Equal Time: Democratic leader on State of the Town speech

Based on Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter’s State of the Town speech, I’d bet that if someone were to sing “How Great Thou Art,” he would stand up and take a bow. The state of Riverhead is not “great” as Mr. Walter announced. And if he really thinks it is, how does he justify his doom-and-gloom complaining and employee firings over the last year?

The collapse of both contracts at the Enterprise Park at Calverton is not “good” and EPCAL’s “blank canvas” is not “fantastic.” It’s really sad. Mr. Walter expects us to applaud his failure to close these lucrative contracts, which he claims he worked to preserve. That’s just pathetic.

His new plan for EPCAL is foolish. He is spending a half million tax dollars on yet another study, letting the state Department of Conservation and the Suffolk County Health Department decide what is buildable, and then spending millions more to subdivide without regard to use or user. He then proposes to lobby the state to create an unlikely 75-day building permit process — all before any buyer expresses interest in the property. The supervisor wants to do at public expense what developers should do at private expense. As County Executive Levy said Feb. 18th, as reported by the News-Review: “EPCAL is now going backwards; they are going to have to start from scratch. It’s going to be a long time before you see a shovel in the ground over there.”

Riverhead Town spending millions of dollars at EPCAL is not better than Riverhead Town receiving millions of dollars in option payments, as it did during the previous administration of Phil Cardinale. In his speech, Mr. Walter boasted that downtown made great progress last year. He then unfairly credited himself with all the downtown projects started, funded and under way during the Cardinale administration.

When he thanked those investors “who have taken the challenge downtown,” he failed to mention that most did so with a bountiful booty of tax abatements supported by his administration, for which all of us will pay dearly with higher town tax bills. Indeed, we’ve already started to pay with the highest tax increase of any Long Island town in 2011.

At one point he stated, “I could not do this job without Anthony Coates.” That’s puzzling, unless you recall that earlier in the speech he identified Mr. Coates as both his and the town’s press agent. Thus these words of praise were likely written by Mr. Coates about himself. Mr. Walter’s disclosure that Mr. Coates simultaneously serves as press agent for the town, for him, and for the all-Republican Town Board is disturbing, especially since Mr. Coates receives monthly payments from Mr. Walter’s political campaign fund.

The brief discussion of town finances was illogical. While maintaining the town was in dire financial condition when he took office 14 months ago, Mr. Walter announced the town’s sudden miraculous recovery without any detail.

Mr. Walter’s sympathy for the town workers he fired didn’t ring true because his actions have spoken louder than his words. He gained the campaign support of many town workers by opposing the transfer of town dispatchers to the county, disregarding the $800,000 savings to the town and the eventual assurance of county jobs for the workers. Then, less than a year later, Mr. Walter fired numerous town employees, double-crossing town workers while saving far less money than would have been saved by the transfer of the dispatchers.

His comments on farmland preservation again gave credit to himself for the work of others. After acknowledging the town has no money for purchases, he credited himself for all development rights purchased in Riverhead by Suffolk County in 2010. Then, on the basis of the county’s purchases, he declared himself to be a “preserver of our rural way of life.”

Suffice it to say: I’m not nearly as impressed with Mr. Walter as he obviously is with himself. Early in his speech he repeatedly exclaimed “I love this job!” I wanted to ask “Which one, your Town Hall job or your law practice job?” Later Mr. Walter delivered one line I liked when he said, “Maybe I’ll be a one-term supervisor.” Let’s all make certain that there are no maybes about that.

Mr. Villella is a former town supervisor and current chairman of the Riverhead Democratic Committee.