Changes are upon the Village of Old Field once again.
Before the end of 2021, Bruce Feller, who was elected as mayor in 2018, handed in his resignation and Deputy Mayor Stephen Shybunko took on the role for the remaining months. As the Tuesday, March 15, village elections approach, neither will be running for the position.
Pirro runs for mayor
Current trustee Tom Pirro is the only candidate running for mayor. Pirro was first elected as trustee in 2018.
Pirro said in an email he decided to run for mayor because he has “developed a keen understanding of our village, its challenges and opportunities.”
His goal, Pirro said, is to use his experience as trustee and professional experience as a CPA “to continue moving the village forward in a positive direction — all while maintaining our strong fiscal position.”
He along with trustee Adrienne Owen and trustee candidate Thomas Cottone are running on the Unity Party line. He said he also supports the reelection of Tom Gulbransen, who is running under the Sound Government Party line.
Pirro said he doesn’t feel there are any significant issues in the village.
“I have dedicated my efforts in ensuring fiscal discipline and steady leadership which have put the village in a very strong financial position,” he said. “I am excited to be a part of the lighthouse restoration project. This is an undertaking that is near and dear to me, as the lighthouse is not only the village’s public meeting space but is a beacon and symbol of the village itself.”
Pirro said during this tenure as trustee he worked to establish a strong financial standing for the village, and Old Field’s bond rating has gone from A1 to Aa2. He has also worked to streamline the building permit process and oversee the maintenance of roads and roadside drainage systems, which included necessary improvements and upgrades.
Two-year trustee candidates
Old Field residents will vote for two village trustees for a two-year term and one trustee for a one-year term.
Current trustee Gulbransen, who has lived in the village for more than 25 years, said in an email he is running again to continue the efforts of the board over the last few years.
He credits Shybunko, Feller and former mayor Michael Levine along with the board of trustees and residents for important improvements that have been made.
“Most improvements are ongoing, for example, the lighthouse restoration grant applications, the Old Field Point revetment repair grant and some fixes to village code about environmental protection,” he said, adding, “I’m also willing to serve again because it’s a privilege to collaborate with so many talented neighbors.”
The trustee said taking care of the village responsibilities “as cost-efficiently and effectively as possible within the time people have available to help” is one of the biggest things to tackle.
“Even within the village’s relatively small geographic scale, we face complex infrastructure challenges due to our historic buildings, miles of shoreline and fragile environs. Fortunately, the mayors, trustees and the village’s part-time staff have figured out how to juggle and or share tasks. And we make adjustments when residents point out our shortcomings.”
He said while, at times, there are misunderstandings or even contentiousness in the village, the residents “balance things out, remain neighborly and appreciative.”
Gulbransen is an environmental scientist, specializing in software and data sciences for the nonprofit Battelle Memorial Institute. He is also a volunteer firefighter and EMT, and chair of the Suffolk County Council on Environmental Quality.
Owen, who ran unsuccessfully in 2021, has been serving as trustee the last few months after Shybunko became mayor. She said in an email that when Shybunko asked her if she would be interested in filling his seat, she was honored even though it was only for three months.
“I have enjoyed being a part of Old Field’s board these past few months, and I look forward to the opportunity for a full term,” she said.
Serving on other boards such as for Harbor Country Day School in St. James, Owen said she feels she has been valuable in the trustee position.
“I believe I can bring some efficiencies when working with village subcommittees and personnel,” she said. “As I mentioned last year, I am all about process and procedure and there is always room for little improvements in any organization.”
Owen has also been an active member of Old Field’s Ways and Means and Welcoming committees through the years. She is currently the secretary for the Old Field Lighthouse Foundation.
Like Pirro, Owen said she doesn’t feel the village is facing any major issues.
“Fiscal discipline and steady leadership have put the village in a very strong position,” she said “Our board has been good stewards of the environment, and I pledge to continue that commitment. We recently completed some upgrades to the lighthouse beacon for the Coast Guard and are looking forward to a major restoration project for the Old Field Lighthouse and grounds.”
Owen isn’t the first Old Field trustee in her family as her husband, Jeff, served for six years. The couple along with their 16-year-old son have lived in the village since 2008.
William Schaefer, who has previously served as village trustee in 2007-08 and had an unsuccessful run for mayor in 2008, is running on the Bill of Rights Party ticket. He said in an email that his love for the village along with his desire to work with his fellow residents to make Old Field “an even better place to live” is what motivated him to run for trustee.
“While we have been well served by our previous mayors and many of our past and present trustees, I regret the increasing vitriol, intractability and conflicts of interest within our village,” he said. “Many years ago, we experienced the same discord for which, as a trustee, I bore some responsibility and which resulted in me losing the election for mayor. But I believe in redemption and honestly believe that I can bring an independent voice of reason and replace litigation and contention with compromise and mutual respect.”
Schaefer said he would like to see the refocusing of the village’s code enforcement toward “both rigorous and consistent and fair enforcement of our village code — to save our cherished environment — as well as strengthening of its service function.” He added he would honor the 2% tax rate cap.
Schaefer would also like to build on the work of former mayors Cary Staller and Levine, he said, as well as “the current efforts of trustees Gulbransen and [Rebecca] Van Der Bogart, expediting restoration of our precious lighthouse — much in the same way that we saved the Keeper’s Cottage.”
In addition to his prior experience as trustee, Schaefer has worked for the U.S. Department of Health, served as a clerk to a U.S. District Court judge, a Suffolk County assistant district attorney and an assistant attorney in the Organized Crime and Racketeering section of the U.S. Department of Justice. He has also taught criminal justice, law and political science at Long Island colleges.
One-year trustee candidates
Dr. Cottone said in an email that this will be the first time he has run for trustee. He has been president of the Old Field Woods Homeowners Association since 2016 and has interacted with the board due to the position on numerous occasions.
“As a result, I have become more educated about village management, and the significant amount of effort involved in maintaining the stability and wonderful quality of our community,” he said. “I believe I can make valuable contributions to the board with my professional, civic and volunteer experiences.”
In addition to his position with OFWHA, he has been CFO for the Long Island Anesthesia Physicians and principal in strategic growth and practice development for LIAP as well as lead anesthesiologist for the organization where he developed the initiation and implementation of its COVID-19 response team. As well, he is CFO, partner and board member of the Wohali Resort in Park City, Utah, and managing partner of Setauket Partners, the investment arm of the resort. He is also a team member of Room4Love, the Setauket-based, nonprofit organization that helps children with cancer.
Cottone said he feels it would be an honor to serve with Pirro, Gulbransen and Owen as he believes they are “leading the village in a positive manner.”
The candidate said he believes the village has no substantive issues.
“I would like to see the village historic lighthouse efficiently undergo further needed renovation with available potential grant funds complemented by The Lighthouse Foundation donations,” Cottone said. “An improved lighthouse, along with the village park, will greatly enhance the sense of community in Old Field. Other items that I would focus on would be maintaining the successful environmental initiatives the current board has established, as well as identifying other opportunities, and reestablishing a welcoming committee for
He added that he would continue the current board’s trend with keeping taxes as low as possible.
Morgan Morrison is running on the Sound Government Party line. As a lifelong resident, he said in an email, he wanted to be more involved in the village.
“Having lived my entire life here, I’ve watched the village evolve over time, and I’d like to add my energy and commitment toward keeping it a place future generations can enjoy,” he said. “I believe people are drawn to live in Old Field because it is a unique environment. I’d like to preserve its character as we move into the future.”
He added he wouldn’t be influenced by professional conflicts of interests.
“I care strongly about the environment and security of our village,” he said. “I will advocate for what’s best for the village as a whole.”
The candidate said many in the village are concerned about the “costs of maintaining the safety and security of the village.”
“I believe in finding more cost-effective solutions for getting the largest value and quality of life returns from our village taxes so as not to increase them,” he said. “An easy and cost-effective method to increase our security would be to utilize modern technology — such as license plate readers — to build upon the human presence of our constabulary.”
Morrison has worked in IT and technology for nearly 15 years which has provided him with the opportunities to travel extensively. He is currently a technical and horticultural consultant. He said he feels his professional background can be helpful “to make the village meetings more accessible and to increase our safety.”
He also is familiar with village government as his mother Geraldine Morrison was a trustee and deputy mayor for three terms in Old Field.
“I know what the job entails, and I’m very familiar with the village code,” he said. “I know the capabilities — and limitations — of what technology can do to make our lives better. I work well with others, and I believe I have a lot of value to add toward keeping Old Field the wonderful place that it is.”
Residents can vote on March 15 from noon to 9 p.m. at the Keeper’s Cottage, 207 Old Field Road. In addition to voting for mayor and three trustees, voters will have the opportunity to vote for village justice. Mitchell Birzon, who ran for the post in 2021 to fill the remainder of the term left open after the death of justice Ted Rosenberg in September 2020, is unchallenged.