05/25/14 7:00am
05/25/2014 7:00 AM
Riverhead Town Hall (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Riverhead Town Hall (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Last year, as candidates for the Riverhead Town Board, we sounded the warning bell about public officials also serving as high political party officials.

Often, in the rough-and-tumble and prism of a political campaign, issues like this are seen as personal. But as the movie line goes, “It’s not personal … It’s strictly business.” (more…)

11/07/13 3:32pm
11/07/2013 3:32 PM
Riverhead Town Board

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Supervisor Sean Walter reading a Bible verse in Town Hall in 2012.

Back in 2010, during Supervisor Sean Walter’s first year in office, he proposed that the Town Board begin its meetings with an invocation, or prayer, recited by a local member of the clergy, with a different clergy member each meeting.

There was some initial concern about violating separation of state and religion requirements, but the idea took effect in August of 2010 and has been in effect even since — with little or no objections.

The board has had Catholic, Jewish, Baptist, and other clergy leaders do the invocations over that time.

Now, a dispute in the upstate Town of Greece could bring this issue back to the forefront.

A lawsuit brought by an atheist woman and a Jewish woman challenging that town’s pre-meeting prayers is before the U.S. Supreme Court.

That case, called Town of Greece vs. Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, was heard before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Ms. Galloway and Ms. Stephens claim that most of the prayers read before that town’s meetings are Christian prayers.  They also argue that people at these meetings may feel coerced to participate in the prayers.

The Supreme Court has yet to render a decision.

Mr. Walter mentioned the case prior to Wednesday’s Riverhead Town Board, where Pastor Scott Kraniak, the chaplain of Riverhead Raceway as well as the pastor of the Centereach Bible Church, gave the invocation.

“Today the Supreme Court is hearing a case about whether towns can introduce a Town Board meeting with an invocation,” Mr. Walter said. “I find it interesting that at all other levels of government this has passed constitutional muster, yet at the town level, for some reason, it’s before the Supreme Court.”

Mr. Walter said Congress, the state Legislature, and the county Legislature all begin their meetings with a prayer.

“I say this to let everybody know,” Mr. Walter said. “We do this, and it’s non-denominational. If somebody comes in, they will pray what they wish to pray, and if somebody wants to come in from any particular sect or religion, we’re open to that.  And we’ll either sit or stand, whatever they want us to do.”

The supervisor then added, “I hope that God’s wisdom is with the Supreme Court in making this very interesting decision.”

The Supreme Court in a 1983 case called Marsh vs. Chambers upheld the practice of starting legislative meetings with an invocation.

tgannon@timesreview.com

11/05/13 4:30pm
11/05/2013 4:30 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Hall.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Hall.

With Town Hall closed for election day on Tuesday, the Riverhead Town Board’s first meeting of the month will be held on Wednesday afternoon, with public hearings slated on the proposed 2014 town budget and on the proposed Community Benefit zoning district that is needed for the First Baptist Church’s planned Family Community Life Center on Northville Turnpike.

The meeting starts at 2 p.m. in Town Hall.

• The $54.5 million preliminary budget that will be the subject of the public hearing calls for a 3 percent increase in spending and a 2.17 percent tax rate increase in the so-called townwide budget, which includes the three funds that all residents pay into. There are also a number of special sewer , water and garbage districts that vary by area, and those would bring total town spending up by three percent to $91.9 million, under the budget proposal.

Supervisor Sean Walter is proposing to use $3.5 million of town reserves to keep taxes down, leaving only about $3 million left in the reserve account. He says this is necessary because the town is paying $4 million in debt on the town landfill reclamation, which went over budget during the previous administration.

The proposed budget would not increase salaries for Town Board members. A final budget must be adopted by Nov. 20.

• The Community Benefit zoning district hearing is on a proposal to create an overlay zone that would allow a community center and workforce housing on land where the new zone is placed. In order to qualify for having this zone, a site would need to have 10 or more acres of land with at least 800 feet of frontage on a county or state highway, as well as public water and sewer connections.

First Baptist Church’s 13-acre campus on Northville Turnpike meets this criteria. The church is proposing a mixed-use project that would include an Olympic-size indoor swimming pool, a 25-seat theater and media center, adult and child day care services, an indoor walking track, gymnasium, fitness center, classroom space and 132 affordable apartment units intended as “workforce housing” for the area. First Baptist has been planning the Family Community Life Center for more than 25 years, and says the income from the apartments are needed to offset the costs of the community center, which would be open to the public.

The proposed zone only allows one unit of housing per acre, unless transferred development rights from farms, or affordable housing credits from open space purchases are used. The church is hoping to receive enough affordable housing open space credits from Suffolk County to make the project feasible. The county provides the credits at no charge, unlike the farmland development right program.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone last month pledged the county’s support of the project at a gathering in Riverhead, although he didn’t specifically mention the affordable housing credits.

The Nov. 6 meeting also has a public hearing on the annual Community Development Block Grant requests, which are distributed to local charities and non-profit organization.

04/29/13 12:24pm
04/29/2013 12:24 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Runners navigate the muddy Survival Race course last year.

Thousand of runners and “zombies” are expected to descend on the Dorothy P. Flint 4-H Camp in Baiting Hollow this coming weekend, May 4 and May 5.

But while Saturday’s Survival Race and Sunday’s Zombie Race appear to have the support of Riverhead Town Board members, race organizers still don’t have a Town Board resolution approving the two-day event.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said on Friday that town officials were still waiting on information from a town fire marshal.

Mr. Walter said he anticipates the events will be approved by the Town Board, but that approval might not happen until Thursday’s work session, which is just three days before the first race.

“This should have been submitted much earlier,” he said, indicating that the Town Board only first discussed the proposals two weeks ago, and the applications were only filed on March 1.

Both events are being organized by Dean Del Prete, who also owns Cousins Paintball centers in Medford and Riverhead, and race director James Villepigue.

The two organized a one-day Survivor Race at 4H last September, which attracted more than 4,000 runners and spectators.

This year, they plan to hold a May 4 Survival Race, the May 5 Zombie Race, and a second Survival Race on Sept. 7 — all at the 4H camp off Sound Avenue, according to Mr. Villepique.

The Survival Race is a 5K run in which participants will tackle a number of obstacles and mud puddles.

The Zombie Race is a 5K run in which participants must allude people dressed as zombies who will try to capture flags worn at the runners’ waists, said Mr. Villepique. Racers have a belt with four flags, like in flag football, and if the zombies capture all four flags, that runner is out of the race and turns into a zombie.

“The difference between the two is that the Survival Race is more of an athletic type event while the Zombie Race is more of an entertainment event,” Mr. Villepique said.

The zombies are given costumes and are screened, he said. The zombies cannot touch runners and are instructed not to scare people to the point they are actually frightened, especially children, he added.

“It’s not like we have zombies wandering in the forest,” Mr. Villepique said. “We have designated areas that we call a zombie hoard. And then there are managers of each hoard, so, say, there may be 10 zombies in a hoard, and then there is one manager in the hoard who oversees the conduct of each group of zombies, to make sure they follow our code of conduct.”

When the group appeared at the April 11 Town Board work session, board members initially said an event of this size should have been proposed much earlier, and Mr. Walter suggested it might need a mass gathering permit from the county, and that it had already been submitted too late for that.

But race organizers said they would keep the attendance below the 5,000 attendance figure for which a mass gathering permit would be required.

Riverhead Police Lieutenant Richard Boden also said that last year’s event did not cause traffic problems.

A main complaint last year was that the Survival Race used Terry Farm Road, which is a private road. The race organizers say they will not use that road this year.

While the Survival Race may have about 4,000 runners, the runners start in waves of about 100 each half hour, so there is never a point where all 4,000 runners are entering or leaving the site at the same time, Mr. Villepique said.

tgannon@timesreview.com

04/10/13 11:11am
04/10/2013 11:11 AM
NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Hall on Howell Avenue.

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

Update (1:00 p.m.): Four Riverhead council members confirmed to the News-Review Wednesday that the Town Board will hire Carissa Willis of Calverton for the vacant Town Board coordinator position. Below is the original story:

Is a Marine sergeant what the Riverhead Town Board needs to coordinate it?

Could be.

After board members interviewed a dozen candidates for the vacant Town Board coordinator position in an executive session meeting last Thursday, Carissa Willis of Calverton appeared to be the front runner, officials said this week.

Ms. Willis served in the United States Marine Corps from 1996 to 2001 and attained the rank of sergeant.

But on Tuesday, board members disagreed about whether Ms. Willis would be hired or additional interviews would take place.

Councilmen John Dunleavy and George Gabrielsen said they were under the impression she would be hired.

But council members Jim Wooten and Jodi Giglio were under the impression that the board planned to conduct additional interviews before making a decision.

Supervisor Sean Walter was away and did not participate in the interviews, Mr. Gabrielsen said.

The board hopes to hire a Riverhead Town resident for the job, he added.

The Town Board has had three coordinators in the past three years. The latest, Tracey Densieski, resigned as of March 29 because a side business she has, selling a product called Qivana, has taken off and she wants to devote more time to it.

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

Ms. Hulse had gotten the job in 2011 when her predecessor, Donna Zlatniski, left after having a baby. Ms. Zlatniski later filed a million-dollar lawsuit claiming her resignation was coerced after she had been accused of doing political work for Councilman Jim Wooten, which she denied.

tgannon@timesreview.com

12/05/12 1:00pm
12/05/2012 1:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Councilman James Wooten (from left), Councilman John Dunleavy and Supervisor Sean Walter in Town Hall.

The Suffolk County Legislature on Tuesday set Jan. 15 as the date of a special election pitting Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter against Southold Town Councilman Al Krupski to fill the county legislature seat recently vacated by Ed Romaine’s election as Brookhaven Supervisor.

And while the election is still more than a month away, candidates are already lining up to fill Mr. Walter’s shoes, should he win.

Riverhead Councilmen Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy both said this week that they would be interested in running for Riverhead Town Supervisor if Mr. Walter gets elected to the Suffolk County Legislature.

Mr. Dunleavy threw his hat in the ring during a brief conversation with reporters during a break at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting.

Mr. Dunleavy was lamenting the fact that decisions where being made without anyone telling him, such as the decision to remove a resolution Tuesday calling for a settlement with a developer who had sued over a planned project in Calverton.

“That’s why I’m going to run for supervisor if Sean gets elected to the county,” he said. “But it’s too early to say now, because if he doesn’t get elected, he’s still supervisor.”

In some towns, like in Brookhaven, the town code requires special elections be held to fill vacancies within 60 to 90 days of the vacancy occurring, Mr. Dunleavy said. But not Riverhead.

“We don’t have that,” he said. “That’s why we went without a councilman for almost a year [when former Councilman Tim Buckley stepped down].”

Mr. Dunleavy also said that the cost of a special election is borne by the county, not the town.

“Everyone thinks the town pays. They don’t,” he said. “The county does.”

Mr. Dunleavy’s fellow Riverhead councilman, Jim Wooten, also said he’d be interested in running for supervisor, if a vacancy arises.

“I’ve always had an interest in serving in that capacity,” Mr. Wooten said. “I think I have that skill set.”

If Mr. Walter is elected to the county Legislature, it would take three votes on the Town Board to appoint a deputy to fill in until a special election is held, and it would up to the Republican committee to decide who the party’s candidate for a special election would be, Mr. Wooten said.

“I’ll cross that bridge when I get there,” he said. “Right now, I think all hands are on deck to support Sean and get him elected to the Legislature.”

Mr. Wooten said he doesn’t want it look like “it’s me against John,” but he added, “if the opportunity arose to run for supervisor … I would want to be considered.”

Meanwhile, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who has expressed interest in running for supervisor in the past, said this week that she is not interested in running for supervisor, unless she is asked to do by the Republican party.

Ms. Giglio and Mr. Dunleavy both were screened by the Republicans to run for the legislative nod, which ultimately went to Mr. Walter.

Riverhead Councilman George Gabrielsen, who thus far has not sought to run for any other positions, could not be reached for comment.

Riverhead’s current deputy supervisor, Jill Lewis, is not an elected official and would not be able to vote on issues if the supervisor left.

tgannon@timesreview.com

07/24/12 9:30am
07/24/2012 9:30 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Clerk Diane Wilhelm officiated at the first gay marriage ceremony on the lawn at Town Hall July 28 of Theresa Claudio (left) and Nancy Zaharick of Mastic. Their toy poodle Bandit was the ring boy.

Some same-sex couples in Riverhead Town are celebrating their first wedding anniversaries this week, as today marks a year since  the marriage equality bill went into effect in New York.

One of those couples is Theresa Claudio, 46, and Nancy Zaharick, 53, of Mastic. They were the first same-sex couple to say “I do” Riverhead Town, in a ceremony performed by Town Clerk Diane Wilhelm last July 28.

“Life is still the same,” Ms. Claudio said in a telephone interview this week. “We were thankful we were able to do it and will continue to celebrate our lives together.”

The two women, who were set up by friends more than two decades ago, decided to marry after Ms. Zaharick popped the question while walking along a boardwalk in Carolina Beach, N.C.

Ms. Zaharick believes things haven’t changed much since they tied the knot, but said they feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to make their relationship extra special.

“Everything has been wonderful,” Ms. Zaharick said. “Everybody has been so supportive and happy for us.”

To celebrate their one-year wedding anniversary, the couple plans to see the play “The Best Man” in Manhattan and grab some grub at their favorite place: John’s Pizzeria, an old church in midtown that has been converted into a restaurant.

“We’re pretty low-key,” Ms. Zaharick said.

Ms. Zaharick and Ms. Claudio were married in a simple ceremony on the lawn outside Town Hall.

The one bride wore a white button-down and a pair of black slacks while the other bride wore a black button-down with white pants. Both wore a crown of baby’s breath. They were surrounded by giant heart-shaped balloons and chose calla lilies for the bouquet.

“For us to get married in the view of the public meant the world to us,” Ms. Zaharick said. “It’s nice to be recognized.”

Ms. Zaharick and Ms. Claudio are one of 21 same-sex couples who have applied for a marriage license in Riverhead Town over the past year.

Pick up Thursday’s paper to read more about the first year of same-sex marriage on the North Fork.

jennifer@timesreview.com