Riverhead Town Board majority backs off term limit

Riverhead Town Board members at Thursday's meeting. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
Riverhead Town Board members at Tuesday’s meeting. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

The Riverhead Town Board remains divided about decisions to enact term limits in Town Hall and whether or not to allow leaders of town political committees to hold elected and appointed positions in town. 

Last week, a majority of the five-member, all-Republican board appeared poised to schedule public hearings for both matters, as Tuesday’s town board meeting had resolutions setting a date for both. But both efforts were voted down by everyone except Supervisor Sean Walter, who remains steadfast in allegations that the rest of the board is making decisions that affect the public in private caucus meetings — closed-door meetings with Republican leaders the rest of the board has defended.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio acknowledged after Tuesday’s meeting that council members did have a caucus meeting Monday, but she said they didn’t discuss term limits or the ethics reform proposal.

“What was discussed at the caucus was the political perception of the Town Board at this time, and our fighting and our bickering and how the public is affected by it,” Ms. Giglio said. The council members discussed term limit and ethics proposals individually and not in a caucus, she said.

Mr. Walter has said caucuses started to be held twice a month under new town Republican leader Mason Haas, who is also an elected assessor, and that he stopped attending them in January because he felt they were discussing issues that should be discussed in public.

The supervisor did not support Mr. Haas for Republican leader last fall and Ms. Haas screened with the party to run for supervisor himself last year. If one of the ethics proposals is adopted, Mr. Haas would have to give up either his assessor job or his Republican leader position.

Since all five Town Board members are of the same political party, they are, by law, allowed to meet in political caucus meetings that are closed to the public.

The entire Town Board publicly discussed the term limit proposal at last Thursday’s work session. At the end of the discussion, a majority of the board seemed to agree on scheduling a public hearing for 12-year term limits for Town Board members, despite the fact that only Mr. Walter and Councilman Jim Wooten publicly voiced support for them.

There had been proposals to include other elected officials in the term limit plan, as well as appointed positions like Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals. Also discussed last Thursday was a proposal to bar elected officials and some appointed board members from being in the executive committee of a town, county or state political party.

Board members couldn’t agree about whether to include just the Town Board or all elected officials — so they decided, at Ms. Giglio’s suggestion, to schedule separate public hearings for both.

But on Tuesday, Calverton resident Sal Mastropaolo suggested it was a waste of money to post public legal notices for two public hearings that were so similar.

After a brief back-and-forth between Ms. Giglio and the supervisor, everyone besides Mr. Walter seemed to agree with Mr. Mastropolo and opted to postpone the hearings until the board can get the language for the proposals just right.

The board voted 4-1, with Mr. Walter dissenting, to postpone the term limit hearing.

Turning to the issue of political party leaders holding Town Hall positions, Mr. Giglio said the town ethics board had recently ruled that policy makers should not be leaders of political parties. But they didn’t define what positions were policy makers, leaving that decision to the Town Board.

Since the Town Board hasn’t yet made that decision, it should not be ruling about who can’t hold party leadership positions, Mr. Giglio said. The supervisor was again outvoted 4-1, as the board voted to table the hearing.

“I can’t say I’m surprised,” he said. “I just wonder where this decision was made.”

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