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Public Hearing

Brookhaven Councilman Daniel Panico and Supervisor Ed Romaine. File photo by Alex Petroski

Elected officials in Brookhaven Town are taking steps that could both lengthen and shorten their time in office.

The board voted to hold a public hearing Aug. 2 on the idea of instituting a three-term limit on elected positions while also extending the length of a term from two to four years at a June 26 meeting. This would limit officials to 12 years in office.

Brookhaven is currently the only town on Long Island with two-year terms for elected officials, according to Supervisor Ed Romaine (R).

“I’m supporting it because when you have the entire government turn over every two years it can provide for a lack of stability,” Romaine said on changing from two-year to four-year terms. “You don’t have the constant churning in politics that can sometimes undermine the system. It allows for long-range planning and programs. It takes the politics out of local government.”

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. They said having to prepare to run for office every two years hinders their ability to complete and implement projects, especially pertaining to land use, which they said can take time.

“I believe there’s merit in establishing term limits and four-year terms,” Cartright said, but said she intends to keep an open mind and let residents weigh in. “It lends itself to better government.”

Specifically on limiting officials to three terms, LaValle said it should encourage fresh ideas and new faces stepping up to run, which he viewed as a positive, calling it a good combination both for government and residents.

If these changes are approved by the board, the proposal would go to a referendum vote in November giving taxpayers the opportunity to ultimately decide the idea’s fate. It could impact the town supervisor position, each of the six council seats, superintendent of highways, town clerk and receiver of taxes starting as of 2020.

“I think it will be a very interesting referendum on the ballot to see what people want,” LaValle said.

Bonner said she has changed her mind on term limits, saying she was among those who view Election Day as the inherent way to limit the term of a politician failing to serve their constituents.

“What it will essentially do is create not just good government, but better government,” Bonner said.

In January, the Town of Huntington passed similar legislation limiting all elected positions, to three terms of four years each.

“The town is going to be much better off,” Councilman Gene Cook said upon passing the legislation. He proposed the idea to Huntington’s board in June 2017. “Elected officials have an upper hand and can be there forever. Now, we’ve sort of evened the field today. It took a long time, far too long, but I’m glad it’s done.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin. Flie photo by Alex Petroski

If it wasn’t clear following six hours of Valentine’s Day testimony, the usual suspects were at it once again delivering a unified message against the possibility of offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.

Representatives from the United States Department of the Interior were at Brookhaven Town Hall March 2 to hear public comments from lawmakers across the political spectrum demand its proposed plan to expand natural gas and oil drilling along coastal waters be scrapped. The Feb. 14 hearing, which did not feature departmental participation, was held in the Suffolk County Legislature building in Hauppauge, an alternative to the federal bureau’s original plan for a single public hearing in Albany that took place the next day. Long Island lawmakers vehemently pushed back on the single upstate hearing, demanding at least one downstate hearing due to the impact such a plan might have locally.

Though the interior didn’t hear the first batch of testimony on Long Island in February, State Assemblyman and Committee on Environmental Conservation Chairman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said a transcript of the entire meeting would be submitted as written public comment on the proposal. Neither of the two local hearings featured a single speaker in favor of proceeding with offshore drilling off the coast of Long Island.

Lawmakers wait for an opportunity to speak in opposition to an offshore drilling plan during a hearing at Brookhaven Town Hall March 2. Photo by Alex Petroski

First District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) played a vital role in securing the hearing in his home district, calling the initial one-Albany-hearing plan “unacceptable” Friday.

Zeldin and others reiterated the fact that there currently is not evidence to suggest the resources that would be drilled for currently exist off the coast of Long Island, in addition to the hazardous impact the plan would have on marine life. The congressman stopped short of joining lawmakers to his political left in calling for investment in renewable sources of energy as opposed to more drilling for oil and gas, though he has voted for such legislation in the past.

“Drilling in the ocean for gas or oil is foolhardy,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said during his remarks. “We should be looking at alternative energy. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue — it’s a common-sense issue.”

In the Jan. 4 announcement, Ryan Zinke, secretary of the interior, said developing resources on the Outer Continental Shelf would provide billions of dollars to fund the conservation of coastlines, public lands and park.

“The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance,” Zinke said in the statement.

Public comments on the proposal can be submitted on the department’s website through March 9 by visiting https://www.boem.gov/National-Program-Comment/#submitcomments.

Notable quotes from the March 2 hearing:

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment: “Here on Long Island, we are a maritime community. We grow up with one foot in the water, one foot on the land — a fishing pole in one hand and a crab trap in the other. That’s who we are. You might think we love living on Long Island because we love the taxes, or we just love traffic, but that’s not it. We love living by the water. It’s what makes us live here.”

Carrie Meek Gallagher, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Region 1 director: “Seismic surveys necessary for oil and gas resource exploration include air gun blasts every 10 to 20 seconds, 24 hours per day for weeks to months at a time. The low frequency, high energy sound they produce is harmful to marine mammals, including numerous endangered whales that are present off our coast.”

Assemblyman Steve Englebright: “New York has committed to meeting future energy goals though clean, renewable sources like wind and solar. The state is working to shape an energy portfolio that moves away from carbon pollution toward renewable resources that will help mitigate the impacts of climate change in coastal communities from sea level rise to more extreme and frequent storms. The federal proposal is incompatible with that.”

Christine Pellegrino (D), New York State Assembly 9th District, Environmental Conservation Committee: “Our communities were devastated by Hurricane Sandy, and five years later we’re still not whole. Natural disasters can greatly increase the chance of a spill. Are you willing to risk our island, because I am not. Environmental groups warn that just opening the door to oil drilling in pristine federal lands and waters could lead to more tragic spills like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 that dumped more than 4 million barrels of oil over an 87-day period before it was capped.”

Kevin McCallister, founder and president Defend H2O: “It’s not a question of if [an oil spill will happen], but it’s a question of when and where. Unlike some from New York certainly concerned about Long Island, I submit that we’ve got to keep [offshore drilling] off the entire East Coast. I think this is obviously regression when we should be moving toward renewables. To really slip back in time in environmental intelligence is quite concerning.”

Kristen Jarnagin, Discover Long Island president and CEO: “Tourism on Long Island is a $5.6 billion industry. It supports more than 100,000 local jobs. Tourism is much more than vacationers enjoying our pristine beaches. More than 80 percent of our tourism industry is made up of small business — hotels, restaurants, transportation companies, boutique owners, wineries, farmers and the endless indirect businesses that thrive on the success of our industry including banks, audio/visual companies, landscapers, lawyers, attorneys and much more … Overnight that could all change, and those revenues and jobs can be stripped from the economy if not protected.”

This post was updated March 5 to include U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin’s prior support for legislation directed toward researching renewable energy.

Councilman Eugene Cook has a proposal that would set term limits for all Huntington elected officials. File photo by Rohma Abbas

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Town of Huntington council members will reopen the issue of setting term limits for elected officials by putting it before residents next month.

The town board voted unanimously to hold a public hearing Dec. 13 on term limits for all elected officials in the town.

Councilman Eugene Cook (R) presented a revised resolution that proposed that individuals elected to the offices of town supervisor, town council, town clerk, receiver of taxes and superintendent of highways be limited to three consecutive terms, for a total of 12 years, in the same office.

“Since I’ve been elected, I wanted to put term limits in and I didn’t have any support for it,” Cook said. “I spoke to the new [elected officials] coming in, and they asked me if three terms was alright.”

Cook previously made an effort to bring up term limits in August, which was defeated. This revised resolution differs from his August proposal, which suggested setting the limit at two consecutive terms, or a limit of 8 years in office.

The August proposal failed to move forward after Cook and Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) tried to amend it so that the nonlegislative positions of town clerk and receiver of taxes would not be term limited. Supervisor Frank Petrone (D), Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) and Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) voted against the amendment because they said they believe term limits should apply to all elected officials equally.

“I believe what’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” Cuthbertson said after the Nov. 10 board meeting.

Petrone, who is preparing to leave office after serving for nearly 24 years, and Cuthbertson (D), who was re-elected Nov. 7 to his sixth term having already served for 20 years, have both agreed to move forward with a public hearing Dec. 13.

The supervisor admitted while he was not initially in favor of implementing term limits, he’s had a change of heart.

“Term limits bring movement, people can move to other places,” Petrone said. “People in the town can move, like Susan [Berland] did, to the county when there are vacancies and there’s only a vacancy in the county because there’s a term limit.”

Berland, who first took political office as a Huntington board member in 2001, ran a successful campaign to be elected the next representative of Suffolk County’s 16th Legislative District Nov. 7, taking over for Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills). Stern could not run for re-election due to being term limited.

Similar to Cook’s revised resolution, Suffolk County legislators are limited to serving 12 years in office.

Cuthbertson said he agreed to have the public hearing and will listen to what residents have to say on the issue Dec. 13 before making a decision.

The Nov. 9 motion to move forward with implementing term limits comes only two days after state Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R) was elected to be the town’s next supervisor and his running mate, Republican Ed Smyth, won a seat on the town board. Both Lupinacci and Smyth’s campaign promises focused on government and ethics reform, including support for term limits for town officials. Lupinacci and Smyth take office in January 2018.

“While we appreciate the town board’s enthusiasm about term limits, we may better serve the public by passing a comprehensive ethics reform package beginning next term, which includes term limits for policy makers, among other initiatives which make government more transparent, accountable and efficient for the people of Huntington,” Lupinacci said in a statement.

The town board has the option of voting on Cook’s resolution at their Dec. 13 meeting, immediately placing term limits on those newly elected.

Cook said if his measure is not approved in December, he will continue to push for reform.

“If it doesn’t go through, I’ll put it up again in January,” Cook said. “It’s good for the people of Huntington, that’s for sure.”

Councilmembers discuss the public hearing time slot change. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Brookhaven Town is tweaking its board meetings for the sake of efficiency.

Effective the first meeting of May, on May 12, town officials passed a resolution on Feb. 25 that moves the public hearing time to 6 p.m., from its previous 6:30 p.m. time slot. Public hearings used to follow a half-hour board adjournment, but now Brookhaven officials will no longer adjourn prior to the public hearing.

Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) said moving the public hearing will not only help the meetings run smoothly, but also prevent attendees from waiting for the hearing to start. Shifting the time will also help the town save money, as it won’t need to pay Brookhaven employees, excluding management personnel, overtime.

“We don’t want to waste money,” Panico said. “Budgets are tight and we want the Town Board meetings to flow continuously like every governmental meeting should.”

But Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and residents alike said the time shift will limit community participation during public hearings.

The councilwoman was the only board member who voted against the proposal. She said in her three years in office, she’s witnessed residents running into town hall five minutes after public hearings begin.

“Public hearings are extremely important and we want as many people as possible to come in and be able to voice their opinions,” Cartright said. “Our public hearings here at the Town of Brookhaven are based on either zone changes [or projects based on specific properties], which will affect people in the immediate community.”

On many occasions, there are more Brookhaven employees in attendance in comparison to residents. Many residents also leave the meeting when the town takes a brief adjournment.

According to Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto, zone changes and projects in a particular area or land use plans are brought before the respective civic association before reaching the town. While residents have three minutes to comment on the board’s resolution agenda during public comment, they have five minutes to comment on zone changes and similar issues pertaining to specific properties during public hearing.

Public hearings were initially scheduled for 6:30 p.m. during former Brookhaven Town Supervisor John LaValle’s five years in office. The civic associations requested the time slot to accommodate people’s schedules, Eaderesto said.

Recently, the town has received numerous complaints from senior citizens saying that they’d prefer earlier meetings because they don’t like to travel in the evening. But Mastic Beach resident Jim Gleason said seniors usually attend public hearings, or town board meetings in general, for certain hot-topic issues.

That’s not the case for all residents.

“There have been hearings that I’ve been involved in where people have said, ‘I just can’t get there. It’s too early,’” Gleason said of public hearings. “So if there are people who have trouble getting here at 6:30 p.m., they’re obviously more people who have trouble getting here at 6 p.m.”

But Panico said the town will see what works best and adjust accordingly.

“I think it’s a reasonable move [to change the public hearing time],” Panico said. “And if there’s a need to tweak the time in the future, everyone on [the] board is very reasonable.”

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The waterfront revitalization program hearing is scheduled for Feb. 24 at the Kings Park branch of the Smithtown Library. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

The Town of Smithtown has its sights set on the waterfront.

With a date set for Feb. 24, Smithtown announced it would be sponsoring the first of several public workshops in which the town will seek community input on the development of a revised local waterfront revitalization program. It has been nearly 26 years since the town adopted its last program, and the issues have changed — so the public will have a chance to weigh in at a workshop on Feb. 24 at the Kings Park branch of the Smithtown Library at 6:30 p.m.

In a statement, the town Planning Department said the existing revitalization program has served as a guide for Smithtown for more than 25 years in helping establish objectives, programs and standards to promote the beneficial use of coastal resources.

“Many changes have occurred in understanding coastal issues and management, in government laws and programs addressing coastal management, and in the conditions and circumstances affecting Smithtown’s coastal resources and uses,” the Planning Department said in the statement. “While the general directions established by the current LWRP are sound, after more than 25 years a complete rewrite of the LWRP is taking place to reflect these changes.”

The town said that Charles McCaffrey, an expert in state coastal management programs, policies and laws, will be consulting the town after making it through a competitive bidding process for such consultation. McCaffrey said he would be drafting each section of the new program for the town, which will be reviewed by elected officials in Smithtown, and met with community input. The process will include updating and re-structuring the existing plan to address changes in the overall pattern of development in the coastal area, the condition of the natural resources of the coast, current and future public use and access to the coast, and the needs of users that depend on a coastal location.

The draft plan will also identify federal and state actions necessary to advance the town’s program.

This first public workshop will focus specifically on identifying the issues of concern to the community and review the work done to date on updating the boundary of the waterfront area and the developed coast section of the plan. All interested parties are encouraged to attend.

The Kings Park branch of the Smithtown Library is located at 1 Church St. in Kings Park.

Town board to host public hearings on new proposals

The town board will consider a ban on e-cigarettes at town beaches and playgrounds. File photo by Nick Scarpa

Huntington Town residents next week will be able to weigh in on a proposal to ban e-cigarettes from town beaches and on another measure that would expedite cleanup of graffiti-ridden properties in the town.

The proposals will be the subject of two separate public hearings on June 9 at 7 p.m at Town Hall.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) has introduced the new legislation to ban e-cigarettes from town beaches and playgrounds. Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) hopes to improve on old legislation to speed up the process of graffiti removal from both residential and commercial properties.

Berland’s proposal enhances existing graffiti cleanup laws. Under the new provisions, residents of Huntington would have 10 days after they receive a summons from the town to remove the graffiti from their property, according to Berland. After the 10 days expire, the town can send Huntington Town General Services Department employees in to remove the graffiti. The resident will then be charged with the cleanup fee and a $250 administrative fee.

If the owner fails to pay the cleanup bill within 30 days, the property will be added to a graffiti blight inventory, which will cost homeowners $2,500 and owners of commercial properties $5,000. Owners who fail to pay the bill will have the bill become a lien on their property.

The time frame is even shorter for graffiti that contains hate speech. The owner has a total of three days to remove it after getting a notice of violation before the town takes action.

“I think it’s important to protect our neighborhood from unwanted graffiti,” Berland said in a phone interview.

Berland has worked with graffiti cleanup for years and is now trying to create legislation that amends the town code so that the cleanups are routine.

Cuthbertson has introduced legislation to add electronic cigarettes to the list of products banned from town beaches and playgrounds. This list already includes tobacco and herbal cigarettes, pipes and cigars.

In 2010 a county law restricted the sale of e-cigarettes to those old enough to buy tobacco. Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) sponsored legislation to ban vaping, or the act of smoking an e-cigarette, at county parks and benches in late 2012.

Many residents in Huntington approached Cuthbertson asking for legislation to end vaping on public grounds, since they have concerns with being exposed to secondhand smoke. However, this new law, if adopted, would not include private property, as well as the parking lots at beaches. New no-smoking signs would go up at each public beach and playground.

In an email through his legislative aide, Cuthbertson said he believes this legislation is important on a public health level.

“The extensive amount of medical research and published studies support our desire to protect the health and welfare of those at our town beaches from secondhand smoke,” the councilman said.

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