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Riverhead voters to decide whether to increase supervisor term to four years

A familiar proposition returns to the ballot in Riverhead Town this year. Voters will be asked whether they want to expand the town supervisor’s term from the current two years to four years.

The previous Town Board voted to put the proposition on the ballot back on Dec. 17, 2019. The terms of two board members who supported that referendum — then-supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, a Democrat, and Councilman Jim Wooten, a Republican — expired at the end of that month.

It’s a proposition that has been floated several times before and rejected by voters every time. 

Ms. Jens-Smith, who is running for state Assembly this year, said one of the goals of proposing the change at the time she did was to remove some of the politics from the proposition.

“Maybe by taking the person out of it and making it about the length of office, people will give it a second look,” Ms. Jens-Smith said Tuesday.

She said having a two-year term is a “challenge” for a supervisor. 

“When you come in as a new supervisor, it takes time to meet with the department heads. Basically the year goes by very quickly and in the second year, you’re almost running for re-election already.”

She felt more could be accomplished by a supervisor in a four-year term. 

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who is running against Ms. Jens-Smith for Assembly this year, was the only Town Board member to oppose putting up the referendum in 2019.

“If the public likes the way the town is going, they will vote for that supervisor to get a second term,” Ms. Giglio said at the time. “I like the idea of being able to change up the board every two years.”

Currently, with a two-year-term for supervisor and four-year terms for council members, the public has the opportunity to change the majority of the board every two years. 

Ms. Giglio also cited the fact that the public had consistently voted down the four-year term for supervisor in prior referendums.

Elsewhere in Suffolk County, the towns of Southold, Brookhaven, Huntington, Babylon, Islip and Smithtown all have four-year terms for supervisor. 

Riverhead voters rejected the idea in 2016, when former supervisor Sean Walter, a Republican and Conservative, pushed the measure, and in 2007, when then-supervisor Phil Cardinale, a Democrat, supported it. In 2018, the Town Board voted against putting the measure up for a vote.

Ms. Jens-Smith said that if the public votes in favor of the referendum, it would not take effect until 2021 and, thus, would not affect Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, who was elected to a two-year term in 2019. Ms. Aguiar could not be reached for comment by presstime.

Specifically, according to the proposal, the “four-year term shall commence as of the first day of January following the first biennial town election after the effective date of this local law and shall apply to the person elected to such office at the biennial town election held on November 2, 2021, and those elected thereafter.”