Although politicians in Brookhaven Town are not up for election this cycle, voters will be asked a question with long-term implications for town government in November.
Brookhaven Town board voted unanimously to establish a referendum on the ballot Nov. 6 asking town residents to weigh in on changes to terms in office for elected officials, specifically increasing terms from two years, as is currently the law, to four years for councilmembers, the supervisor and highway superintendent. The referendum will have a second component as part of the same yea or nay question: limiting officials to three terms in office. That component would impact the above positions, as well as town clerk and receiver of taxes. Both components will appear as part of a single proposition, according to Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto. Putting the issue up to a vote was established as a result of an Aug. 2 public hearing. If passed the law would go into effect for terms beginning Jan. 1, 2020.
“[The voters] have, in the past weighed in, and whatever they weighed in to is not being listened to now,” Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said during the hearing. “Maybe that’s fine with them, maybe it’s not, but I would like to go back and ask them, ‘what do you think?’”
In 1993, residents voted to implement a limit of three, four-year terms on elected officials, though that law was no longer applicable following a 2002 public vote to establish council districts, as state law dictates councilmembers in towns with council districts serve two-year terms, according to Emily Pines, Romaine’s chief of staff and a former New York State Supreme Court justice, who spoke during the hearing.
Several members of the public commented in opposition of various aspects of the referendum, saying the two components should be separated to be voted on individually; there’s not enough time to untangle issues with the language of the law, like what to do with an individual who served as a councilperson for 12 years and then is elected to another position such as supervisor; and how to handle time already served by current members. Others cited shorter terms as fostering more accountability for elected representatives.
“I think it’s too complex to be one resolution,” said Jeff Kagan, a resident and representative from Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization. “I think you’re asking the voters to vote on somethings they like and somethings they may not like.”
Anthony Portesy, the Democrat candidate for town highway superintendent in 2017 and a private attorney, spoke against extending terms to four years, but said he would be in favor of three years because having to campaign every two years can be “arduous.”
“While I’m not opposed to the extension of terms per se, four-year terms is an eternity in politics, too long for hyperlocal town races,” he said. “We don’t want to create electoral feudalism in Brookhaven through the coercive powers of incumbency.”
Patchogue Village Mayor Paul Pontieri spoke in favor of going to four-year terms during the hearing about having to run for office every two years, saying it can get in the way of accomplishing goals set forth at the beginning of a term. Romaine and councilmembers Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) and Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) each expressed similar sentiments when asked if they intend to support the idea in early July when the public hearing was set.
“You don’t have the constant churning in politics that can sometimes undermine the system,” Romaine said. “It allows for long-range planning and programs. It takes the politics out of local government.”
Eaderesto said the town’s law department will draft the wording as it will appear on the ballot in November and share it with the town board prior to submitting it to the Suffolk County Board of Elections by Oct. 1.