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Riverhead Town Board mulls more oversight of appointed boards

Should the Riverhead Town Board be paying more attention to what the boards it has appointed are doing? 

That was discussed during Thursday’s a Town Board work session — the first under new Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith — when she asked whether a Town Board member should attend meetings of boards like the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and Industrial Development Agency.

The members of those boards are appointed by the Town Board, but beyond that, they are considered independent boards that make decisions independent from the Town Board.

“These boards make a lot of decisions that effect the Town Board,” Ms. Jens-Smith said. “Do we want to send someone to their meetings or request minutes so that when decisions are made, we are all aware in a timely matter? A lot of times, we see them in the paper before we are aware of them.”

Councilman Jim Wooten said he doesn’t recall the Town Board ever having a liaison to the Zoning Board of Appeals, which is a quasi-judicial board that makes rulings on challenges a decision the town building or zoning officer makes. Applicants can apply to the ZBA for variances that would allow them to build a project even when it doesn’t comply with zoning.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said that currently, Councilman Tim Hubbard, who is liaison to the planning department, will sit with planning staff on Tuesdays to discuss applications. She said the board members are free to publicly comment on applications at Planning Board or ZBA meetings. She said the ZBA has an attorney appointed by the Town Board and that person could give a report back to the board.

Ms. Giglio said she gets the agenda from boards and if there is something she’s concerned about, she will ask staff for additional information.

In the past, she has asked the Town Board to file article 78 lawsuits against the ZBA on decisions she doesn’t agree with.

“The ZBA is an independent board that can trump town code,” she said. “But the attorney we appoint should be guiding them on what their obligations and responsibilities are, and changing zoning is not one of them.”

Ms. Jens-Smith said that what she wants is more of an update of what decisions are made by the appointed boards in order to be aware of decisions in a timely matter.

“I don’t think we put a lot of influence on the ZBA but it would be nice to know what laws they circumvented,” Mr. Wooten said. “I’d like to have a little more input.”

Ms. Giglio said she would like to make sure that the appointed boards have their agendas on the town web site in a timely fashion. Mr. Wooten said minutes from those boards also should be on on the town web site.

Ms. Jens-Smith suggested that the board gather the information currently available so it’s all in one place, and then it can discuss the issue further in upcoming meetings.

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