Electing two candidates to two unopposed seats on a board and two more candidates to two opposed positions on that same board shouldn’t be hard, right?
But when that election is the Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association’s annual elections, the answer to that question is “wrong.”
The BIDMA elections on Wednesday night saw Bob Barauskas of the Suffolk County Historical Society and Dee Muma of Dark Horse elected to two seats in an unopposed election for commercial property owner representatives. Bill Allan of Minuteman Press and Bob Hartman of Mainstream House were elected to two seats for commercial tenant representatives, where they were challenged by Mike Mahon of Consignment Galore and Dennis McDermott of The Riverhead Project.
But it wasn’t that simple.
Riverhead Deputy Town Attorney Dan McCormick spent more than an hour explaining the various nuances of the BID vote, in accordance with their own 23-year-old bylaws, during Wednesday’s annual election.
There are only 322 tax map parcels located in the BID, a taxing jurisdiction comprising the downtown area that aims to foster downtown revitalization and economic development. But its elections are a little more complicated than most, as both owners and tenants are represented.
The BIDMA is a board comprised of five members who are commercial property owners within the business improvement district, and five members who are commercial tenants within the district. There are also three positions appointed by town officials.
Wednesday’s vote was done with paper ballots and took place at a 6 p.m. meeting that also featured a lengthy presentation from Southampton Town officials on their ongoing efforts to revitalize neighboring Riverside, which includes a proposed pedestrian bridge over the Peconic River.
Under the BID’s own bylaws, the election isn’t official unless they have at least 10 voters present who are commercial property owners within the BID and 10 present who are commercial tenants within the BID.
Last year, the vote had to be adjourned a month because they only had eight commercial owners present at the annual meeting.
On Wednesday, that almost happened again, when the vote initially was short owner voters.
“I propose we adjourn this until we get the bylaws straightened out, and have it on another date,” said BIDMA member Ray Pickersgill. Some more voters showed up shortly after he proposed this, so an adjournment was not needed.
Mr. Pickersgill’s own situation with the BID is confusing, as well. He had been the BIDMA president, stepped down to become its executive director, a paid position, and then stepped down from that position and, on Tuesday, was appointed by Supervisor Sean Walter to fill a seat on the BIDMA that was vacated the day before when Ed Densieski resigned.
The BIDMA will determine its president and vice president next month.
“Why don’t we just hand out the ballots and get it over with,” said Riverhead Diner and Grill owner Liz Strebel, as board members debated the bylaws. “Sorry to be blunt but this could go on until 9 p.m.”
Ms. Strebel also had been on the board but chose not to seek re-election. Her position was filled by the election of Ms. Muma.
Among some of the nuances pointed out by Mr. McCormick Wednesday, some of which BIDMA members said they weren’t even aware of, are the following:
• If someone is an owner and a tenant, they get two votes, and can vote once in each category.
• An owner of multiple properties can only only vote once as an owner.
• If a property has multiple tenants, only one tenant can vote.
• If there are two seats up for election, voters can only vote for one of them. “Your bylaws said ‘one vote per member, not one vote per vacancy,” Mr. McCormick said.
• Voters must be notarized at the annual meeting, to make sure they are actually a property owner or tenant.
• There needs to be 10 eligible owner voters and tenant voters present at the vote, but they are not required to actually vote.
• There is a separate ballot for owners and tenants, with the candidates names on them, along with space for write-in candidates.
In the case of Atlantis Holdings, the entity that comprises the Long Island Aquarium, Hyatt Place hotel, Jerry and the Mermaid restaurant, and Treasure Cove marina, there are three tenants and one owner, the aquarium, and only one of the tenants gets a vote.
“How do we determine who gets the vote?” asked Steve Shauger, general manager of the Hyatt.
“There has to be some sort of agreement” worked out beforehand by the property owners and tenants, Mr. McCormick said. “It’s parcel defined, so at best, you can have two votes off that parcel.”
“If it’s a business, every tenant should have a voice,” Atlantis executive director Bryan DeLuca suggested.
And in the case of Summerwind Square, there are 52 apartment units, but the those residents also don’t each get a vote, according to Mr. McCormick.
“You folks created a bylaw that says each member gets one vote. I didn’t write this,” Mr. McCormick said.
Mr. Pickersgill, who has expressed interest in being BIDMA’s president again, said changing the bylaws to make the elections less confusing is something that should be done.