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

01/09/14 8:30am
01/09/2014 8:30 AM
MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Hall on Howell Avenue.

MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Hall on Howell Avenue.

So, think you can be a Planning Board member?

The town is looking for someone to fill a vacancy on its Planning Board left by the recent retirement of 15-year member Lou Boschetti, who is plans to move upstate and chose not to seek another term.

According to the notice on the town website, applicants must be 18 years old, a U.S. citizen and a town resident and “should demonstrate a background in one of the following disciplines: architecture, historical preservation, urban planning, environmental planning or landscape design.”

The Planning Board meets on the first and third Thursday of each month and members are required to attend yearly training. The pay is $9,000 per year.

Interested applicants should send resumes and cover letters to the Town of Riverhead Personnel Department, 1295 Pulaski St., Riverhead, NY 11901 or fax them to 727-1768.

Supervisor Sean Walter said he plans to leave the position open until the end of January and will have members of the town personnel committee and others review applications and make a recommendation to the Town Board.

09/18/13 10:00am
09/18/2013 10:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Hall.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Hall.

UPDATE: Riverhead Town officials located several items, including a 1987 Chevy van, that were thought to have gone missing after an inventory of town property. Officials also located a 2002 GEM-brand electric car and three Tasers from police that had been reported missing a week earlier.

Two summer interns hired to do the inventory came up with a list of six pages of items that were not accounted for. Following a meeting with department heads Monday, Supervisor Sean Walter said they determined what happened to some of the “missing” items.

“We found the 1987 Chevy van,” Mr. Walter said Tuesday. “We still have it and we are still using it.”

It had been reassigned from another department to the senior citizen department, he said.

“We sent summer interns to look for these things and they couldn’t find it,” the supervisor said. “I guess they didn’t look too far.”

The supervisor said the GEM car was in the town garage being used for parts. The Tasers were defective and had been sent back to the manufacturer with two new ones being issued to the town, Mr. Walter said.

Original Story (Sept. 14)—Riverhead Town “can’t find” a 1987 Chevy van from its senior citizen department, three Tasers from the police department, a 5-ton jack from the highway department, a 2002 GEM-brand electric car from the highway department, and six pages full of other items it owns — or once owned.

The town hired two summer interns to inventory town property and came up with the list, with Town Board members discussing two draft resolutions Thursday that would officially remove the items from its “fixed asset list.”

But Supervisor Sean Walter said he wants town department heads to explain exactly where all of the items went, and if they were discarded, why the proper documentations saying so wasn’t filled out.

Board members asked what the six pages of items were while reviewing upcoming resolutions at Thursday’s work session.

“These are items that cannot be found,” said Tara McLaughlin of the supervisor’s office..

“We lost a 1987 Chevy Van?,” Councilman James Wooten asked.

“We lost a GEM car too,” Councilman John Dunleavy said.

Town officials do not know how long the listed items have been unaccounted for.

None of the items are believed to have been stolen.

“I think what happens is the disposal forms were never filled out,” Ms. McLaughlin told the board. “They were disposed, they went to auction, they just never were done in the system [as having been disposed]. That’s the problem.”

The town does have a contract with a company called PropertyRoom.com, which collects discarded items from municipalities and sells them in online auctions. Riverhead Town has been holding auctions with PropertyRoom.com since September 2011 and splits the proceeds of the sales 50-50.

The Town Board votes on a resolution every time it sends discarded items to PropertyRoom.com. Those resolutions each lists every item that’s being discarded, and in some cases, why it’s being discarded.

“How many times do we have to mention at staff meetings that they have to file the disposal forms?” Mr. Walter asked.

He said he planned to discuss the issue further at an upcoming department head meeting, while trying to find out from department heads what happened to the listed items.

“I can see misplacing a calculator, but a 1987 Chevy Van?” he asked.

tgannon@timesreview.com

10/25/10 4:14pm
10/25/2010 4:14 PM

Supervisor Sean Walter cast the deciding vote Tuesday, tabling a resolution to terminate the town’s contract with Riverhead Resorts. The development group is looking to buy 755 acres of town land in Calverton for $155 million to build a themed resorts complex bigger than Disneyland.

“In my heart of hearts, I don’t believe they have the financial wherewithal, but I don’t want to be the guy that closes the door,” Mr. Walter said.

The supervisor said he changed his mind after receiving a call from Kenneth Auerbach, a friend who is also co-chairman of the Brookhaven Town Conservative Party, asking him not to vote to terminate the agreement.

Council members George Gabrielsen and Jodi Giglio favored terminating the contract, while Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy did not, saying no one else is ready to step in and buy the land.

Mr. Walter said the purpose of the resolution was to show the state Department of Environmental Conservation that the deal doesn’t exist anymore, so that the DEC would not require the town to examine the impacts of Riverhead Resorts’ massive proposal as the town proceeds in subdividing the land.

Mr. Walter said that, technically, the agreement had ended June 15, when Riverhead Resorts failed to make a $1.98 million payment for a three-month extension of the contract. Two more deadlines have been missed since then, and Riverhead Resorts now owes the town almost $6 million.

This is the second time the Town Board has postponed a resolution terminating the agreement with Riverhead Resorts.

“There comes a time when enough is enough,” Councilman George Gabrielsen said at the meeting.

Mr. Walter said the Town Board has asked Riverhead Resorts to discuss its plans in public at a Town Board work session next Wednesday morning.

Mitch Pally, an attorney for Riverhead Resorts, discussed extending the agreement with Town Board members individually Friday and said Resorts now has a signed contract from a financing entity, but just needs more time to work out details like the timing of the closing.

The signed contract is with a London-based company called Solutio Finance, which will provide an initial funding package of $25 million, Mr. Pally said. The $5.9 million owed the town will come from this package, he said.

A second funding package of $222 million will come at a later date from another financing entity, which Mr. Pally said he cannot name because the details of that agreement are still being worked out.

Under the terms of the Resorts contract with the town, the full payment will not be made until after the project receives approvals, and that can’t happen until the land is subdivided, a process that might not be completed until next year.

But under the terms of the contract, the $5.9 million in extension payments would go to the town immediately and would be non-refundable, regardless of whether the sale ever occurs. If, however, the town terminates the contract before the payment is made, the $5.9 million would not still be owed to the town, Mr. Walter noted.

The Town Board on Sept. 7 also had planned to vote on a resolution to terminate Riverhead Resorts’ contract, but backed off. At that time, Mr. Pally had presented the town with a letter from a funding entity called Global Capital Markets Advisors LLC, indicating that it was “preparing to lend Riverhead Resorts the sum of $25 million for an initial round of project financing.”

Mr. Pally said Friday that the deal with GCMA fell through, but that they had an alternate backing from Solutio Finance.

While the contract calls for the land to be sold for $155 million, both sides have since said they agreed informally to make the deal for $108 million.

“Your commitment to the project is contingent upon my fulfilling my financial obligations to you and your constituents and my inability to do so over the past year has been greatly upsetting to me and all involved,” Riverhead Resorts president John Niven wrote in a letter to Town Board members Monday.

“However, I now fully believe that the financial arrangement I have entered into with Solutio Finance will allow for the Town of Riverhead to receive all of the funds owed to them and allow for the project to move forward without any additional financial barriers.”

Mr. Walter said Mr. Niven has a month to prove it.

tgannon@timesreview.com

10/25/10 3:44pm

One of the businessmen behind Riverhead Resorts, the group planning to build a $1 billion resorts complex in Calverton, reportedly was detained by Turkish police in connection with a prostitution ring .

The Daily News reported Friday that “Tevfik Arif, 57, had been detained in Turkey on suspicion of setting up trysts between wealthy businessmen and Eastern European models ­— some underage — aboard a $60 million yacht once used by the nation’s founder, Mustafa Ataturk.”

Mr. Arif, who reportedly has denied the charges, is the sole owner of the Bayrock Group, which owns 50 percent of Riverhead Resorts, according to papers that Riverhead Resorts filed with Riverhead Town as part of its proposal to build land at the Enterprise Park at Calverton two years ago.

When asked about the charges, Mitch Pally, an attorney for Riverhead Resorts, said that Bayrock Group never actually owned more than 5 percent of the project and that efforts are already under way to remove Bayrock’s ownership interest entirely.

He insisted that Baldragon Homes, a Scottish company headed by John Niven, has been the principal owner of the Riverhead Resorts group.

Riverhead Resorts, which is seeking to build eight themed resorts at EPCAL, including one with an indoor ski mountain, was given more time to come up with the money for the project Tuesday, even though they owe the town about $6 million in fees to extend the life of the contract.

Town Board members, for the most part, had a good laugh at news of Mr. Arif’s detainment, but didn’t seem surprised or concerned, and indicated that it wouldn’t affect their vote on Riverhead Resorts.

“It was my understanding that Bayrock isn’t involved anymore,” Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said. He said he has never met with anyone from Bayrock since he’s been supervisor. He has met once with Mr. Niven.

Last week didn’t mark the first time the Bayrock Group saw negative press.

In August, the developers were named in a lawsuit filed by 15 people who bought condos in the Trump SoHo Condominium project in Manhattan, alleging that Bayrock and the other developers of the condos lied about the number of units sold.

In January 2008, shortly after the town entered into contract with Riverhead Resorts, a construction worker was killed in an accident while working on Trump SoHo, and violations were issued to the contractor Bayrock hired for the job for using materials that were not up to industry standards.

That same month The New York Times ran an article about Felix Satter, a Bayrock executive who the article said had been arrested nine years earlier when “accused of conspiring with the Mafia to launder money and defraud investors.”

And Jody Kriss, a former senior vice president at Bayrock who signed the agreement in September 2007 to authorize Bayrock to begin exclusive negotiations with the town for the EPCAL land, has since filed two lawsuits against Bayrock Group, calling it a “racketeer influenced and corrupt organization” in one of them. The lawsuits, filed in 2009 and 2010, mention by name Mr. Arif, Mr. Satter and Julius Schwarz, who had represented Bayrock in the “qualified and eligible sponsor” hearing before the town in December 2007. That hearing is designed to determine if the company has the experience and financial resources to complete the project they propose,

Should they get that far, Mr. Pally acknowledged that Riverhead Resorts also will need to undergo a new  “qualified and eligible sponsor” hearing, because they now plan to eliminate Bayrock Group from the ownership of Riverhead Resorts.

In the original hearing, papers submitted to the town indicated that Riverhead Resorts was half-owned by Baldragon Homes, a Scottish company owned by John Niven, and half-owned by Bayrock Group, a New York company that has worked with Donald Trump on a number of other high-profile projects. Much of the documentation presented to the town at the time dealt with Bayrock’s financial ability, as Baldragon Homes was described as a residential home builder whose work was limited to Scotland.

Mr. Pally said that while Bayrock Group initially intended to be part of the project, they soon “lost their ability to finance it,” and have not been active in the financing or management of Riverhead Resorts for about two years.

The town chose Riverhead Resorts over another project called EPCAL Centre, which was led by developer Scott Rechler and featured motorsports components. Racing fans continue to press the town to use the EPCAL property for motorsports uses.

tgannon@timesreview.com