Setting term-limit hearing for Town Board fails in split vote

Riverhead Town Board members at Thursday's meeting. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
A resolution to set a public hearing to discuss term limits for Town Board members failed by a 3-2 vote Tuesday night. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Unless someone on the Riverhead Town Board changes their mind, a term-limit proposal isn’t coming to Town Hall anytime soon.

A resolution setting a public hearing to discuss establishing a 12-year term limit for the town supervisor and council positions failed by 3-2 vote at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting.

Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman George Gabrielsen voted in favor. Council members John Dunleavy, Jodi Giglio and Jim Wooten cast “no” votes.

Mr. Wooten and Ms. Giglio had said as recently as last Thursday’s work session that they supported setting the term-limit public hearing.

But on Thursday, both Ms. Giglio and Mr. Wooten told the News-Review following the vote they changed their minds after reading veteran journalist Karl Grossman’s recent column about term limits in the Southampton Press.

Mr. Grossman, whose syndicated Suffolk Closeup column is also printed in the News-Review’s sister publication the Shelter Island Reporter, wrote that although he believes a lot of good politicians in Suffolk County and Southampton Town had to leave office because of term limits, he couldn’t think of any bad elected leaders who’ve had to leave office due to term limits.

“I really think it should be left up to the taxpayers,” Ms. Giglio said in an interview after the meeting.

She said she believes term limits would work better with state and federal offices where constituents don’t have the kind of “one-on-one relationship” they have with town elected leaders.

Mr. Wooten said Mr. Grossman’s argument “made a lot of sense” and agreed the decision on how long someone stays in office should be left up to the voters.

“When they get tired of you, they throw you out,” he said.

Mr. Walter, who has been critical of board members meeting in closed political caucus meetings to discuss town business, said he feels a number of issues the board had previously agreed to have suddenly lost support following caucus meetings.

“That’s just funny,” Mr. Walter said following the public hearing vote. “That’s priceless.”

A board vote on April 1 to schedule a public hearing on term limits was tabled, despite the fact that it too appeared to have support at a work session the previous week.

A proposal to set a public hearing on a proposal to ban the town supervisor and council members, along with members of the Zoning Board of Appeals, Board of Assessment Review and Ethics Board, from holding executive board positions on town, county, state or national political committees was approved, 4-1, with Mr. Dunleavy casting the lone no vote.

That public hearing is scheduled for May 6 at the 2 p.m. meeting.

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