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First political fight for new Riverhead Town Board

So much for everybody getting along.

Just two days after an inauguration ceremony where newly sworn-in Riverhead Town Board members of both parties said how they felt they could all work together, the board had its first debate along party lines on Wednesday.

Specifically, the three Republicans on the Town Board — council members Jodi Giglio, Jim Wooten and Tim Hubbard — added resolutions to the agenda reappointing several officials who had been appointed by the prior administration.

The resolutions were approved by a 3-2 vote along party lines.

The board’s two Democrats — Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith and Councilwoman Catherine Kent — opposed the moves, saying they were added to Wednesday’s agenda with no notification.

Both Ms. Jens-Smith and Ms. Kent — the board’s first Democrats since 2009 — said they wanted to wait a month or two to consider reappointing Town Attorney Bob Kozakiewicz, and they wanted to advertise the positions held by Planning Board member Ed Densieski, and Zoning Board of Appeals member Otto Wittmeier, to see if other people were interested.

The Republican resolutions also reappointed Stan Carey and Mr. Densieski as chair and vice chair of the Planning Board, and Fred McLaughlin and Mr. Wittmeier as chair and vice chair of the Planning Board.

The move came a day after board members at a work session discussed advertising to get potential candidates for appointed boards, as well as ads getting more info on what these boards are doing.

The wrangling came two days after the inauguration ceremony, where officials expressed hope of bi-partisanship cooperation.

Ms. Jens-Smith and Ms. Kent said they wanted the board to hold interviews with prospective appointees.

Ms. Jens-Smith questioned why the resolutions weren’t brought up during Tuesday’s discussion. Ms. Giglio said the resolution appointing Ms. Kozakiewicz was originally in the resolution packet for Wednesday, but was pulled from the packet, and she wanted to put it back.

“In my mind, this is a very partisan move and I’m very disappointed because we all pledged we would work together,” Ms. Kent said.

The three Republicans said their votes had nothing to do with politics.

“These people think like I do,” said Ms. Giglio, who was re-elected in November and sworn in Monday.

“I voted for the people and the job they do, not the politics,” Mr. Hubbard said.

Mr. Wooten said he had to run a primary to get the Republican nomination for re-election two years ago because the party nominated someone else.

“It’s not like I’m the standard bearer for the Republican party,” he said. He said Mr. Densieski and Mr. Wittmeier “know what they’re doing,” and questioned why board members should wait until other applications come forward when they’re going to vote to reappoint Mr. Densieski and Mr. Wittmeier anyway.

Mr. Wooten said comments against Mr. Kozakiewicz in executive session, which is not open to the public, were a “witchhunt.”

Ms. Jens-Smith said those discussions are “privileged.” Neither said what the discussion was about, but some residents recently called for Mr. Kozakiewicz’s dismissal because of racist comments his wife posted on Facebook in October.

Ms. Jens-Smith and Ms. Kent said they had nothing against Mr. Wittmeier and Mr. Densieski but wanted to see who else might be interested in those positions.

Several audience members also criticized the three Republicans’ vote.

Angela DeVito, a former Democratic candidate for supervisor, said that the board positions were discussed during Tuesday’s work session.

“There was a very healthy and sincere discussion of the appointments to all committees, and what I see this afternoon is the same shameful show of partisan politics to push in candidates before anyone else in the town has an opportunity to say that they are interested in perhaps participating,” she said.

Photo caption: Members of the Riverhead Town Board seated at Wednesday’s meeting. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

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