04/16/13 6:00am
04/16/2013 6:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Town assessor Mason Haas at his desk in 2012.

There will be a crowded field of people seeking the Republican nomination for town supervisor, as town assessor Mason Haas and Councilman James Wooten are screening this week to take incumbent Supervisor Sean Walter’s job.

Mr. Walter is also still seeking his job.

JAMES WOOTEN

JAMES WOOTEN

The Riverhead Republican Committee will be screening candidates for town offices at the Hyatt hotel on East Main Street Wednesday night in advance of this fall’s town elections, said Republican chairman John Galla.

Mr. Galla said Calverton resident and frequent office-seeker Greg Fischer asked to screen as well, though Mr. Fischer on Monday said in a press release he wasn’t sure whether he wanted a supervisor or Town Council seat.

Mr. Wooten had screened for supervisor two years ago before instead agreeing to seek re-election to his council seat. He said in March that he would again screen for supervisor this year.

Mr. Haas has been a town assessor since 2008 and has a background in real estate title research. He’s also a member of the Jamesport Fire Department and a former Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps chief.

He’s been active in leading the fight against the county’s placement of trailers for homeless sex offenders on the East End.

Both Mr. Haas and Mr. Wooten said they agree with Mr. Walter on many of the issues he is working on, but believe the ways he goes about things needs work.

“At times, I think a different approach might be necessary,” Mr. Haas said.  ”I’ve told Sean, I like what he’s doing, but I would approach it differently so that there’s not all this fighting.”

Mr. Wooten’s comments were similar.

“It’s not that Sean and I are that different when it comes to the goals we set for the town, but I think it comes down to management style and approachability,” Mr. Wooten said.

GREG FISCHER

GREG FISCHER

Mr. Wooten blames much of the Town Board’s divisiveness on Mr. Walter.

In seeking office, Mr. Fischer said in the release he “is pushing for issues such as having elected LIPA trustees, and for the creation of a Suffolk County inspector general,” among other things.

Mr. Walter does not see the competition from within his own party as a good thing.

“It’s unfortunate,” Mr. Walter said, “because I feel like the Republican Committee hung a ‘help wanted’ sign on the door to the supervisor’s office, and they don’t usually do that when the incumbent is from their own party.”

He said he plans to run on his record and he run a primary if he doesn’t get the party’s nomination.

Ms. Haas said he will not run a primary and Mr. Wooten said he has not made that decision yet.

“I don’t think anyone can really say that the town is not better off now than it was four years ago,” Mr. Walter said, pointing to “a downtown that’s thriving,” the privatization of the town animal shelter, the opening of the Suffolk Theater and the fact that the EPCAL subdivision is nearing completion.

“On all fronts, the town is better off now than it was four years ago.” he said. “All of this is about personalities. But I defy anyone to find an effective leader that pleases 100 percent of the people 100 percent of the time. It can’t happen or else you’re not an effective leader.

“Judge me on how effective I’ve been as a leader.”

Mr. Walter said the only ones who benefit from the Republican infighting are the Democrats.

“It should never have gotten to this stage,” he said.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Supervisor Sean Walter at his 'State of the Town' address last week in Calverton.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter at his ‘State of the Town’ address last week in Calverton.

Mr. Galla said all potential candidates for town office deserve credit.

“I salute anybody who puts their name forward,” Mr. Galla said. “I still think elected office is a high calling and I salute the people that have stepped forward. It’s not an east thing to do, to have your whole life scrutinized.”

In addition to the supervisor’s seat, there will be a challenge to the Town Council incumbents as well, Mr. Galla said.

Incumbents Jodi Giglio and John Dunleavy are each seeking re-election, and downtown resident Anthony Coates also had made no secret of his plans to run for a council seat on the Republican line. Mr. Coates, who has been a political adviser to Mr. Walter, changed his registration from Democrat to Republican last year in anticipation of running for council as a Republican this year.

Mr. Galla said that this year, the Republicans will have candidates screen before the entire committee, whereas in past years, the committee appointed a screening committee with about 10 people who screened the candidates and then made a recommendation to the full committee.

The committee will likely announce its candidates sometime next month, but that date hasn’t been set yet, Mr. Galla said.

There was one other candidate who expressed interest in seeking a Town Board seat, according to Mr. Galla, who said he was unable to reach that person to see if he or she was still interested in screening or if they wanted it made public that they were screening.

tgannon@timesreview.com

08/02/12 4:00pm
08/02/2012 4:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Greg Fischer speaks at a Suffolk 9-12 meeting last year, when he was running for Riverhead Town Supervisor.

Should the Long Island Power Authority’s board of trustees be elected?

When LIPA was originally created by the State Legislature to replace the troubled Long Island Lighting Company, it was supposed to have an elected board of trustees, according to South Fork Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), who has filed bills to try and make the board elected.

However, the state eventually made it an appointed board.

Or did they?

That’s a point Calverton resident Greg Fischer is looking to challenge.

The state Public Authorities Law was updated during the administration of former Gov. George Pataki to clearly indicate that the 15 trustees of LIPA are appointed, but state elections law still contains references to a LIPA board as being elected by the people.

Mr. Fischer and two other men, attorney Bill Jurow from Brookhaven Town and Roger Scott Lewis, a Democratic committee member in Southampton Town, have collected more than 600 signatures on petitions seeking to run for LIPA trustee.

The three men have also filed litigation against both the Suffolk and Nassau county boards of elections to try to force them to accept their petition.

“These positions should be on the ballot,” Mr. Fischer said in an interview. “We’re trying to force a public election of LIPA trustees.”

Mr. Fischer, who ran unsuccessfully last year for Riverhead Town Supervisor and who has run for other elected positions in the past, believes that under the wording of the law, they must be put on the ballot as candidates for the LIPA board, even though, at present, there isn’t a ballot for that position.

Several local officials said they agree that the LIPA board should be elected, and that Mr. Fischer has uncovered a loophole in the law. But they don’t think he’ll be successful.

“It was an oversight, but do I think it was a fatal flaw? No,” said county Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), adding that he believes the LIPA board should be elected.

“I just think that our voices are not being heard and LIPA is not accountable,” Mr. Romaine said. “There really is no one overseeing LIPA at all, other than the state comptroller, and that’s only on audits.”

South Fork Assemblyman Fred Thiele has filed bills several times to make the LIPA board elected, but they’ve never become law.

Two years ago, Mr. Thiele’s bill was approved by the state Assembly but not the Senate. This year, it didn’t make it out of committee in the Assembly and wasn’t even proposed in the Senate.

“The primary opposition is twofold,” Mr. Thiele said. “First, the governor — and not just Gov. Cuomo, any governor — likes being able to control the LIPA board and they don’t want to give that up. And secondly, back in the day when they were supposed to be elected, the LIPA trustee districts were proposed to mirror the senate districts. I think there was the fear that these LIPA trustees would become the farm system for candidates for the senate in the future, so I think some people viewed them as potential political rivals in the future and they didn’t want to create that.”

Mr. Thiele said he still plans to resubmit the bill to make LIPA trustees elected.

“When LIPA was created in the mid-1980s, the trustees were supposed to be elected,” Mr. Thiele said. “But they kept postponing the election and finally, in 1995, Governor Pataki wanted them appointed and he got a bill approved to make them appointed.”

Thus, there has never been an elected board at LIPA, which officially took over from LILCO in 1998.

As for Mr. Fischer’s proposal, Mr. Thiele said, “From the legal aspect, I don’t see this having any chance of success. A court is going to look at the actions taken by the Legislature to make these positions appointed and I don’t see a court disturbing this. But as far as raising awareness of the need to have an elected board, I have to applaud them for highlighting this issue and bringing attention to it. However, I don’t think they will reach their goal through the courts; it will have to be through legislation.

“I didn’t intend to win,” Mr. Fischer said of his filing petitions. “I’m assaulting the castle. I know I’m going to get blown up, I know that, but I’m trying to fix a deep problem that will help our economy. If I can get these rates cut back and get honesty and integrity in the office there, we can get the rates knocked down.”

State Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who represents the East End, said he was a sponsor of the original LIPA legislation that called for an elected board, and he said he supports an elected board, assuming it has a chance of being approved.

Mr. LaValle also recounted how the original LIPA elections were postponed over and over again until the governor finally said he wanted appointed trustees.

“We said, OK, if that’s what you want,” he recalled.

He said they didn’t make the change in the elections law because the original LIPA law dealt with the public authorities law.

Mr. LaValle said the matter might be moot if a Monday column by New York Post columnist Fred Dicker is accurate. That column suggested the state is going to do away with LIPA altogether.

LIPA spokesman Mark Gross said he doesn’t know where that information came from, but that LIPA is considering “rebranding” and possibly changing its name once PSEG of New Jersey takes over operation of LIPA’s electric system. He said the writer may have been confused by this, hence the column.

“LIPA’s problems go beyond whether it has an elected board or an appointed one,” Mr. LaValle added. “They are very deep-rooted.”

He said if he were grading LIPA, he would give it a D.

LIPA chief operating officer Michael Hervey declined comment on Mr. Fischer’s petitions and lawsuit.

 tgannon@timesreview.com

08/04/11 4:14am
08/04/2011 4:14 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Greg Fischer

Riverhead Town supervisor candidate Greg Fischer’s proposal to create a town power authority and break away from LIPA got a bumpy reception from members of the Suffolk 9-12 project last Wednesday at Polish Hall in Riverhead, where Mr. Fischer spoke at the group’s monthly meeting.

The group, a local branch of an organization formed by Conservative talk show host Glenn Beck and associated with the tea party movement, seemed to turn on Mr. Fischer once he began talking about global warming and its effects.

Mr. Fischer, who currently is the publisher of Political Patriot newspapers, is running a Democratic primary for supervisor in September against former supervisor Phil Cardinale, and plans to be on the November ballot on at least one minor party line.
He also attempted to run a primary on the Independence Party line against Republican incumbent Sean Walter but was unable to get approval from Independence Party chairman Frank MacKay.

Mr. Fischer says a centerpiece of his campaign is his proposal calling for the creation of a separate power authority in Riverhead Town, a move he says would allow the town to immediately begin purchasing lower-priced energy and replacing LIPA.

In 2002, during the administration of Bob Kozakiewicz, the Town Board considered putting a referendum on the ballot to determine if the public wanted to create a town power authority. It never got that far, however, because the Town Board had cost disputes with the company proposing to set up the authority.

Mr. Fischer says forming a new power authority would not only lower utility rates for residents of Riverhead Town but also drastically lower taxes, because the town’s utility costs would drop.

“I actually figured out what will turn this town around,” Mr. Fischer told the 9-12 group Wednesday, referring to the power authority proposal.

He said Greenport, Freeport and Rockville Centre all have their own municipal power authorities and all have drastically lower power rates than LIPA. Greenport, Mr. Fischer said, pays 40 percent less than LIPA. Freeport’s rates are also about 40 percent lower than LIPA, and Rockville Centre’s are about 32 percent lower, according to Freeport’s website.

Those three municipal power authorities are the only ones on Long Island independent of LIPA. All were built before LIPA and its predecessor, LILCO, so they didn’t have to pay the cost of acquiring LIPA’s distribution system.

Mr. Fischer said natural gas is now deregulated, so Riverhead could begin buying natural gas immediately upon getting an authority and using it to generate power. And he said natural gas is cheaper than diesel, which is what Greenport uses in its power plants, so Riverhead should save more than the 40 percent Greenport saves compared to LIPA.

“We have seen the lawn signs from Conservative candidates saying they will cut taxes, but taxes have never gone down,” he said. “But this will lop 20 percent off the taxes immediately.”

“How does something like this get built?” he was asked. He said the first step is a political one, creating the authority. From there, the town can immediately buy power from natural gas suppliers.

Mr. Fischer said there also are ecological benefits to buying natural gas.

“NASA scientists, non-partisan scientists, have said that if we don’t stop all the coal-fired plants on the planet, in 40 years we may cease to exist,” he said. “This is real stuff.”

“Let me ask you something,” said Bob Meyer, the president of Suffolk 9-12. “Do you believe that?”

“I think it might happen,” Mr. Fischer said. “We’re seeing a trend right now with the ocean of dying coral reefs, and we’re seeing the plankton in the oceans is dying.” He said plankton “creates a lot of the oxygen for the planet.”

Asked specifically what he thinks about global warming, Mr. Fischer said, “I think it’s not global warming, I think it’s the variations of temperatures. I don’t think it’s necessarily warming, I think it may be greater swings because of the variance in the atmosphere.”
Asked if he thought this phenomenon was man-made, he said he thought there was a man-made component to it.

“But what I’m really concerned about is pollution and deoxygenation, and this is only one step toward curing the problem,” Mr. Fischer said.

“I wouldn’t pitch it that way to this group,” a 9-12 member said from the audience, which then began laughing. “What I want to know is where are you going to get the money to build this?”

Mr. Fischer said you would have to float a bond to pay for the system, but the reduction in energy rates would offset the maintenance and retrofitting costs of the power system.

“I get that you guys don’t like the global warming thing,” Mr. Fischer said to the audience.

But that wasn’t all they didn’t like.

“You’re talking about creating jobs, would these be government jobs?” another audience member asked. When Mr. Fischer said it would be government employees running the power system, 9-12 members raised concerns that those employees would be covered by a government employee’s union. If that’s the case, they said the employees would eventually be getting big benefit packages, regular contractual salary increases and, as one man said, “we’re not going to see any rate reduction.”

Mr. Fischer reiterated the cases of Greenport, Freeport and Rockville Centre, which are government-owned and still have lower rates than LIPA.

One woman in the audience said her family comes form Rockville Centre and she worked in Freeport for many years.

“I cannot tell you the amount of times the electric was down,” she said. “The wind blows, everything goes down. It’s not a good system.”

Mr. Fischer said that under his proposal, the town wouldn’t be entirely off the LIPA grid and would still have LIPA available for backup.

He asked the group what their plan for cutting taxes would be if they don’t like this plan.

“Spend less,” one man said.

tgannon@timesreview.com