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Jeff Koppelson

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Poquott residents are protesting the village board trustees approving a 5-year bond for a community dock. File photo

Plans to build a community dock continue to cause waves in the Village of Poquott.

Approximately two dozen Poquott residents rallied Aug. 25 on Route 25A in East Setauket to protest the village trustees’ decision to rescind a resolution for a 10-year bond to pay for construction of a village dock in favor of a five-year bond.

“Hopefully, we are at a point we can actually build the dock.”

— Jeff Koppelson

The protesters have been against the dock’s construction for nearly a decade.

The mayor and trustees called an emergency meeting Aug. 23 after more than 200 residents signed a petition requesting a referendum vote on the dock plans. In July, the board voted for a 10-year bond instead of their original plan for a five-year note after tabling the decision earlier in the year when bids came in higher than predicted. The original plans were estimated to cost $150,000 but did not include Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramps. The new cost of the dock will be approximately $255,000.

In an email to residents after the Aug. 23 vote, Mayor Dee Parrish explained the reasons for the change from a 10-year to a 5-year bond noting the construction of a dock had been “a known work in progress since 2010.” She said residents were first sent a survey in 2010, and the village mailed out two additional surveys in following years. The majority of village residents answered they were in favor of a community dock, according to the mayor, which will be built in California Park at the end of Washington Street and will measure 128 feet by 4 feet. The board of trustees officially began planning efforts in 2015.

“The dock plan was in forward motion since then and the decision we faced was not whether or not to put it to a vote, but rather how to pay for the construction,” Parrish wrote. “The recent petition for referendum was challenged, and the village attorney recommended that the five-year bond would ensure that project move[s] forward as originally planned by the board.”

Trustee Jeff Koppelson said the board had considered a 10-year bond to reduce the annual cost to Poquott residents, but once they became aware of the petition for a referendum, moved forward with the original five-year plan.

John Richardson, a village trustee who ran for mayor this year, said the village attorney informed him the residents would not be able to request a referendum given the five-year bond, and he voted “nay” for the new payment plan. Under New York State law, a request for a referendum would be allowed with a 10-year bond.

“Hopefully, we are at a point we can actually build the dock,” Koppelson said.

“I’m representing what people want. If they’re paying for it, they should have a say in it.”

— John Richardson

Richardson said he is concerned because the bond was not put out for a bid, and he believes residents should be able to vote on whether or not they wanted a dock and how to pay for it. He also said the feedback he has received from residents is that they are worried about maintenance and insurance costs.

“I’m representing what people want,” Richardson said. “If they’re paying for it, they should have a say in it.”

Felicia Chillak, who ran for trustee this year, went door to door with others to collect signatures for the petition requesting a referendum. She said the residents who signed were a mixture of those who wanted a community dock and those who didn’t, but all believe it should be voted on. Chillak said she had 30 days after the July 19 board meeting to turn the signatures into the village clerk, and as of Aug. 16 the petition had 196 names. She was then notified by the state Comptroller’s Office due to Aug. 18 falling on a Saturday, she could submit the paperwork by Aug. 20.

Chillak then presented the village clerk with an amended petition with 207 signatures. She said the petition needed the signatures of more than 20 percent of Poquott voters, and a recent voter registration list from the Suffolk County Board of Election that she obtained lists 802 registered voters reside in the village. However, at the Aug. 23 meeting, Village Attorney Joseph Prokop questioned the validity of some signatures.

Chillak said some people were hesitant to sign the petition or participate in the Aug. 25 rally.

“This is a serious issue in this village,” she said. “Even when we were getting petitions signed, residents were afraid of the mayor seeing their signature in fear of retribution.”

According to Parrish’s email, village officials and residents have organized multiple community events, including the Poquott Community Association’s Lobster Bake, with the intent to raise money for the dock. To date, $20,000 has been raised. The village also acquired three floating docks valued at $16,000 at no cost. Parrish said an average household will see a $123.20 a year increase in their taxes to pay off the five-year bond.

Engineer Charles Voorhis describes the planned community dock in Poquott and answers residents’ questions at a Jan. 5 planning board meeting at Emma Clark Library. YouTube screenshot from Village of Poquott

While the divisiveness over a proposed community dock in the Village of Poquott may be lessening, some are keeping a watchful eye on the plans.

A handful of residents attended a Jan. 5 village planning board meeting at Emma S. Clark Public Library to hear a presentation given by village engineer Charles Voorhis. The managing partner of Nelson, Pope & Voorhis was on hand to discuss the design of the proposed dock, which is planned for California Park at the end of Washington Street.

Voorhis said the proposed fixed dock would be 128-feet long and 4-feet wide, and at the end, would include a landing area measuring 6-feet wide. The engineer said the dock will include water service, solar panel-powered rail lighting for nighttime and an ADA access ramp made of concrete.

During high tide, a beachgoer could walk up the stairs on the north side and down the stairs on the south side, according to Voorhis, and during low tide villagers could walk underneath. There will be a 30-foot gangway that will serve as a transition from the dock to a 30-by-8 foot float which will make it easier to get into boats, especially smaller recreational crafts.

“I will say that this is a very straightforward installation,” he said. “It’s very similar to what you see for recreational piers for residential homes around the harbor.”

“It’s very similar to what you see for recreational piers for residential homes around the harbor.”

— Charles Voorhis

Ted Masters, interim planning board chairman, said the design meets the criteria described in Chapter 64 of the village code. At a Oct. 26 public hearing, the village trustees made amendments to the chapter per suggestions made by the planning board. According to the Oct. 26 meeting’s minutes, the required water depth to build a dock was changed from 4 feet to 3 ½ feet, and the width of the dock was changed from not to exceed 3 ½ feet to 4 feet and may exceed where needed to become compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Voorhis said the depth of the water is taken into consideration to ensure any floats for the dock will not rest at the bottom of the waterway and 3 ½ feet is adequate.

After the engineer’s presentation, the meeting was open for public comments and questions.

“I’m just concerned about people who have difficulty maneuvering, putting steps in their way,” Cindy Davis said, after asking if there would be railings, which Voorhis said there would be.

Another resident asked what can be done to prevent icing on the dock. Voorhis said the village is addressing whether or not the dock will need bubblers, which circulates water when there are freezing conditions, and the village is looking into options as far as powering them if needed.

Roger Flood, of Poquott, asked how the dock would be moved and stored in the winter. Voorhis said large cranes are used in many areas including Port Jefferson Harbor, and he suggested an upland location for storage either in the parking lot, since its not used as much in the colder seasons, or a grassy area.

After the Jan. 5 meeting, board trustee Jeff Koppelson said in a phone interview there has been less public debate about building a community dock, a topic that disrupted prior meetings as many questioned the financial impact of installing one.

“The board of trustees are very conscious of what we have to do to keep an eye on the money angle,” he said, adding a notice was recently posted on the village’s website regarding costs.

The board is looking into a five-year bond for $150,000, according to the post, and the payments would be $32,475 per year. The first two years could be paid off if the board approves the moving of $50,000 from the fund balance plus the $16,160 from the Poquott Village Community
Association.

In order to pay the remaining balance of the bond, there would be a tax increase for each household of $80 per year for three years. There would also be the maintenance cost of the dock at $2,075 a year for the village, which would include general maintenance, the floats being removed from the water in the winter and additional insurance.

A few in attendance questioned whether enough or proper notice was given regarding the Jan. 5 meeting. Masters said another public planning board meeting regarding the dock is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 29 at Poquott Village Hall. Residents can also send comments to village hall if they are unable to attend. Dock plans and minutes from past meetings are available for viewing at Poquott’s village hall and posted on its website.

Michael Schaefer, with Barbara Donovan and Joan Hubbard in 2016, has resigned as Poquott Village board trustee. File photo

A few months after the June 2017 trustees election, the Village of Poquott board is experiencing changes once again.

Village clerk Joseph Newfield read a resignation letter from trustee Michael Schaefer at the Sept. 14 village board meeting. Schaefer cited needing to attend to family issues in the letter. Mayor Dee Parrish has not yet appointed a trustee to replace Schaefer.

The resignation comes two months after John Mastauskas resigned, also due to personal reasons. Parrish appointed Christopher Schleider to replace Mastauskas, and he will complete the former trustee’s term, which ends in 2018. Mastauskas won his seat in 2016 after running as a write-in candidate.

On June 20, Poquott residents voted out Harold Berry, who received 170 votes, while newcomer John Richardson received 195. Incumbent Jeff Koppelson was voted back in with 180 votes, and despite candidate Debbie Stevens challenging the results and filing a lawsuit, he retained his seat after she revoked her complaint.

Before she dropped the dispute, the Suffolk County Board of Elections recanvassed ballots June 29. Stevens, who earned 178 votes, said if the opportunity arose to become trustee, she would be willing to accept the position.

“I think I would be a fair, honest, concerned, helpful trustee,” Stevens said. “I would cater to what the residents want and not what I want.”

In interviews in June, both Richardson and Stevens said they felt the village has been polarized in recent years, and the mayor and board of trustees were not hearing residents’ concerns.

Koppelson said resignations are not unusual when it comes to a volunteer position such as trustee.

“As people decide to run or be appointed, we’re trying to make them understand this is a job, and it’s a volunteer job, so you have to be able to put in the time and energy,” Koppelson said.

Poquott residents are protesting the village board trustees approving a 5-year bond for a community dock. File photo

Poquott’s village hall is finally back in business a month after the June 20 election for two board trustees.

Debbie Stevens, one of the five candidates for the position, dropped a lawsuit against the village before a July 19 hearing. Stevens came in third with 178 votes, while New York City firefighter John Richardson won one seat with 195 votes and incumbent Jeff Koppelson the other with 180 votes.

Debbie Stevens

Stevens had disputed the discarding of the rule that voters must be registered 10 days before an election. She also had an issue with voters with dual residency being able to vote, and Mayor Dee Parrish’s son being an election inspector. Due to her challenging the election results, the Suffolk County Board of Election recanvassed ballots June 29.

Attorney Scott Middleton of Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, LLP represented the village in the case. He said before the election Poquott’s village attorney called the New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials and asked about residents who registered less than 10 days before the election and was under the impression that if a person was generally qualified to vote, taking into consideration that they were a U.S. citizen and met the age requirements, they could vote.

“It’s a village election,” Middleton said. “People aren’t thinking about an election in June, everybody thinks about November. Village elections are held in March or June. By the time [residents] are starting to think about it, and they want to exercise their right, if they just moved into the village, it may not be within that 10-day window. That’s why I think that the advisory opinion of NYCOM is that they can be permitted to vote as long as they qualify.”

Middleton said an elementary error in the lawsuit was that Stevens only named the village even though she was required to name all four candidates in it to proceed. Stevens said this was something she didn’t want to do, especially when it came to Richardson, who she ran with on the Peace Party ticket. If she won the lawsuit, a new election would need to take place.

“The corruption continues and that was really why I did this,” Stevens said. “It wasn’t to overturn the election.

I didn’t want that.”

Another factor in her decision to drop the case was the village cancelling meetings since the lawsuit was filed. The owner of Smoothe Laser Center and Medi Spa in East Setauket said she felt dropping the lawsuit was what’s best for the village.

“I’d rather opt for peace than justice,” Stevens said.

Richardson was sworn in as trustee July 12, while Koppelson took his oath July 19 after the lawsuit was dismissed. In an email, Koppelson said the board members accomplished a good amount at their July 20 meeting after not assembling for a few weeks.

“I have to say that the best thing about this meeting was that there seemed to be a desire among everyone to cooperate and stay task-oriented,” Koppelson said. “There were few if any contentious issues. I am optimistic that we can all work together, and if that happens, there will be little blowback from the residents who have been consistently oppositional, angry and disruptive.”

Stevens said she plans to continue attending village hall meetings, and hopes she can play her part in creating better communication between residents and the board members. For the last three years she feels residents have been extremely divided in Poquott.

Stevens said she has been thinking about next year’s election for two trustees and mayor.

“I’m not even sure of that answer,” she said when asked about running again. “I’m doing a lot of thinking. I know in my heart of hearts that I want what’s best for the village.”

After losing by two votes, newcomer is challenging validity of ballots

Poquott residents are protesting the village board trustees approving a 5-year bond for a community dock. File photo

t seems the dust hasn’t settled yet after Poquott’s June 20 election for two trustee seats.

While challenger John Richardson emerged as a clear winner for one seat, it was a tight race between newcomer Debbie Stevens and incumbent Jeff Koppelson for the second spot. Stevens recently filed a lawsuit in Suffolk County Supreme Court in Riverhead to review the results.

Debbie Stevens

At the end of election night, Stevens had a slim lead over Koppelson before absentee and 10 contested votes were counted. Official results were delayed and not announced by the village until the next day, after election inspectors retained by the village and certified by the Suffolk County Board of Elections completed the count at Poquott’s Village Hall. Koppelson was declared the winner with 180 votes, while Stevens received 178.

After Stevens challenged the results, the village brought the ballots to the headquarters of the board of elections in Yaphank June 29, where the votes were hand counted by board staff members and certified by  county election commissioners Nick LaLota (R) and  Anita Katz (D).

LaLota said the village clerk handed over the ballots to their bipartisan team, and they hand counted each ballot, and their results were the same as the village’s count. However, the board of elections was not involved in any decisions involving the disputed ballots.

Stevens’ attorney George Vlachos of George C. Vlachos & Associates in Central Islip, said the village was served with a show-cause order last week to appear in court. A hearing will be held in Riverhead July 19.

Vlachos, who was originally retained by Stevens and Richardson to monitor the election, said he and his client have taken issue with the discarding of the rule that voters must be registered 10 days before an election. He said all the votes, no matter when the voter registered, were counted.

Jeff Koppelson

The attorney said he also questions whether the ballots were secured after the polls closed. He said he was on hand at Village Hall until the end of the night June 20, and there were approximately five or six ballots that were mismarked and had to be interpreted as far as what the voters’ intents were. He said he only saw one of those ballots presented to the board of elections. The lawyer said he remembers one ballot the night of June 20 where a voter chose three candidates instead of two. Vlachos said that ballot was not brought to the board.

LaLota said he had heard about the mismarked ballots before the recount, but didn’t see any major issues.

“There were up to two ballots that required a minimal review by the bipartisan team, but they easily came to a conclusion,” he said.

Koppelson declined to comment until after the matter is resolved, and Vlachos requested his client not talk directly to the press.

Vlachos added that many people from the village have offered to pay for his services to get to the bottom of the matter.

“This may just be the tip of the iceberg,” the attorney said. “I’m doing whatever investigation I need to do. I’m not sure what’s going on in Poquott, but I’m going to find out.”

Poquott residents are protesting the village board trustees approving a 5-year bond for a community dock. File photo
John Richardson

Poquott residents headed to the voting booths June 20 with concerns over a future community dock and a lack of communication between residents and the village board.

With five candidates to choose from for two trustee seats, incumbent Jeff Koppelson and newcomer John Richardson garnered the most votes with 180 and 195 votes, respectively. Challenger Debbie Stevens, who ran with Richardson on the Peace Party ticket, received 178, while incumbent Harold Berry had 170 and Angie Parlatore came in fifth with 28 votes.

Results of the election were not finalized until early Wednesday afternoon. Village clerk Joseph Newfield said there were 306 voters and 84 absentee ballots. The counting of the ballots continued late into the night and 10 absentee ballots were challenged. The village met with the Suffolk Board of Elections Wednesday at noon and all ballots were verified and counted.

In a previous interview with The Village Times Herald, Koppelson said he was hoping to continue the work he accomplished in his first two years, citing the repairing and repaving of roads in the village, beach cleanup and working on plans for the dock. He said he was satisfied with the work he had accomplished with the mayor and his fellow trustees. 

Jeff Koppelson

“We want to continue our progress,” Koppelson said. “We’ve made a lot of good progress along with the mayor. We have a mission with what we want to do with Poquott.”

Richardson, a New York City firefighter, said in a previous interview he felt there was a lack of transparency in the village, and he would like to be “a conduit for the village and the residents.”

He said his background as a firefighter would be an asset to the village. 

“I work in a firehouse with 14 people,” he said. “I can definitely say I’m a team player, I have good communication skills. I will stand by what my platform is.”

Poquott residents are protesting the village board trustees approving a 5-year bond for a community dock. File photo

While this year’s Poquott Village election for two trustees may not be as contentious as years past, plenty of important community issues remain at the forefront for residents. Plans to build a community dock and communication between the board and villagers are at the top of the list.

During the June 20 election, residents will choose from five candidates to fill two available seats, including two incumbents — Harold Berry and Jeff Koppelson — and three newcomers — Angela Parlatore, Debbie Stevens and John Richardson.

John Richardson

The newcomers

Richardson, a New York City firefighter, and Stevens, owner of Smoothe Laser Center and Medi Spa in East Setauket, both said there is a lack of communication between the current village trustees and residents. The two are running under the Peace Party ticket and have signs around the village that read “Your Village, Your Decisions.”

“I think there has been a lack of transparency, and there has been a lack of public input,” Richardson said in a phone interview.

Stevens said when she attends village hall meetings, residents are given the opportunity to state their question or comment, but discussions rarely follow.

“In all the 26 years I’ve lived here, I have never felt such an air of such divisiveness,” Stevens said in a phone interview. “And I just want the opportunity to be the voice of the residents, and to bring back peace, and be on a board of trustees who will really listen to the residents’ concerns.”

Richardson, who has lived in Poquott for 16 years, said the village has felt polarized in recent years. He said residents haven’t been included in votes for plans that significantly affect their lives and homes. He said while meetings may be published in the paper, the trustees do not use their email system to notify residents as often as they should.

Debbie Stevens

To get approval to build a community dock, according to Richardson, residents were asked to fill out and return mailed surveys, rather than participate in a vote.

He said those that did not have a resident’s name on it were thrown out.

When it comes to the construction of a community dock, both feel there needs to be more input from residents.

“It doesn’t matter what I think, it matters what the Poquott residents think,” Stevens said.

Richardson said his background would be an asset to the village, and he wants to work with the mayor as “a conduit for the village and the residents.”

Stevens said her experiences as a business owner and her work with charities, which includes fundraising for Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, are assets because she has the listening and communication skills to bring everyone together.

“I would really love to restore the communication between the Poquott residents and the board of trustees and the mayor,” she said.

Parlatore, a full-time patient care specialist and a resident of Poquott for 18 years, said she is the most neutral of all the candidates, as she is not aligned with anyone. However, like Richardson and Stevens she said communication is suffering in the village. She said when it comes to the dock no one is sure what the majority of the residents want. She said the survey prevented many from expressing their true opinions because it wasn’t anonymous, like a vote would have been.

Parlatore said she feels fortunate to live in Poquott and would like for it to continue to be a wonderful village to live in.

“I feel that I’m good at communicating with people and trying to find common ground between a group of people who are trying to aim in one direction,” she said.

The incumbents

Berry, a 33-year resident of Poquott, and Koppelson, a 45-year resident, are running under the Continuity ticket, and said they should be reelected because they get things done in the village.

Seeking his second term, Koppelson said he hopes the two can continue their progress with the other trustees as well as Mayor Dee Parrish. Berry, the village’s deputy mayor who is currently completing his second term as trustee, said the two plan to work on the community dock, continue improving village roads and cleaning up Poquott beaches among other projects.   

Harold Berry

Koppelson said the trustees have been making a number of improvements around the village while staying within the budget. According to the former psychiatric treatment program director, Poquott has had a budget surplus for the third year in a row.

When it comes to village roads, there have been many improvements as well as plans to resurface more roads in the near future, something Berry said was neglected before Parrish was mayor.

“For 12 years before Dee got in, roads and repairs were basically non-existent, they just weren’t done,” Berry said. “So the roads deteriorated greatly.”

Both candidates said they would be in favor of a community dock, which is still in the planning stages. The project would cost $150,000. Koppelson said while he understands some residents may not want their taxes to increase, he said the trustees can find other ways to pay for it. He said due to the surplus, village taxes will not increase significantly.

“The bottom line is we’ll be able to pay back the principle over the five years just out of the surplus we’re running and saving money by doing a lot of the work ourselves,” Koppelson said.

He also said community members organized an event and donated $16,000 towards paying for the dock, which will pay for the interest cost of the bond for the first two years.

Jeff Koppelson

Berry said the dock will  allow boaters and fisherman to easily pull up to it to load and unload their boats, unlike now when they must use a dinghy or kayak to get to their boat.

“The boaters and the fisherman are getting older,” Berry said. “It’s just a matter of ease of getting to your boat and safety.”

Koppelson said there are additional benefits to constructing a dock.

“It will be well used but also it will definitely increase real estate prices,” Koppelson said. “I really do think people will benefit from it in the long run.”

The two pushed back on the challengers’ claims village hall doesn’t properly communicate issues and upcoming votes to residents. In addition to sending out emails, Koppelson said the meetings are open and any hearings on a proposed law are published in The Village Times Herald for two consecutive weeks. Videos of the meetings are also posted on the village’s website the following day and minutes are voted on at the next meeting.

The Village of Poquott elections will be held at Poquott’s Village Hall, 45 Birchwood Avenue, June 20 from noon to 9 p.m.

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The Incorporated Village of Poquott. File photo

The Village of Poquott is ready to move forward after a year of infighting and accusations involving an investigation of former village trustee Eddie Schmidt and a missing $23,000, its newly elected officials said in the wake of last week’s vote.

Poquott villagers elected three new trustees and a justice last week. Harold Berry and Jeff Koppelson won the two trustee positions carrying two-year terms, while Sandra Nicoletti secured a trustee position carrying a one-year term. Paul Edelson won the race for justice as a write-in candidate.

Berry and Koppelson were elected with 105 votes and 131 votes, respectively, beating out Gary Garofano, the third candidate vying for one of the spots.

Nicoletti received 113 votes over Karen Sartain, who garnered 69 votes, the village clerk said.

The village did not have any names on the ballot for the justice position, so the spot went to Edelson, who received 96 votes, over Alexander Melbartis — another write-in — who received 87 votes.

“The previous board for the past year has done nothing but fight,” Berry said in a phone interview this week. “I think very little [has] gotten done.”

Berry has lived in the village for over 30 years, he said, and has served as a trustee before. Most recently, he filled the position of maintenance commissioner. The Village of Poquott government website lists his responsibilities as “roadways, lights, signs and drains.”

He said his experiences put him in the position to do some good for the Village of Poquott. Berry said that he campaigned on the platform of “truth, fairness for all and to do good things for the village.” His election has not clouded that view, he said.

“There’s a lot that can be done for the village, and I’m already in the process of doing that,” Berry said. “The board has to come together and work as one unit.”

Koppelson was a health care administrator and has a degree in administration, so he said he is ready to start putting that knowledge to use to help Poquott, he said.

“I’m looking forward to getting started. I ran to see if we could resolve some of the bad feelings and gridlock and start to reduce that,” Koppelson said during a phone interview this week. “Once we get started I’m confident that we can make that happen.”

Koppelson moved to Poquott in 1972, he said.

“People tend to have allegiances based on how long they’ve lived in the village,” Koppelson said, and he expressed his desire to eliminate that.

Koppelson acknowledged that his new position doesn’t make him responsible for “defense of the nation, or anything serious like that,” he said with a chuckle, but he does hope to impact the village positively during his two-year term.

Nicoletti served as a trustee from 2002 to 2014, according to village clerk Joe Newfield. She lost her seat in the 2014 election, then filled in on an interim basis after Schmidt resigned while she waited for the 2015 election. Nicoletti did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Edelson is an attorney at law and a mediator according to his email signature. He declined a request for further comment for this story.

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