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.


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.


08/03/12 8:24am
08/03/2012 8:24 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | People may soon be asked to not feed the ducks in Wading River if new signs are erected at the Duck Ponds.

The Wading River Duck Ponds may soon have signs asking people not to feed the feathered inhabitants for whom the ponds are named.

The Town of Brookhaven, which is completing a dredging project on part of the Duck Ponds, has asked Riverhead Town for permission to erect four signs telling people not to feed “waterfowl” at the Duck Ponds.

Brookhaven says that “waterfowl effluent is a contributing factor in the degradation of water quality,” and wants to put up signs that say that feeding waterfowl can cause poor nutrition, unnatural behavior, overcrowding, spread of disease and delayed migration among the birds, and pollution in the water.

The signs would be paid for by Brookhaven.

“C’mon, everybody likes to feed the duckies,” said Councilman George Gabrielsen, when the signs were discussed at Thursday’s Town Board meeting.

“If we don’t feed them, they are going to go someplace else.”

“Well, that’s what we want them to do,” Councilman Jim Wooten said. “They’re migrating birds that aren’t migrating anymore. They’re just sticking around.”

Mr. Wooten said the ducks are all over the place.

Councilman John Dunleavy said the town code already prohibits feeding geese, but it doesn’t mention ducks or other waterfowl.

That legislation, which the board had a lengthy debate over as well, was passed about a year ago at the request of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

“We like to see ducks there,” Mr. Gabrielsen said.

“You think the ducks are gonna leave if you don’t throw them a piece of bread?” Mr. Wooten asked.

“Are you ready to write tickets when people feed the ducks? What’s the fine?” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio asked of Police Chief David Hegermiller, who was in the room on another matter.

“It just says not to feed them,” Mr. Dunleavy said, indicating that the signs do not mention a fine.

“It’s just public education, the Town of Brookhaven has to do it” according to the DEC, said Tara McLaughlin, the executive assistant to Supervisor Sean Walter, who was absent Thursday. “We’re on a property line, can we please help them out?”

“We’ve got to be be consistent,” said Mr. Gabrielsen. “On one side of town you can feed ducks, on the other side you can’t.”

Sid Bail of the Wading River Civic Association echoed Ms. McLaughlin’s comments.

“It’s public education,” he said. “You can either accept the information or be like people are with global warming, be non-believers. And if you want to be consistent, it would be nice to see the Town of Riverhead spend money on the Duck Ponds, like Brookhaven has committed $175,000.”

Brookhaven paid to dredge its half of the Duck Ponds, but Riverhead did not, saying a grant they planned to use for the project didn’t materialize.

“Our towns have to work together,” Mr. Dunleavy said. “The signs should go up.”

The board is expected to vote on the resolution at Tuesday’s regular board meeting.


06/06/12 8:02pm
06/06/2012 8:02 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Sean Walter and James Wooten after a meeting in Wading River last April, when Wooten was considering a run for Walter's supervisor post.

Town Councilman James Wooten said he is seeking an appointment to a soon-to-be vacant town tax receiver post, but Supervisor Sean Walter said he would not support his fellow Town Board member in his bid to resign and take the full-time job.

“He’s not on my short list,” Mr. Walter said. “To be a tax receiver it’s a full time job, you gotta commit 35-40 hours a week. I don’t know that Councilman Wooten is able to do that.”

“He’s a Town Councilman,” he continued. “We need him as Town Councilman.”

The tax receiver post will be vacant as of July 1 due to the retirement of Maryann Wowak Heilbrunn, who has worked in the position for the past 10 years, which we first reported earlier Wednesday.

Mr. Wooten, in an interview Wednesday afternoon, said he was being considered for the position and said the position “totally fits my personality.”

He also said the job would give him more time to spend with his family and with his volunteer work. He was unable to be reached Wednesday evening for a response to Mr. Walter’s comments.

Mr. Walter said he was told about the retirement on Monday and that the Town Board hasn’t considered any candidates for the position yet.

“This is a very detail-oriented position, not a policy position,” he said. Mr. Walter said that if he were to choose a Town Councilperson, it would be Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, though he said he is sure she would not be interested in the position.

Whoever is appointed to fill Ms. Wowak Heilbrunn’s position will have to run in a special election this fall. If Mr. Wooten, or any other Councilperson, was appointed to the position, their seat would also be up for election in November.

Mr. Walter and Mr. Wooten have been on-again off-again political rivals since Mr. Wooten briefly attempted to run against Mr. Walter in last year’s Town Supervisor primary election. Mr. Wooten eventually dropped his bid for Supervisor; he is currently serving the first year of his second four-year term as Town Council.

Councilman George Gabrielsen said it was too early in the process for him to say who he would potentially support for the open job.

“I think it’s premature right now to say that anyone’s got a leg up on it,” he said, adding that he would also have to consider who would take Mr. Wooten’s place on the Town Board.

“If I make a decision, I want to make sure we’re getting the right people for the right positions,” he said. Mr. Gabrielsen said the Town Board will likely discuss the issue over the next couple of days and he hopes a decision will be reached by the end of next week.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and Councilman John Dunleavy were unable to be reached for comment Wednesday evening.


06/06/12 11:04am
Riverhead Town Supervisor

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter voted against a high way reserves transfer Tuesday.

In a split vote, the Riverhead Town Board approved a budget adjustment Tuesday that saw $740,000 transferred from town highway district reserves.

The move allowed the department to reimburse a state-designated fund set aside for road improvements, as well use $332,000 to purchase two new highway trucks and other equipment.

The vote was 3-2 with Town Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman George Gabrielsen voting against the measure.

“Once this money’s gone, it’s gone. It’s not going to be put back with the 2 percent [state mandated, year-to-year] tax cap,” Mr. Walter said specifically in reference to the $332,00 amount, which will be used to purchase a sweeper and a front-end loader. “This is, dare I say, reckless.”

Mr. Gabrielsen said, “Times are tough and we have to stave this stuff for a snowy day, so I’m going to vote no.”

Council members Jim Wooten and Jodi Giglio said they believed spending the money now could save the town later.

Mr. Walter said he would rather see the money go toward the “promised” $350,000 project to rehab the Wading River Duck Ponds.


03/28/12 6:00pm
03/28/2012 6:00 PM

The $25 fee businesses must pay for alarm system permits will be a thing of the past under a proposal by Supervisor Sean Walter, but businesses still will be required to register all alarm systems with the police.

Mr. Walter asked town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz to draw up a proposed local law to eliminate the fee at last Thursday’s public Town Board work session.

“I think we made a mistake that we didn’t realize we made when we said we were going to charge $25 for the fee for the alarm system registration,” Mr. Walter told Mr. Kozakiewicz during the meeting.

A number of business owners were not happy about the fee.

“We won’t charge the $25 fee but you still have to register your alarms because people’s lives are at stake when these fire alarms go off,” Mr. Walter said.

Because the fee is included in the town code, a public hearing, which also requires a two-week public hearing notice, must occur first. That hearing had not yet been scheduled. The town required the permit in response to a large number of false alarms.

Councilmembers George Gabrielsen and Jodi Giglio supported elimination of the fee, while Councilman John Dunleavy was concerned about how the town would pay for the registration program. Councilman Jim Wooten was absent for this discussion.
The fee has actually been on the books for many years but wasn’t enforced until a couple of weeks ago, when town police sent a letter to all business owners telling them they needed to register their alarms and pay a $25 fee to do so, along with a $10 annual renewal fee. The letter also spoke of fines for excessive false alarms. Mr. Walter said the fines will remain the same and the police department will be instructed not to deposit any checks it has already received for the $25 fee.

Police Chief David Hegemiller, whose department issued the letter, said this week he had not yet heard of plans to eliminate the fees.


12/08/11 6:30pm
12/08/2011 6:30 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Lia Polites, who lives in Manhattan and summers in Jamesport, is a co-owner of the Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport, along with four other people.

A co-owner of the Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport donated $4,000 to the campaigns of Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman George Gabrielsen in the days leading up to last month’s elections, according to campaign finance reports filed Thursday with the New York State Board of Elections.

The $2,000 donated by Lia Polites to each candidate was the largest either received in the final two weeks before Election Day, campaign finance records show.

Both donations came about one month before the Riverhead Town Planning Board approved a controversial site plan for a breezeway connecting two buildings on the Jedediah Hawkins Inn property to make way for more guest rooms on the property.

Several community members spoke out against the breezeway at the Nov. 15 Riverhead Town Board meeting, at which both Mr. Walter and Mr. Gabrielsen defended the plan.

“This is a family owned business,” said Mr. Walter, who records show received his donation from Ms. Polites on Oct. 25. “There’s been no public outcry except for the people that show up at board meetings.”

Mr. Gabrielsen, a Jamesport resident who records show received his donation from Ms. Polites on Oct. 28, said at the Nov. 15 meeting that the Jamesport community supports the breezeway.

Jamesport Civic Association member Angela Devito responded that wasn’t the case.

Ms. Devito said the civic group met with Mr. Walter and expressed support for the restoration of the Hawkins Inn, but its members were concerned about expanded uses at the site. She said people in Jamesport generally support the inn, but not the breezeway.

Mr. Gabrielsen responded by saying “nobody’s against it.”

State Election Law requires political candidates file campaign finance reports 11 days prior to, and 27 days after, a general election.

Records show the contribution given by Ms. Polites to Mr. Walter was received 14 days prior to Election Day and should have been disclosed in the report published 10 days before the election.

Mr. Walter said his campaign didn’t acknowledge the donation in its previous report since the campaign initially considered immediately refunding it, since it exceeded the legal limit for a political contribution to an individual candidate.

State election law prohibits a political candidate from receiving more than $1,034 from an individual donor per election cycle.

Mr. Walter said that when his campaign staffers had trouble connecting with Ms. Polites after receiving the contribution, which he believes was received via mail, they decided to cash the check.

He says they have since refunded the additional $1,000, and the refund should appear in his next campaign finance report.

On Nov. 2, Mr. Gabrielsen refunded  $1,000 of the contribution he received from Ms. Polites, according to the financial disclosure report filed Thursday.

Mr. Gabrielsen said in a telephone interview Thursday that he made the refund after he learned it exceeded the legal limit.

“I refunded the money when I found out someone can only donate $1,000 [to an individual campaign],” he said.

When asked how he would respond to a cynic questioning the timing of Ms. Polites’ contribution, which came only three weeks before the Planning Board was initially set to vote on the breezeway, Mr. Walter was critical of the Hawkins Inn’s plan.

“The cynic in me says the breezeway is dumb,” Mr. Walter said. Under town code, two buildings connected by a breezeway can be considered one building, thus allowing more space for guest rooms.

“Inns of 15 rooms or smaller should be allowed to have two buildings,” he continued. “There’s a better way to go about it [than the breezeway.]”

Records show Ms. Polites hasn’t made any other donations in her name in the past six years.