After a spirited dinner at my childhood home one evening, an old girlfriend said, “I’m sorry I came on an evening your family was fighting.” I said, “What fight?” In my household, it was always lively arguing, teasing, fast conversation and proving of points. It wasn’t for the faint of heart. We all loved each other but we all went about it differently.
I thought about the family dinner table last week when I read the News-Review’s coverage of the debate about mold remediation in Town Hall. It seems that Town Council members Jodi Giglio and George Gabrielsen are pitted against Supervisor Sean Walter and fellow council members John Dunleavy and Jim Wooten about how to deal with the emergency cleanup of storm residue mold in various town buildings. Jodi and George don’t like the way the project to clean Town Hall was bid on, and there were some harsh words exchanged in the discussion. From my perspective, I love it.
Okay, okay, by way of disclosure I have to say I am an adviser to Mr. Walter and, of course, I don’t want anyone to pick on my guy, but I think what is lost in the debate about the mold is there actually is a debate. For six years under Supervisor Phil Cardinale nary a peep was heard at Town Board meetings, and nary a thing was accomplished. When this all-Republican board was sworn in there were skeptics who complained about one-party rule in Riverhead. The mold debate demonstrates quite clearly that what we have are five individuals who come to their own conclusions and speak their minds. Kind of refreshing in a political world where everything seems to be about knocking the other guy.
Try walking into a senior center one day with John Dunleavy; you better pack a lunch because he’ll be there a while. John is a respected community leader and our residents sent him back to Town Hall by huge margins. Jim Wooten has been a police officer and community leader downtown most his life. Jodi Giglio fights for what she believes in and George Gabrielsen is a throwback to the days when farmers were citizen-legislators and provided common sense to Town Hall. Finally, anyone who has watched Sean Walter can see that in a short period of time as supervisor he has been an honest, hard-working leader who is getting this town on track after six years of talk.
There are plenty of political wags out there who will try to make the mold controversy into a huge to-do. You’ll hear the critics call this debate everything from Teapot Dome to Abscam.
To those naysayers, I say don’t miss the big picture. This is a Town Board that is getting things done, a board that will finally give Riverhead a real budget, a board that is working hard to bring businesses to downtown and a board that brings good, decent, small-town government to the people. If there are some loud voices in the hallways now and again, it’s music to my ears.
Mr. Coates is a resident of downtown Riverhead and adviser to Supervisor Sean Walter.