Board has limited agreement on term limits

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.

“People get entrenched. It’s good to get new blood in,” said Councilman Jim Wooten, who proposed the measure.

“Twelve years is very reasonable,” Councilman George Gabrielsen said. “People get stagnant after a while.”

But the board is not planning to move ahead with plans to enact term limits for elected policy makers.

Instead, they decided to have more discussions in two or three weeks on the areas where they disagree, according to Supervisor Sean Walter. And they also plan to further discuss the issue of whether the supervisor should be a four-year term, instead of the current two years.

Mr. Wooten feels only policy making elected offices should have term limits, and he feels boards like the planning board and zoning board of appeals — which are appointed but make land use decisions — should also have term limits.

“I think term limits are a good thing,” Mr. Walter said. He favors it for all elected officials, policy makers or otherwise, but he says the town justices can’t have term limits under state law.

Mr. Gabrielsen said he agrees with much of what Mr. Wooten said.

Councilman John Dunleavy said that under the current system, voters can change the majority of the Town Board every two years. He said afterward that he does support terms limits for all elected officials.

Mr. Walter also said he thinks the town should consider making the supervisor a four-year term, instead of the current two, adding that under a two-year term, a large percentage of the term is spent in campaigning for re-election. That was a thought that Mr. Walter’s most recent opponent — Angela DeVito, who was in the audience on Thursday morning — echoed.

Mr. Wooten said he agrees with the four-year term for supervisor, except that it’s been proposed and voted down by voters three times already in Riverhead Town.

That most recently occurred in 2007, when 52.2 percent of voters opted to keep the two-year term. That year, 3,317 voted against changing the term, while 3,026 voted to move it to four years. The town clerk position was made a four-year term that year under the will of the voters, as 54.4 percent supported the measure, and the highway superintendent position is four years as well.

Mr. Walter says it’s always been done in years when the supervisor is up for election, “so you’re tying the popularity of that particular supervisor to that particular referendum.”

Mr. Walter said he doesn’t support term limits for appointed boards.

“It’s kind of difficult to find qualified people,” he said.

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