By all appearances — and, in government, appearances are as critical as anything else — the Town Board in Riverhead under new Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith acted in a bizarre fashion last week.
As snow fell last Thursday, as town police urged people to stay indoors and off the roads and as Town Hall and its offices were officially shuttered, the Town Board held meetings there with representatives of Luminati Aerospace and its new financial backer, Triple Five Ventures, to discuss yet again the future of more than 1,000 acres of publicly owned land at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.
The fate of the land at EPCAL has been tossed around for so many years that anyone following the story has probably lost track of just where in the story we are now. There have been so many would-be suitors that it is difficult to keep them straight. The years of nothing happening at the site, along with questions about exactly who the town is trying to do business with, has led some people to wonder whether the federal government made a wise choice in turning the former Navy-owned land over to Riverhead Town.
We aren’t even two weeks into the new year, but — so far, anyway — the blizzard-day meeting in a closed Town Hall at which people discussed money and ideas that should, at the minimum, have been discussed in a publicly noticed executive session, takes the cake.
Making the meeting even more odd is this: To avoid stepping on the state’s Open Meetings Law, the invitees and their willing hosts deliberately split up into small groups —one board member here, two there — so a quorum of at least three board members was never in the same room at the same time.
First, Ms. Jens-Smith met on her own with representatives of the two companies — who have formed a joint venture called Calverton Aviation & Technology LLC — who then went on to meet with Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and Councilman Tim Hubbard. When that meeting broke up, the business people met with council members Jim
Wooten and recently elected Catherine Kent. This exercise sounds more like a game of musical chairs than a meeting about a great deal of money.
All this begs too many questions to address in this one editorial. But one of them is: What were they thinking? Were they being clever or remarkably tone deaf to the appearance of their actions?
The Town Board is starting off the new year on the wrong foot in its approach to a decision on an issue that’s vital to the future of one of the largest pieces of open space anywhere in Suffolk County. They have to be held to account for this. The way the meeting was handled — in a closed Town Hall, in small groups — raises questions of transparency that also emerged when former supervisor Sean Walter was talking to Luminati co-founder Daniel Preston. Now, the two new members of the board seem to be going down the same road as the supervisor they wanted out of office.
The public needs to lay down the law from this point on and demand that everything about any proposal for EPCAL be done in the full glare of public scrutiny. All paperwork, all arrangements, why there is a broker involved, just who the players are and their backgrounds — all questions must now be laid on the table for all to see and review. If those who want to do business with the Town of Riverhead don’t like transparent government, perhaps they should think about setting up shop somewhere else.
The Town Board that pulled this stunt last Thursday needs to hear from the people who voted them into office.