Equal Time: Times/Review made the wrong choice

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | The Wronowski family, from left, Adam, Jessica, Susan and John.

Let me see if I’ve got this straight.

Times/Review, under the leadership of “corporate officer” Troy Gustavson, writes an opinion piece accusing the North Fork Chamber of Commerce and its current president, Andy Binkowski, of a conflict of interest in selecting Cross Sound Ferry for the chamber’s first-ever Community Service Award.

Mr. Gustavson and the Times/Review publishing staff needs the literary equivalent of a dope-slap on the back of their heads. The true conflict of interest is simply in the fact that Mr. Gustavson is permitted any space at all without any verification of facts by the Times/Review publishing staff.

While it is surely Mr. Gustavson’s viewpoint, the Times/Review has a responsibility to its readers to assure that even opinion pieces are factual. Clearly, as a corporate officer, Mr. Gustavson had the bully pulpit and the Times/Review editorial staff looked the other way.

Had Mr. Gustavson and staff done even the slightest bit of fact-checking, they would have learned that while Mr. Binkowski is the chamber’s 2012 president and an employee of Cross Sound Ferry, he was not president of the chamber when the decision was made to award Cross Sound Ferry and Bridgehampton National Bank for their community service.

That decision was made by the 2011 president Joseph Corso and the chamber’s board of directors. Here’s a fact: There was a Times/Review employee on the board of directors when the award recipients were chosen. Did Mr. Gustavson know that?

Throughout the years it’s been clear that Mr. Gustavson is hell-bent on criticizing Cross Sound Ferry at every opportunity. As a resident of Orient, he has certainly seen the increase in traffic flow from ferry traffic. But in Mr. Gustavson’s opinion, any good deed that Cross Sound Ferry had done for our community is an opportunity for him to take a pot shot at some ill-conceived, evil motive.

There has been a ferry service at Orient Point long before Mr. Gustavson became a resident of Orient. The good people of the entire North Fork, not just those east of the causeway, suffer the same fate as the result of development. All businesses, not just Cross Sound Ferry, have changed as opportunities and demands change.

Take a look around: From Tanger Mall to Cross Sound Ferry, development and change is everywhere and all businesses have had to change and adapt and, yes, even profit to survive. While I, too, relish the days of yore when there was less traffic and congestion, I am also a realist and proud to see that Southold Town has done a better job than other townships on managing the growth and development as best we can.

But my real beef with Mr. Gustavson’s opinion piece is that his column is a direct insult to the North Fork Chamber of Commerce.

With the downturn in our economy, many local businesses are barely hanging on and some have chosen to close their doors forever. The chamber, whose members primarily live, work and employ on the North Fork, is a support network for our businesses, a haven for tourism and community contributions.

Having been a member of the North Fork Chamber as well as the chambers of commerce in Mattituck and Shelter Island for over 12 years, I am proud to be associated with these groups and the great work they do for our community.

While the Times/Review organization is duly represented in these chambers, I have not personally witnessed Mr. Gustavson at a chamber event in nearly a dozen years. Perhaps if he were to attend a few meetings as a corporate officer rather than count how many cars go past Village Lane, he might have a better grasp on some of the real good that Cross Sound Ferry has done for the North Fork.

I would further suggest to the Times/Review publishing staff that they reorganize in such a way so that although Mr. Gustavson is a corporate officer, he no longer gets his way on publishing his opinion without checking the facts.

In the interest of full disclosure, my company has done business with Cross Sound Ferry. Ten years ago, after the tragedy of Sept. 11, Cross Sound Ferry hired my company to install video surveillance cameras at the Orient and New London terminals. Back then, the entire country became suspicious of other terrorist acts and Cross Sound Ferry diligently and responsibly installed video surveillance to aid in potential capture opportunities. My company has also proudly banked with Bridgehampton National Bank since 1999.

Cross Sound Ferry employs more than 50 Long Island residents, making up over 25 percent of their operation. I have seen the benefits of their tens of thousands of dollars to Eastern Long Island Hospital. I have been on their fireworks cruise before there even was a high-speed ferry and have been to meetings where they donated the proceeds from those cruises for scholarships.

Did you know that they donated sand and gravel, not just to Southold Town but also to Orient State Park and received an award from the state parks department for their efforts? And way back in 1990, when Mr. Gustavson and I both had less gray in our vanishing manes, Cross Sound even donated the use of a vessel to Southold for the town’s 350th anniversary celebration. And there are dozens of businesses on the East End that depend on the tourism and visitors that the ferry traffic brings to our beloved North Fork.

Buying silence, you say? I think not. The only silence has been how quietly and efficiently Cross Sound Ferry has given back to the East End.

Sure it’s good for business. But every outstanding local business sooner or later figures out a few ways to give back to those they serve. Cross Sound Ferry and Bridgehampton National Bank are exemplary in this regard.

And that is precisely why the North Fork Chamber of Commerce 2011 board of directors selected them for the first annual Community Service Award.

Mr. Romanelli is president of Suffolk Security Systems of Southold. He lives in Cut­chogue.