09/28/13 8:00am
09/28/2013 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Glenn Townsend operates out of the Red Barn.

I set out to write about my vision for Wading River’s historic hamlet center, believing it has the potential to become the “hippie capital” of Long Island’s North Shore. I figured the owner of BarnStock Trading Post and Woodstock Home Improvement — right in the heart of the district — could help me in those efforts.

And I finally had Glenn Townsend on the phone.

Michael White, editor

MICHAEL WHITE

“The historic district reminds me a lot of those artsy, upstate towns, like New Paltz. It’s got the old barns and old buildings, and hills. Unlike many other Long Island downtown areas,” I said, hoping he would say that’s why he came here.

But Mr. Townsend has never been to New Paltz, I learned. He’s from Ohio.

“Well, I just ask because, some of those areas upstate have adopted the whole, y’know, hippie culture — excuse the term,” I continued. “Do you think that could be what attracted you to the area?”

He said simply that the presence of Bob Dylan probably had a lot to do with the culture up there.

“What type of items do you sell in your store, BarnStock?”

“Well,” he said. “Basically, I’ve got a lot of classical rock and roll music.”

Then he let it slip — reluctantly, but with pride in his voice — that he’d been one of the 500,000 people who had actually attended the Woodstock Festival in Bethel, N.Y., in 1969.

I congratulated him on not being an impostor, given his businesses’ namesakes.

“So … would you call yourself a hippie?”

“As they say, I’m a licensed contractor,” he said, dodging the question.

I figured Glenn Townsend has had enough of labels in his lifetime. I wouldn’t push it anymore.

What I did learn about Mr. Townsend, who operates out of the landmark Red Barn building, is that he’s also one of a few people trying to bring life back to an area that’s been suffering from a general lack of foot traffic recently. (Or, depending on your vantage point, maybe since the time of Woodstock.)

First, he’s been doing contracting work for his landlord, who owns the Red Barn and other properties, to help beautify the area.

He’s also been helping to run a weekend farm stand for the past couple months.

He even tried to plan a big farmer’s market in the hamlet center’s main parking lot, but hit a wall with Riverhead Town.

“If you want to do something like that, you have to have insurance and go through red tape as if you’re putting on a concert or something,” he said. “So unfortunately that didn’t fly.”

The smaller farm stand has been running from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Sunday, outside the Red Barn and overlooking the Duck Ponds.

“Basically, we’ve got a farm stand and a lady who does some cookies and some bakery things,” Mr. Townsend said. “Somebody that does crystal, dream-catcher things. There’s a knitting person.”

Mr. Townsend has been working with the owners of the neighboring Thrifts & Gifts store, as well as the Wading River Historical Society, he said.

“We’re just trying to revitalize,” he said. “If we can get enough artists or something to set up an art show in the fall. We’re all looking to promote the area.”

He may not have given me the hippie money-quotes I was looking for, but Mr. Townsend’s vision for the hamlet pretty much jibed with the one I was hoping to lay out. One way or the other, the area needs to become a mini mecca for small shops offering artisanal foods and crafts. That would likely require conversion of the mothballed mechanic’s garage on Sound Road into a horseshoe of small rental spaces and chasing away the inactive financial planning and accounting offices.

We also agreed that this asphalt-happy historic district needs more green space, with picnic tables and room to throw a Frisbee. Perhaps this could be achieved by clearing some space around the ponds, Mr. Townsend suggested — or if the parking lot was trimmed down. Certainly a few cars parked on the streets wouldn’t hurt; it could even help slow down traffic.

As much as he’s hoping to attract more craft-makers and artists to the area, Mr. Townsend also knows a couple of well-received eateries would be paramount to creating more of a buzz downtown. And, he assured me, things will be happening in the near future.

“Things are going to be on the upswing soon,” he said, hinting that there are people very interested in investing in the district while reminding me that he works for the area’s principal landlord.

He also believes people are yearning for that connection with the past, and with trees and nature — all offered in historic Wading River.

“As you well know, they’re trying to develop up on the hill, the main strip on 25A, and the people are up in arms,” Mr. Townsend said. “You can see what’s happening to Riverhead, everything is getting developed.

“As Joni Mitchell said, ‘They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.’ ”

And they may just be chasing people back to historic Wading River.

Michael White is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at mwhite@timesreview.com or (631) 298-3200, ext. 152. 

Follow him on Twitter at @mikewhite31

08/16/13 12:00pm
08/16/2013 12:00 PM
NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Phillips Avenue Elementary School in Riverside

FILE PHOTO | Phillips Avenue Elementary School in Riverside is the most diverse school in Riverhead.

Here’s a not-so-bold prediction on an uncertain future.

State officials are going to have to backtrack mightily on the Common Core State Standards now being used in public schools to, supposedly, better prepare all American children for college and “21st-century employment.” It’s going to be quite a drastic reversal and, for many outspoken officials, an embarrassment. But like the Department of Transportation having to count a certain number of fatalities at an intersection before erecting a stoplight, there will have to be victims first.

Michael White, editor

MICHAEL WHITE

And those victims will likely be the poorest among us.

Consider that many children in poverty-stricken areas will still be living in single-parent or no-parent households in our new, Common Core world. They still won’t be eating or sleeping properly. They won’t be getting proper medical attention for physical or emotional issues that interfere with school. They won’t be getting help with homework, or even having their homework checked at home. In fact, extra attention for such students will be increasingly funneled away from them, as the focus shifts to teaching to the Common Core assessments.

For these kids, school’s simply getting harder, with no significant amount of funding set aside to provide them better access to school supplies, computers and internet access, or any plans to expand the school day or school year or bulk up after-school enrichment programs. With higher test failure rates, there’s also sure to be a huge spike in students in need of additional support through mandated programs such as academic intervention services. Where does that money come from?

State officials keep arguing that we must adopt Common Core because America’s education system lags behind those of other industrialized nations. But they never acknowledge that much of the disparity is accounted for by the performance of students in poor and non-English-speaking immigrant communities, which aren’t as prevalent in more homogeneous nations like Finland and South Korea.

While the performance of top-scoring students may improve under the more vigorous Common Core standards — they and their parents and tutors are up to the challenge! — students in many poor and working-class households will see scores dip. Eventually, as these children grow increasingly frustrated with school, dropout rates will rise. This will lead to higher unemployment and incarceration rates, prolonged cycles of generational poverty and a widening disparity between rich and poor.

Let’s use some common sense to break this down.

Trust that most kids from Long Island’s Jericho, Syosset and Commack school districts, for example, will be fine in college — no matter how they perform under the Common Core. And many of them will be just fine after college, too, no matter how they perform in college. This is thanks to engaged parents — and many of those parents’ connections to people already established in their child’s career field of choice.

The aforementioned districts and others like them will likely see their state assessment scores rise across the board, though without much real-world benefit — other than maybe having graduates attend marginally better colleges.

In the economically diverse Riverhead School District, the state has revealed that for the 2012-13 year, 74.7 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 failed to meet the state’s math proficiency standard, and 73.8 percent failed to meet the ELA standard.

Those numbers will change very little moving forward (at least not after some initial curriculum adjustments). Here’s why. In Riverhead, scores will increase somewhat for wealthier students but will fall at about the same rate, with potentially disastrous results, for those who don’t have the same support systems at home. Those in the middle will break one way or the other.

When these disparate results between wealthier districts and the rest of the state become apparent — especially in New York City — the backtracking on these numbers-driven policies will begin.

Yes, it’s my prediction Common Core will be reversed. But it’s also my hope. My fear is that so much money will be tied up in pricey books, testing materials and other increasingly entrenched funding sources for this initiative that the politicians and policymakers won’t ever budge.

Meanwhile, our teachers will remain handcuffed and will continue teaching to tests, and more and more students who lack either a natural aptitude for learning or parental support will disengage from the classroom and the educational process in general.

Eventually, we’ll be wondering how we slipped even further behind Finland and South Korea.

Michael White is the editor of The Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at (631) 786-5708 or mwhite@timesreview.com.

07/21/13 7:00am
07/21/2013 7:00 AM

PETER WALDNER CARTOON

Of all the topics I’ve covered in this space, some serious, others not so much, I think I received the most reader responses from a 2011 column about bad drivers.

Michael White, editor

MICHAEL WHITE

I started the column with an apology, calling it lazy and cliché, in so many words. I was surprised with all the phone calls and emails I received in return. I guess vehicle traffic is like weather, everyone’s got to deal with it.

So with that in mind, I’ll make no apologies here, in this column about my pet peeves involving aggressive or absent-minded shoppers. Unlike in the driving column, I’ll refrain from calling these people idiots or worse. I mean, they can’t kill anyone, right? But their antics can be entertaining in print.

So here’s another Top 5 list, some light summer reading we could all relate to, one way or another.

The threshold stopper

Buddha preached about trying to view the world with childlike wonder. While that may be good spiritual advice, it doesn’t mean you have to enter every aisle or section of a store with mouth agape, stopping dead in your tracks to take in all the sights and sounds like a 7-year-old staring up at a lit Ferris wheel after dark. Step aside, threshold stopper, because people are falling into each other like dominoes behind you as you weigh the pros and cons of going left, right, straight or forward.

The runaway train

As with our networks of rivers and roadways, stores have main arteries and smaller tributaries. Know when you’re in a tributary. I was in a packed Costco recently when someone pushing a cart barreled eastbound out of the snack aisle into north-south traffic without slowing or looking left or right. If I hadn’t dodged her I would’ve ended up in a TV screen.

The camper

I love spending an extra three minutes in CVS while you organize all the receipts, gum, mints, funeral cards and Canadian nickels scattered around in your bag. You’ve already paid, so why take care of all your bookkeeping as you camp out in front of the cashier? At least shift on down and do business in front of an empty cash register. The cashier camper is a close cousin to the parking lot camper, the person who gets into his or her parked car and fumbles around endlessly, paying no mind to that person waiting not-so-patiently for the spot.

The sweethearts

No one’s less aware of people around them in a store than a husband and wife shopping together. Especially if they’re fighting, then they’ll argue as if they’re in the comfort of their own living room. So of course they’re some of the worst offenders when it comes to blocking traffic. Sometimes this involves abandoning carts in the middle of an aisle, but often it’s a husband standing next to the couple’s cart and taking up space while the wife browses. Sir, you have to sense someone’s trying to pass. Get in front of your cart and out of the way.

The unapologetic

People bump into each other in crowded stores, sure, but some missteps require a quick, “I’m sorry,” or at least a smile and a little wave or bow. Any form of acknowledgement that you just plowed your cart into the back of someone’s legs or elbowed another shopper in the head while reaching to grab something from an upper shelf. Nothing is more awkward then expecting a quick apology and having someone stare right through you.

*****

I started writing a top 10 list but the column was running a bit long. Feel free to drop me a line about your own pet peeves while out shopping and maybe I’ll get enough interesting items to compile another short list. I tried to avoid obvious complaints, like people cutting cashier lines or talking loudly on their phones while trying to pay for items. We all know those people are the worst.

mwhite@timesreview.com

04/14/13 7:00am
04/14/2013 7:00 AM
MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | The Whig editors weren't sure what to call me, so they went with Whig Correspondent.

MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | The Cecil Whig editors weren’t sure what to call me when I was showing up every day without ever being hired, so they went with ‘Whig Correspondent.’

I wasn’t sure if the young people in the classroom were going to get the “Seinfeld” reference. I figured the St. John’s University journalism students I was invited to speak with Monday had to be 5, maybe 6 years old when that show went off the air.

Michael White, editor

MICHAEL WHITE

I was in Queens to talk about the art of interviewing, which I did, and the students gave me their undivided attention. But they appeared most interested in how to land a job. I didn’t blame them; they know they’re entering a competitive field in a down economy.

What I told them was pretty simple, and it probably applies to most things relating to building a career and a happy life: They have to take chances — and, I guess, be a little nuts.

I first got into journalism my junior year of college, when I took a Reporter 101 course and began writing for the school newspaper, fittingly called The Review. Although I was passed over for a city editor job at The Review the next year, I had compiled a bunch of decent clips come graduation, and the paper’s editor-in-chief referred me to a small daily newspaper in neighboring Cecil County, Md.

Soon after graduation, I interviewed at The Cecil Whig — which covered a rural and suburban area not much different from Riverhead Town. There were no jobs open at the time, the Whig’s editor told me, but he asked if I would be interested in freelancing and gave me a story about gypsy moths to work on. (I now realize the assignment was probably a tryout.) The editors liked my story and told me I did a good job; it even ran on the next day’s cover.

After that — like Seinfeld’s neighbor Kramer, who started showing up for work at a company called Brandt Leland, even though he’d never been hired there — I began arriving at the Whig’s newsroom every morning in a suit and tie. I figured I would sit at one of the empty desks until I got an assignment. And if I didn’t, I would go home at 5 p.m. I can still recall the surprise of managing editor David Healey when he saw me that first day.

On Monday, the St. John’s students quickly got the Kramer comparison. Many were laughing and a few even yelled out some memorable quotes from the episode. I went on to tell them I “worked” every day at the Maryland newspaper for three or four months. The students continued to laugh.

Later in life, I came to realize that the editors there probably had little choice but to keep giving me assignments as if I were a staffer. They were nice people; how could they tell a kid who showed up every morning in a suit and did a decent job to leave — even if my weekly freelance pay wasn’t in the budget? (At $40 a story, it started to add up.)

Sometime that September, when the Whig staff’s political reporter left for a job elsewhere, editor Terry Peddicord said something along the lines of, “I guess this is your position; you’ve already been doing the job for months.”

My faux job didn’t end like Kramer’s, and that was a good thing. As Kramer was being fired, he famously explained, “I don’t even work here.” But I needed to pay my back rent, and I managed to make a career out of my own goofy stunt.

I also told the St. John’s students that back in college, when I finally chose to study journalism, people came out of the woodwork to discourage me — most likely not on purpose. People, I found, just loved to point out how competitive a given field is and how it’s so tough to break into. But I was pretty good at newspaper writing. Besides, there were people in every city in the country working in journalism. What did they have on me?

I was fortunate enough to ignore my classmates and even the misguided adults, but I know that more often than not, students and young people get discouraged instead of sticking to their dreams. So I was glad to be able to offer some words of encouragement on Monday.

And provide a laugh.

Michael White is the Riverhead News-Review editor. He can be reached at mwhite@timesreview.com or (631) 298-3200, ext. 152. 

@mikewhite31

03/02/13 12:00pm
03/02/2013 12:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO  |  A view of downtown Riverhead.

It was like watching protesters shouting and arguing with one another over a police barricade.

Michael White

Michael White

You’re probably familiar with the images from nightly newscasts: “Equal Rights for Gays!” one side would yell. “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” the other would retort.

Except in this case, those who gather in Jerry Steiner’s Allied Optical store for the semi-regular “Gathering of the Misfits” lunch have all been hoping for the same result: a re-energized and revitalized downtown Riverhead.

They just disagree about whether it will ever happen.

Here’s what the skeptics — all beleaguered business owners Steiner calls The Misfits — were saying:

Downtown’s a mess. There are shootings, druggies and prostitutes in plain sight, not to mention legal users seeking treatment at the nearby methadone clinic at the County Center. People with bucks are scared of the place. The only businesses that seem to be doing well are delis and travel places catering to migrant workers. The “Arts Means Business” and “Live, Work, Play” slogans that have emerged during the latest attempt at a downtown resurgence are just a window dressing; everyone’s losing money hand over fist.

Government help, be it from the town, state or county, seems to be available for nonprofits, bigger projects and connected folks, but not for the little guy, the guy who’s been dumping his kids’ college funds into his shop for the past decade, waiting for the big turnaround. The little guys are tired of waiting and losing money and being nickel-and-dimed by the state and town at every turn.

In the meantime, they feel largely ignored by the police department — and even when there is a boost in police presence and foot patrols downtown, they say, it never lasts much longer than the initial newspaper photo-op. Things are going nowhere fast.

On the other side, for the optimists in the room who crashed the party — those Steiner calls “Men of Vision” — downtown Riverhead could be the pride and joy of the East End. Resurgences have happened in once-blighted and beleaguered areas like Patchogue Village and Bay Shore, they say. Why not here? Downtown Riverhead has even more to offer than those areas. It’s the county seat. It’s got history. It’s got a river running through it with access to the Peconic bays and beyond. Families can drive boats to downtown Riverhead, dock and then hop ashore and walk around, taking in the sights.

It’s got culture and diversity, grit yet arts, historical components yet modern structures like the Hyatt Place hotel. It’s got potential.

But guess what? Potential doesn’t pay the bills.

How can you argue with that?

If I’d sat in Jerry’s any longer my neck would have gotten sore from all the back-and-forth. Things got a little heated at times. And just like those rallies outside the Supreme Court, no one was changing anyone’s mind.

I chimed in here and there if I thought I had a nugget of information that could help someone make or finish a point, but didn’t offer much by way of opinion. I’ve always managed to remain an optimistic guy, but who was I to these business owners they should be optimistic, that everything’s going to be OK? I haven’t dumped any money into downtown.

In the couple of weeks since Steiner’s gathering I’ve figured out that good news is indeed on the way.

Experts say stress comes from uncertainty. It seems to me this argument, which has raged pretty intensely over the past decade, is coming to a head. We’re truly, finally going to get an answer.

There are now more reasons for people to visit the expanded aquarium site, three apartment projects are in the works for Main Street and the newly renovated Suffolk Theater is about to hold its first big bash tonight, Saturday. Without a doubt, we’ll be finding out in the next few years which way things are going to break. We’ll know whether downtown will re-emerge as the bustling business district it was in the ’50s and ’60s, or whether everyone’s going to lose their shirts and get out of Dodge, leaving it once again to the druggies and prostitutes.

In the meantime, what choice do we have but to be hopeful?

Most of the downtown business owners who drop in for a joke and a drink at Steiner’s have been on Main Street for a while now. Even in the last couple of years, they’ve been dumping even more money into their establishments — so I suspect hope is still alive in them, too. If things do turn around downtown and people start making money there, it will be up to the rest of us to give these guys their due.

They’ve been the true believers.

mwhite@timesreview.com

01/31/13 2:59pm
01/31/2013 2:59 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Demitri Hampon appeared on the cover of a Suffolk County Community College campus magazine in 2012.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Demitri Hampton appeared on the cover of a Suffolk County Community College campus magazine in 2012. He would have graduated this spring.

The extended family had already suffered a big blow two years ago, when grandma died. She was the rock who for so long seemed to hold everything together. But during those trying times of late 2011, as the first holidays without her approached and a long winter set in, everyone had Demitri to lift their spirits

Michael White

Michael White

Never too far away, the then-teenager could make for a moment of levity during any time of despair, and by any means necessary. That meant he wasn’t above donning a wig or a skirt, or randomly spraying himself with air freshener. He was also prone to rolling on the floor in fits of laughter. With Demitri around, you couldn’t help but smile and forget whatever pain you might feel.

“I don’t think I would have been able to get through Grandma’s passing without Demitri,” said one of his cousin’s, Fawn Gettling.

“He always lived on a positive note” and was never in a bad mood, explained another cousin, Latisha Diego.

That’s the cruel irony behind Demitri Hampton’s death during a home invasion early Sunday in Flanders. His personality and positive outlook is exactly what his family and the rest of his loved ones need most right now.

And they are at an utter loss to imagine how, exactly, they will manage without him.

Demitri had the misfortune of being awake and playing video games when two armed men broke through the front door of the Priscilla Avenue house at 3 a.m. Determined to protect his sleeping girlfriend and family, he had fought with the intruders before he was shot in his chest and later died at Peconic Bay Medical Center. No one else was hurt before the suspects fled.

“He will forever be a hero,” said his sister, Jennifer Davis. “There won’t ever be a time when I won’t miss my little brother.”

For Ms. Gettling, she believes her loss is the gain of her grandfather, who died in 2004, and grandmother.

“The thing that I keep saying to my brother, and I keep in my brain, is that he was always doing whatever he could to keep my grandma laughing,” she said. “I believe that he’s in heaven making my grandma and my grandfather laugh hysterically, so they’re up there cracking up.

“So that helps a little bit.”

Demitri was hardly a do-nothing prankster though; he had big dreams and he was working toward achieving them.

Whether it was going to be through acting, modeling, comedy, a college degree or the Air Force, the charismatic young man had been intent on becoming “somebody,” as his relatives said. Just the type of person who usually makes it in this world.

But he wanted to help others just as much as he wanted to help himself, performing small, heroic acts long before his death.

“He was very encouraging,” said Ms. Diego, recalling the hours before his death, as the two shared some of their hopes and plans for the future as they watched movies on her king-sized bed. “He was saying, ‘It’s gonna be OK. It’s gonna be OK. I know you’re going to do it.’ ”

“He had that ‘no man left behind’ type of mentality,” added his cousin Neko Gettling. “He believed that if he could make it, everybody else could too.”

That showed through his extracurricular activities at Riverhead High School and the middle school, where he volunteered for seven years with the Council for Unity anti-gang group. Then, at Suffolk County Community College, he served as a mentor and role model through the Black Male Network, a newly founded student club devoted to encouraging high school students to go to college.

Basically, his family and friends explained, he had a simple message to high school kids: “I’m going to college; and so can you.”

That’s the other irony in Demitri Hampton’s tragic death. What’s almost certain is that these killers — whose race or ethnicity is unknown — were at some point the type of at-risk youths Demitri had always sought to help through his volunteer work. Had they all met in another time and place, Demitri might have taken them under his wing to get them on the right track.

In killing him, they not only brought unspeakable grief upon his friends and family, but theirs as well, as they will surely be caught and wind up spending decades in prison. During that time, they’ll get to reflect not only Demitri and his shortened life, but the lives of all those other souls he never got the chance to help.

Michael White is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at 631-298-3200, ext. 152 or mwhite@timesreview.com.

12/07/12 7:30am
12/07/2012 7:30 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Reko, a 5-year-old male American Staffordshire Terrier, when he was in the shelter in 2010.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Reko, an American Staffordshire Terrier, at the dog shelter in 2010. He was later sent to the Kent Animal Shelter for adoption.

Animal lovers. Animal activists. Cat ladies. Dog zealots. Nut-jobs.

Michael White

Call them what you want, but the people who have been condemning the town’s animal shelter are not going anywhere. This is a virtual sit-in, being waged with constant phone calls, letters and emails to the town’s elected and appointed leaders, as well as to the media.

You can also call these people bullies and ask why they’ve set up shop in Riverhead Town while demanding its taxpayers give up more of their hard-earned money to care for animals when other troubles warrant more attention. But dismissing the animal advocates won’t do any good. They’re activists, and this is their cause. Whether you deem it worthy or not.

And they can bring the heat. Just look what happened to the previous animal control officer/shelter head. He’s gone now, having resigned because he couldn’t take the constant criticism, second-guessing, name-calling and public humiliation.

But it wasn’t his fault. The town’s antiquated system of having dog catchers run the pound and answer to a police chief is what set him up to fail. It’s not the 1950s anymore and this dog pound needs to become an actual shelter — that’s basically the protestors’ demand — complete with properly trained and experienced management, an organized adoption mechanism and a community outreach program to help educate the next generation to properly care for pets, and thus prevent more abused dogs from ending up in shelters. Only then will the activists leave us all alone.

In a system of government controlled in large part by special interests, there are plenty of less worthy causes to cave to.

The pet industry is constantly evolving. (Remember when you could buy a puppy in the mall?) And today’s model shelter operation, described above, is just the latest piece of the puzzle, so to speak, as we strive as a country to treat animals more humanely. Simply put, how we treat animals is a reflection of our overall “goodness” as a society.

The philosopher might say positive treatment of animals is a good in and of itself, and thus begets more goodness, which benefits everyone.

Some have argued, through letters to the editor and our online comments section, that spending so much time and money on animal welfare is a waste because so many human beings are going hungry and homeless. Stop. Certainly a town and its people can strive to help human beings and animals alike. Some advocates prefer to help people, others are more suited to helping animals. In the end, that’s their call.

To me, the argument that we should forgo helping animals because some people are in need holds as much water as saying it’s wrong to build parks, or for someone to buy a Rolex or go skiing, when so many people are starving in this world. Many people value and care for animals. The town should strive to do the same to the best of its ability, as other towns have done. But doing so takes money, and it all boils down to priorities.

Simply put — judging by the dollar figures alone — Riverhead’s dog shelter is not a priority.

A News-Review special report in 2010, found that neighboring Southampton Town spends about $500,000 a year in taxpayer money to fund its shelter operations. Southold Town spends about $360,000, not including debt service on a fairly new building, and Riverhead spends about $200,000.

The inadequate funding here means problems keep arising, like a mauling and a sudden staff exodus that leaves the entire shelter to one part-time worker. That’s why the activists are constantly up in arms.

Both Southold and Southampton have enlisted nonprofit groups to run their shelters. Riverhead could do the same, but town Councilman James Wooten has said it will take about $300,000 to get a group like the North Fork Animal Welfare League, which runs Southold’s shelter, to take over Riverhead’s operation. The challenge is to come up with that extra cash, and during tough times.

Here’s my idea. As was mentioned in a recent News-Review editorial, the town has been swatting down proposals from hobbyist groups looking to use some space at town land in Calverton to do things like hold autocross competitions, fly model airplanes and operate a paragliding school — to name a few.

We’ve all seen with the car-storage operation at the former Grumman property that things can happen there, and quickly, without state interference. So let’s let some of these smaller groups rent space in Calverton, then earmark the proceeds for the shelter; $20,000 here and there can add up quickly.

One way or another, there’s no doubt the town must act to get its dog shelter problems under control.

If not for the activists, then because it’s simply the right and decent thing to do.

Michael White is the News-Review editor. He can be reached at (631) 298-3200, ext. 152 or at mwhite@timesreview.com.

10/06/12 8:00am
10/06/2012 8:00 AM
Riverhead, Supreme Court, Griffing Avenue, Michael White

COURTESY SUFFOLK COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY | Griffing Avenue was once a tree-lined block that bustled with activity.

Sure, people love New York, as the slogan goes. “Greatest City in the World!” disc jockeys across the FM and AM dials proclaim daily.

Michael White, Riverhead, Suffolk County, Supreme Court

MICHAEL WHITE

There’s a certain amount of pride for us whenever we see those familiar bird’s-eye views of the NYC skyline during a premier sporting event like Monday Night Football. Movies showcase the city’s parks and architectural wonders. Rappers bestow iconic status on the city’s toughest neighborhoods.

But the reality for most on eastern Long Island is that NYC has nothing to do with us except as a place we might visit during the holidays or every so often for a play or a ballgame.

Yet that pride we feel remains directed there, at the city, and not right here at home.

Young people know this most of all. There’s a time for all Long Island teenagers when it seems their entire sense of self-worth depends on how close they live to the city. The closer one is, the cooler. No two ways about it. They’ll lie about it upon meeting other teens on vacation and exaggerate their connections to the city while away at college.

Every young person knows who the mayor of NYC is. Go ask someone under 25 to name the Suffolk County executive.

So when people talk about New York, and all this state pride we have, I just don’t buy it.

Maryland has some serious state pride. Don’t believe me? Take a five-hour ride down I-95. Those people slap their state flag on everything — HoJo’s, McDonald’s, the Baltimore Ravens, their forearms and thighs. Even you know what the Maryland state flag looks like. (Need a reminder? It’s a split pattern of yellow and black checkers and white and red crosses.)

When’s the last time you saw a New York State emblem flown or worn proudly, other than on the side of a trooper car?

All this lack of state pride trickles down to the county levels.

There are almost 1.5 million of us here in Suffolk County. Probably 1.47 million can’t name the county seat. You know, like a county capital. Where all the stuff happens. But I don’t need to tell my readers this, you people are the .03 million, the folks who are well aware where the county seat is, because you live here and every once in a while someone brings it up.

Even when Riverhead is mentioned as the county seat in any sort of literature or web entry, it’s got a sort of asterisk next to it. Take this line: “[Suffolk’s] county seat is Riverhead, though many county offices are in Hauppauge on the west side of the county where most of the population lives.”

This stupid thing appears everywhere, verbatim — Wikipedia, Newsday, even Congressman Tim Bishop’s website.

According to the National Association of Counties, there are 33 counties in 11 states that have two county seats. We’re not one of them.

Everyone who lives in Suffolk County should know where the county seat is, dammit. And be proud. Own it. Have a stake in it.

Sure, the county’s huge, but we’re more than just our school districts or our proximity to New York City. The condition of downtown Riverhead and the courts and county offices here reflects on all county residents, from Amityville to Montauk. And with the town’s emphasis on farmland and other preservation efforts, Riverhead is a reminder of what we all once were.

That’s why I’m especially excited, yet at the same time frustrated and none too confident, about the restoration work at the historic state Supreme Court buildings on Griffing Avenue, just a short walk from downtown.

The News-Review reported this week the buildings should be fully renovated by next summer. When this is accomplished, Suffolk County will finally have a historic courthouse that rivals those of the city boroughs (though obviously smaller). Exciting news indeed.

But, like most of us who live or work here, I’ve been frustrated that the renovation has already taken six years. Despite the explanations we keep getting from county officials, perfectly reasonable as those explanations might be, it still feels like we’ve been getting jerked around by “where most of the population lives.”

Why am I none too confident in the future?

The new civil courthouse that opened in 2007 behind the historic one isn’t getting the attention it deserves; it’s easy to notice with a quick walk around the building. There’s improper signage, unkept and overgrown landscaping, and a litter problem.

This new building is an investment, and so is the $50 million historic courthouse project. These are not just bones that have been thrown to appease East End politicians.

Once the renovated courthouse is open, the county executive and our other pals in Hauppauge should make a very big deal about it, then see to it that Riverhead’s entire court district is well maintained, with appealing supporting infrastructure. And maybe slap the renovated courthouse’s image on some promotional materials.

It wouldn’t hurt to boast about the county seat — and instill some pride.

Michael White is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at mwhite@timesreview.com or (631) 298-3200, ext. 152.