lot of people seeking the job.

“We’re interviewing at least 10 applicants on Thursday and I’m hoping we can come up with a person this week and we can appoint someone next week,” said Councilman George Gabrielsen.

The board is hoping to hire a Riverhead Town resident for the job, Mr. Gabrielsen said.

He declined to give any names of people seeking the job.

The board has gone through three Town Board coordinators in the past three years, and the latest, Tracey Densieski, resigned as March 29 because a side-business she has selling a product called Qivana had taken off. She wanted to devote more time to that business.

Ms. Densieski was hired in December, shortly after the Town Board fired her predecessor, Linda Hulse, in a heated 3-2 vote in which Supervisor Sean Walter backed Ms. Hulse and complained that the firing came without any board discussion.

Ms. Hulse got the job in 2011 when her predecessor, Donna Zlatniski, left after she had a baby, and she later filed a $1 million lawsuit claiming she was coerced to resign after being accused of doing political work for Councilman Jim Wooten, which she and Mr. Wooten have denied.

The board’s regularly scheduled public Thursday work session has been cancelled.

tgannon@timesreview.com

03/15/13 1:54pm
03/15/2013 1:54 PM

COUNCILMAN GEORGE GABRIELSEN

Thrown another name in the hat.

Riverhead Councilman George Gabrielsen says he’s interested in running to fill the North Fork’s State Assembly seat vacant since former Assemblyman Dan Losquadro was elected Brookhaven highway superintendent earlier this month.

“At this time, I’m still up in the air, but I’m definitely interested in it,” Mr. Gabrielsen said in an interview Friday. “I haven’t officially put my name in to be screened, but I put it out there to party officials that I definitely have an interest in it. I’m moving in that direction.”

Mr. Gabrielsen, a Republican who owns a farm in Jamesport, was first elected to the Town Board in 2009 to fill the remainder of the term of former Councilman Tim Buckley, who resigned.

While the commute to Albany has discouraged some people from running for state office, Mr. Gabrielsen said he’ll familiar with that trip, since he owns a farm in upstate Summit, west of Albany.

“And my wife is actually from Albany,” he said. “What gives me a good advantage is that, in having a farm up there, I think I have a lot in common with some of the legislators from that area. I know some of them already and I would have kind of a heads up in negotiating with them.”

Mr. Gabrielsen believes the East End’s biggest issue is preserving open space and farmers are the key to that goal.

“We’ve really got to look for legislation to protect farmland,” he said. “Farmers been good guardians of the land. I think I have the background to truly represent the East End.”

The decision on whether to hold a special election to fill the seat or leave to the November general election rests with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has yet to indicate his preference.

The Assembly district covers Southold, Riverhead, Shelter Island and northeastern Brookhaven.

02/04/13 9:00am
02/04/2013 9:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The ballfields at EPCAL will be named after two soldiers who died in Afghanistan, Jonathan Keller and Anthony Venetz Jr., both of Wading River.

A pair of new ballfields at the Enterprise Park at Calverton will be named in honor of two highly decorated Wading River soldiers who gave their lives defending their country.

The Riverhead Town Board is planning to name one of the two fields at the new park after U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Anthony Venetz Jr, and the other field after U.S. Army Sergeant Jonathan Keller.

The Town Board in December voted to name the entire park complex being built at EPCAL as “Veterans Memorial Park,” citing the fact that the property was owned by the U.S. Navy for many years and the Grumman Corporation built and tested fighter jets there.

In addition, the individual fields at the park also will be named after individual veterans from the area.

“We have four fields there and we’re going to name them all after veterans,” Councilman George Gabrielsen said.

The long-planned park is expected to finally open in April, he said. It had been delayed for many years by requirements from both the county health department and the state transportation department, officials said.

The Town Board plans to vote on resolutions naming the two fields after SFC Venetz and Sgt. Keller at its meeting Tuesday, and has yet to decide on names for the two other fields.

“That’s so nice,” SFC Venetz’s mother, Marion Venetz, said of the town’s plans. “I’m just honored they decided to do that. What a nice tribute to my son. I think it’s a very nice way to honor the veterans.”

“We are honored that the Riverhead Town Board and the community would recognize and pay tribute to our fallen sons,” said Martin Keller, Sgt. Keller’s father. “We hope everyone enjoys this Memorial Park and its facilities as it brings the community together.”

The first two soldiers being honored by the town grew up on the same block in Wading River, where they were one grade apart in school. Both died of injuries suffered while serving in Afghanistan, and they both died on nearly the same day, two years apart.

Sgt. Keller, a 1998 graduate of Shoreham-Wading River high school, had first served in the U.S. Navy during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and then joined the New York State Army National Guard Reserve’s “Fighting 69th” in 2004.

In late 2007, he was called to serve in Afghanistan and was assigned to the 172nd Airborne in Kabul in early 2008. It was there, while engaged in battle with Taliban forces, that he sustained critical gunshot wounds that led to his death on Jan. 24, 2009.

He received a Purple Heart, an Army Commendation Medal and the Army’s Meritorious Medal.

SFC Venetz is a 1999 graduate of Shoreham-Wading River high school and joined the Army in 2001. He became a special forces engineer sergeant and served twice in Iraq and later in Afghanistan. He died from injuries sustained while on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan on Jan 28, 2011.

He was given two Bronze Star Medals, including one with valor, two Purple Heart awards and four Army Commendation Medals, two of which were for valor.

tgannon@timesreview.com

12/27/12 8:00am
12/27/2012 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead councilwoman Jodi Giglio, right, and Supervisor Sean Walter, center, didn’t always agree in 2012.

There were some public apologies made in 2012 after disputes within the all-Republican Riverhead Town Board.

After a simmering feud between Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio boiled over in June with a Walter tirade in Town Hall, it was the supervisor who apologized during a Town Board meeting days later for “being out of line” for screaming and cursing at Ms. Giglio. According to several accounts, Mr. Walter lost his temper with the councilwoman while suspecting her of working behind his back to get his friend and adviser, Anthony Coates, banned from town cars and Town Hall.

Ms. Giglio called the public apology “nice,” but never said she accepted it. She later filed a harassment complaint against Mr. Walter with town police, though she reportedly asked for no charges to be filed and requested the report “for documentation purposes.”

Things quieted down for awhile — at least publicly — until three council members, Ms. Giglio, James Wooten and George Gabrielsen, pulled a controversial resolution off the floor, meaning it wasn’t on the agenda, at a Nov. 7 Town Board meeting.

The resolution called for the sudden firing of Town Board coordinator Linda Hulse, whom Ms. Giglio said lost some councilmembers’ trust.

“This is an evil act right here,” Mr. Walter said of the measure, lamenting the fact that Ms. Hulse was never told ahead of time.

“How many other employees are you planning to fire this way?“

Mr. Walter tried to stall the vote and sway some minds as the board argued publicly for over an hour, but to no avail. The move passed 3-2.

Mr. Dunleavy, who voted against the firing, said he was never informed of the plan and said Mr. Hulse should have been told, too.

“This is a coward’s position to let them go without talking to them,” he said.

Mr. Dunleavy then accused Mr. Wooten of being “rude” ever since he got elected. “That’s not true,” Mr. Wooten responded.

At the start of the next week’s more cordial Town Board work session, a regretful Mr. Wooten apologized for the way the firing was handled.

“I was reminded last night it was very unprofessional,” he said, choking up a bit. “It wasn’t businesslike, and for that, I’m sorry.”

Ms. Giglio and Mr. Gabrielsen offered no apologies.

At an event in Jamesport that same night, where Mr. Coates announced plans to run for Town Board in 2013, Mr. Walter said “Giglio is toast.”

mwhite@timesreview.com

12/07/12 9:26pm
12/07/2012 9:26 PM
TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Supevisor Sean Walter (left) and Councilman George Gabrielsen during a recent Town Board meeting.

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Supevisor Sean Walter (left) and Councilman George Gabrielsen during a recent Town Board meeting.

So Riverhead Councilmen Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy have already said they’d be interested in running for supervisor if incumbent Sean Walter gets elected to the county SLegislature on Jan. 15.

And Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said she isn’t interested in running for supervisor — unless she was asked to.

But what about Councilman George Gabrielsen?

He’s not ruling it out either.

He said in an interview that if he doesn’t feel the right person is running, he would seek the position himself.

“The biggest thing facing the town right now is that the supervisor has to be someone who is fiscally conservative,” Mr. Gabrielsen said. “Because by the year 2015 or 2016, we’re going to be out of reserve funds.”

Mr. Gabrielsen said he thinks Mr. Walter is fiscally conservative and has the town on the right path financially, having shrunk the size of government and concentrated on getting the Enterprise Park at Calverton (EPCAL) redeveloped.

But if Mr. Walter wins the Legislature seat, the town needs someone to follow the same path, Mr. Gabrielsen said.

“The EPCAL subdivision must be finished, and we may have to downsize government,” he said.

Mr. Gabrielsen said he is very busy right now, with the town position, his farm, and land he owns upstate.

“I’m working 10-12 hours a day,” he said. “But there comes a point where you see where the town is going, and if I feel that person (running for supervisor) wasn’t going to get the job done, then you have to sacrifice your lifestyle to save the Republic, so to speak.”

The councilman said the town supervisor must come from a business background.

“I know I could do it, it’s just the commitment needed at this point in my life,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll find that candidate.”

Town assessor and outspoken opponent of the county’s homeless sex offender trailer parked outside the Suffolk County jail said Thursday night he wouldn’t rule out a run either — given the right circumstances.

He said many people have brought it up to him.

“But right now, Sean hasn’t even won,” Mr. Haas said. “So it’s really too early.”

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio also left open a possibility that she might run for supervisor if Mr. Walter is elected to the county seat.

“I have no intentions of running for supervisor at all, but if the party came to me and say we want you to run, then I might consider it,” she said in an interview.

“But as of now, I have no intentions of running. I love my job as councilwoman and I love my private sector work.”

Ms. Giglio had sought to be the Republican party’s candidate for town supervisor in 2009, when it appeared she and Mr. Walter might be headed for a primary.  But in a last minute agrement at the Republican committee’s nominating convention, she agreed to run for council, while letting Mr. Walter run for for supervisor.

The current all-Republican board has had a number of public disagreements since then, many of them involving disputes between Ms. Giglio and Mr. Walter.

tgannon@timesreview.com

Additional reporting by Michael White

11/14/12 7:00pm

In order to set the record straight and clear up any confusion with regard to the budget process, let us present the following timeline and information.

Jodi Giglio, George Gabrielsen, James Wooten.

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Jodi Giglio, George Gabrielsen and James Wooten.

Town Board members saw a PowerPoint presentation of the supervisor’s tentative budget on Sept. 28. At the Oct. 2 Town Board meeting, the tentative budget was introduced and presented to the public and at this same meeting a resolution to authorize a Nov. 7 public hearing for the adoption of the preliminary budget was presented to Town Board members.

The Town Board did not have an opportunity to discuss budget matters with department heads or even review the budget until after the tentative budget was presented to the public.

The same day it was presented to the public it was presented to the members of the Town Board. We are working together now, as your representatives and as liaisons to various departments and advisory groups, to review what was presented to us so that we may be able to continue to provide the level of services to meet the needs of our residents.

We did not know what positions, if any, were being eliminated and we were not asked what projects were important to us so we could be included in the budget process.

Town Board members have been diligently working with department heads and staff to get a clear understanding of what is necessary to accomplish the basic needs of town government. There were delays in these meetings due to the hurricane and availability of information.

We have agreed on much and will be approaching the amendments to the supervisor’s budget in a unique way this year: Each change to the budget will be a separate resolution so that each board member can vote on the amendments that are important to each member and so that the public knows where each board member stands.

In Southampton Town, the supervisor set dates for open meetings with the board to discuss budget amendments. Resolution 2012-927 sets the dates for these discussions. In Southold, as reported by Times/Review Newsgroup, the budget was presented to the Town Board at the Sept. 11 work session, prior to formal presentation and filing of the tentative budget.

In Southampton and Southold, the town boards are still considering amendments to the budgets that were presented to the public and anticipate more changes before Final Budgets are adopted on Nov. 20.

The Riverhead Town Board would like to see amendments to the preliminary budget. After review of the tentative budget, the members of the Town Board met with department heads to determine their budget needs and discuss possible cost saving measures but scrutinized figures and calculations in the tentative budget.

The Town Board found significant errors in the budget and met with the financial administrator several times to address these errors. The Town Board will continue to scrutinize the budget, work to correct each error and ask questions of the financial administrator and department heads to make sure that the final budget is accurate and best meets the needs of town government and serves the people of this town.

We are proposing a public work session to discuss any amendments.

The authors are three councilpeople who help make up the five-member Riverhead Town Board.

11/08/12 10:24pm
11/08/2012 10:24 PM

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Former Riverhead Town Board coordinator Linda Hulse, who was fired Wednesday.

Riverhead Town Board members argued for almost an hour Tuesday over a resolution to immediately fire the Town Board coordinator, Linda Hulse, with Supervisor Sean Walter publicly calling three fellow Republicans “cowards” and suggesting that Ms. Hulse was being fired for being a whistleblower.

The resolution, which was eventually approved by a 3-2 vote, was brought “off the floor,” meaning it wasn’t on the board’s printed agenda, and it had the support of council members Jodi Giglio, George Gabrielsen and Jim Wooten.

Supervisor Walter and Councilman John Dunleavy both voted against it, and both said they had no idea the resolution was being voted on Tuesday.

Mr. Walter called it “the most insensitive thing I’ve ever seen” to terminate an employee without discussing it with the board in executive session.

(See our live blog coverage from the meeting.)

While Ms. Giglio attempted to have the issue voted on without being discussed, the board ultimately ended up discussing it in public for close to an hour, with Mr. Walter saying he wanted the vote tabled to another meeting, and that he wanted to discuss the issue in executive session, which is closed to the public.

Ms. Giglio, Mr. Gabrielsen and Mr. Wooten refused, saying they wanted it voted on immediately.

Mr. Walter and Ms. Giglio have been at odds before on issues before the Town Board. Ms. Giglio has at least twice accused the supervisor of trying to intimidate her, and one time even filed a police report for harassment.

“She tried to have me arrested,” Mr. Walter said Tuesday of that incident. The board, despite being all Republican, has had public disagreements over many issues in the past three years.

Ms. Hulse was appointed to the post in 2011 after the previous town board coordinator, Donna Zlatniski, resigned. Ms. Zlatniski later filed a lawsuit claiming she was “coerced” into doing campaign work for Mr. Wooten, and that she was fired to give the job to Ms. Hulse, who is the wife of Republican town assessor Paul Leszczynski, and who also was the Republican candidate for town clerk in 2009, when Democrat Diane Wilhelm defeated her in that year’s election.

Ms. Hulse currently is also the president of the Riverhead Rotary Club.

Mr. Walter said publicly of Ms. Hulse, “I personally happen to believe she’s a whistle blower and has raised a complaint against a board member and you’re looking to get rid of a whistleblower. This is retaliation for her actions.”

He didn’t say what the complaint was.

Ms. Giglio said the firing had nothing to do with Ms. Hulse being a whistleblower, something she, Mr. Gabrielsen and Mr. Wooten said they did not know about.

Mr. Gabrielsen said their concerns with Ms. Hulse are not due to any one issue.

“It started six to eight months ago, some of the board members lost that confidential trust [in her],” he said.

“We have had this employee for a year, it’s not working out and the majority of the board would like to move in a different direction,” Ms. Giglio said.

Mr. Walter said every other employee the town has terminated was spoken to beforehand.

“This is an evil act right here,” he said. “How many other employees are you planning to fire this way?”

“I come from a business community and anytime we had to let someone go, we called them in to talk with them,” Mr. Dunleavy said. “This is a coward’s position to let them go without talking to them.”

“The three of you are absolute cowards,” Mr. Walter said. “A real man sits down and talks to the employee.”

Ms. Giglio said Ms. Hulse was hired “at will,” meaning she is not a member of an employees union and not a department head under contract. Because of this, Ms. Giglio said, the board majority can fire her at any time.

Mr. Gabrielsen said the Town Council didn’t interfere in the selection of employees in the supervisor’s office, and the supervisor shouldn’t interfere with the selection of a Town Board coordinator.

At one point in the meeting, after it was clear the board majority planned to fire Ms. Hulse and refused to table the resolution or discuss it in executive session, Mr. Walter insisted on discussing the resolution publicly, something the three board members who backed the firing opposed.

“Can we filibuster?” Mr. Walter asked.

Town Attorney Bob Kozakiewicz also suggested that the board discuss the resolution in executive session before voting on it in order to protect the town in litigation.

Mr. Dunleavy said that if he knew the reasons for the firing, he might support it.

“But I don’t know the reasons,” he said.

Ms. Hulse could not be reached for comment and had left before the meeting ended, which was after regular hours at Town Hall.

Mr. Walter said he refused to call a vote on the resolution and is asking Mr. Kozakiewicz to investigate whether the vote is legal without his having called the vote.

tgannon@timesreview.com