Editorial: Party politics over policy is pure shortsightedness

Supervisor Sean Walter didn’t offer any explanation at Tuesday’s Town Board work session of why he doesn’t want Rose Sanders to continue serving on the Zoning Board of Appeals.

So Councilman Jim Wooten did that for him.

“I figure the voice-over did her in,” Mr. Wooten speculated, referring to voice-over ads Ms. Sanders recorded backing Democratic supervisor candidate Phil Cardinale over Mr. Walter this past election season.

Ms. Sanders, who was appointed to the ZBA during the administration of Mr. Cardinale, is a former Republican councilwoman who unsuccessfully sought a Democratic nomination to run for a council seat in 2009 after losing a Republican primary to Councilman John Dunleavy in 2005. So it comes as no surprise the all-Republican Town Board won’t be likely to reappoint her.

But that doesn’t make it right.

Ms. Sanders is not only a dedicated public servant who brings a breadth of knowledge of the workings of local government to the board, she’s also come to serve as the dissenting voice — some may say a voice of reason — on the ZBA.

Take two recent and controversial ZBA decisions. One involved allowing an Aquebogue antique and crafts shop to have a wine tasting room in its building, and another approving a billboard, advertising a coming Costco shopping center, that’s more than seven times larger than town code allows. Ms. Sanders was the only ZBA member to speak out and vote against allowing the billboard. The ZBA’s ultimate decision to permit it led this editorial page to ask the question: Why even have a town code?

As for allowing wine tasting at the Main Road shop, the issue came up for a vote Sept. 8 — while the town attorney’s office was looking into possible code revisions to clarify language that would allow tasting rooms even in a church or school, as long as it was in an agricultural zone. Still, all ZBA members — except Ms. Sanders — said it wouldn’t be fair to hold up the application because the code might be changed in the future. Whether you agree with her or not, the ZBA needs a dissenting voice, and while politics over policy is often the norm, here and elsewhere, make no mistake: Decisions born out of party politics hurt Riverhead Town and its people in the long run.

Ms. Sanders has served admirably and should be able to retain her post on the ZBA.