05/10/14 10:00am
05/10/2014 10:00 AM
(Credit: Tim Gannon)

(Credit: Tim Gannon)

For readers out there who aren’t big town hall buffs, our government reporter, Tim Gannon, does a bang-up job each week reporting live from public Town Board meetings. In a media cycle that calls for fast, reliable information, his live blogs — with quotes, photos and meeting details along with his built-in perspective from 18 years covering the town — offer a great glimpse into the inner workings of our local government, if that’s your thing. Of course, since I’m an editor it’s my job to follow the news out of our local schools, governments and business communities (more…)

05/01/14 5:00am

 

Clockwise from top-left: Town hall, the armory building, police station/justice court, Second Street firehouse (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Clockwise from top-left: Town hall, the armory building, police station/justice court, Second Street firehouse (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

If Riverhead Town Board members don’t agree on much, they at least agrees on this: The town needs a new location for its justice court.

But how to construct it, or where to put it, or how much the town should spend on it have remained topics of constant conversation at Town Hall in recent few months — with little, if any, common ground being established.

(more…)

04/12/14 2:00pm
04/12/2014 2:00 PM
TIM GANNON PHOTO | Garbage dumped in woods along Oak Avenue in Flanders.

Garbage dumped in the woods. (Tim Gannon file photo)

Town Board members want local businesses to participate in an Adopt-a-Road program to clean up litter along town roads.

Osborn Avenue resident Christine Doubrava, who has been picking up litter in her neighborhood for years, told the board at last week’s work session that the type of garbage she’s finding on the streets is changing.

“I’m willing to pick up beer bottles, cigarette packs and so on, but what’s troubling me this year is that it’s transformed, and it’s no longer litter. It’s debris and garbage,” she said.

Ms. Doubrava showed board members some samples of the plastic foam, industrial garbage and packing papers she’s more frequently finding on the roadsides.

“It’s from one end of the road to the other,” she said.

Ms. Doubrava said she’s spoken to Highway Superintendent George Woodson as well as Crown Sanitation, which has a recycling facility on Youngs Avenue, and both were very receptive.

“We clean up an area one week and the next week it’s the same,” Mr. Woodson said at the work session.

Supervisor Sean Walter suggested sending a letter to area businesses urging them to participate in an Adopt-a-Road program that would allow a sign with the company’s name on it.

“Maybe we make the sign a little bit bigger, a little bit nicer, if we can get the businesses to adopt the highways,” Mr. Walter said. “That sign could be worth something, and they’d probably pay people to clean the road.”

Mr. Walter said his office and Mr. Woodson can coordinate to establish the program.

03/28/14 9:00am
03/28/2014 9:00 AM
Riverhead Town Hall (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Riverhead Town Hall (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

As if journalists needed another reason to call for more open government, the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 2005 started Sunshine Week, a “national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.”

Sunshine Week was actually last week, March 16-22. But this week has provided us with a couple of reminders about how various elected officials could easily improve their efforts to open up to the public.

It’s not exactly breaking news that Riverhead’s all-Republican Town Board meets in caucus from time to time. Precedent supports the legality of such meetings. Supervisor Sean Walter’s allegation that board members are discussing public business during the meetings, however — and the fact that board members are meeting so frequently — is noteworthy, as it appears to fly in the face of state open meetings laws.

RELATED STORY: ‘SUPE TAKES AIM AT CLOSED-DOOR MEETINGS AMONG BOARD MEMBERS

Board members who attend the caucus meetings, as well as the current Riverhead Republican Committee chairman, deny the allegations, describing the meetings as discussions about the political impact of board members’ decisions and not the decisions themselves.

The timing the supervisor picked to bring all of this to light could be considered curious. He’s suffered the loss of a few votes on the public stage recently — likely stemming from discussions during these caucuses — so this could be construed as a political counter-punch. But there’s really no way for the public to know the whole truth unless the all-Republican Town Board stops meeting in caucus. And the only way to accomplish that, it would seem, would be to diversify the party affiliations of Town Board members.

Meanwhile, in the school district, a couple of instances this past week show room for improvement as well.

Superintendent Nancy Carney gave a thorough presentation Tuesday night about a $4 million bond proposal now set to go before voters in May, after which the school board voted to adopt it as a ballot proposition. But the proposal had never been publicly discussed at any previous school board meeting.

Without speaking on the merits of the bond itself, one might think these publicly elected officials — albeit volunteers — would want to inform and seek input from their constituents before setting the stage to borrow $4 million.

And following the presentation, it raises eyebrows to see a unanimous vote on such a costly plan without any discussion whatsoever — between members of the public and the school board or within the school board itself.

RELATED COVERAGE FROM TUESDAY NIGHT’S SCHOOL BOARD MEETING

Another note from Tuesday night: The school board approved a plan to spend $456,000 from the district’s capital reserve fund right after closing a public hearing on the matter. While it’s not uncommon for public boards to adopt more mundane measures immediately following a public hearing, voters deserve more time to weigh in on $456,000 in expenses for a fund they voted to create.

So, in all, the school board may spend about $4.5 million with little public discussion or input from the people being asked to come up with the money.

If taxpayers in the town and school district feel they’re being increasingly marginalized when it comes to big decisions — and their leaders are opting to keep them out of the discussion to avoid headaches, slowdowns or the outright blockage of measures — then the public’s only recourse is to demand change through their votes.

03/13/14 5:45pm
03/13/2014 5:45 PM
Riverhead town board members Jim Wooten, John Dunleavy, Supervisor Sean Walter, George Gabrielsen and Jodi Giglio

Riverhead town board members Jim Wooten, John Dunleavy, Supervisor Sean Walter, George Gabrielsen and Jodi Giglio (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Riverhead Town Board members all agreed on a 12-year term limit for elected officials in policy making positions during a discussion at Thursday’s work session.

But they don’t agree on term limits for non-policy making elected officers, or for members of appointed boards like the planning board. (more…)

01/17/14 5:00pm
01/17/2014 5:00 PM
TIM GANNON PHOTO | Ethics Board chairperson Donna Barnard (right) with the Town Board Thursday.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Ethics Board chairperson Donna Barnard (right) with the Town Board.

Should “policy-makers” in Town Hall be barred from serving on political committees, and vice versa?

The Riverhead Town Ethics Board thinks so, but a four-page ethics report discussed Thursday in Town Hall doesn’t exactly say what positions in town the board considers tasked with making policy.

The Ethics Board’s four-page report recommends the town ethics code “be revised such that political office is not limited to positions on an executive board (of a political party) but all political party positions, including committee positions.

“Also, the Town Board should prohibit officers, elected or appointed, and employees who hold policy-making positions from serving as a political party official or committee member of a local, county, or state political party.”

But the report didn’t specify which positions are “policy making,” and left that decision to the Town Board.

See the full report below.

“You know what’s funny?” Supervisor Sean Walter asked Donna Barnard, a retired teacher and Ethics Board chairwoman, during the Town Board work session. “We punted it to you, and I’m sensing” the board punted it right back.

Mr. Walter had proposed in July banning political party leaders from holding elected office in the town, but the Town Board eventually decided to send the issue to the Ethics Board for a recommendation.

The issue — which some felt was aimed at Mason Haas, an elected town assessor who at the time was vice chairman of the Riverhead Republican Committee, and is now chairman — didn’t appear to have majority support on the all-Republican board.

The Ethics Board report, which was presented by Ms. Barnard and deputy town attorney Ann Marie Prudenti, who advises the Ethics Board, compared ethics codes from other towns, particularly Brookhaven and Southampton, as well as state laws, to see how the issue is handled elsewhere.

On the issue of what constitutes political activity, the other codes the ethics board looked at were similar. But on the issue of who is considered a “policy maker,” there was no clear definition elsewhere, Ms. Prudenti said.

The Riverhead Town ethics code currently prohibits members of the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Ethics Board and Board of Assessment Review from holding leadership positions in political committees, such as chairman, vice chairman, secretary or treasurer.

It doesn’t apply to political committee members, and it doesn’t extend the prohibition to elected officials.

Southold Town prohibits elected officials and the holders of some appointed positions from serving on political committees, the ethics board report states.

Southampton prohibits the holders of some appointed positions  from being in political party leadership positions, though Town Board members there can still serve as party leaders.

Brookhaven prohibits elected officials from being in political party executive committees, such as chairman, vice chairman, etc, according to the report.

Mr. Walter suggested the town expand its ethics code to include others, such as Town Board members, although he felt prohibitions should only apply to executive board members of political parties, and not all political committee members.

“So a Town Board member should be prohibited from sitting on a (political party) executive committee?” Mr. Walter asked Ms. Barnard.

“That would be your determination,” she responded.

“You’re good at this,” Mr. Walter said.

“We don’t make policy. You do,” said Ms. Barnard, adding that the Town Board would be more familiar with what each employees specific duties are and which employees are policy makers.

She said part of the ethics board discussion centered on determining which town officials make decisions that effect the town as a whole.

“Everyone on some level, even rank-and-file civil service, make policy within their own departments as to how they are going to handle things,” Ms. Walter said.

“But we have the authority to etch it in stone,” Councilman Jim Wooten said.

“It is a punt back to us but it tells us what we should be looking to do,” Mr. Wooten said of the ethics board report.

tgannon@timesreview.com

Ethics by Timesreview