Port Jeff civic’s executive board installed, debates strategy
Leaders of the newly reconfigured Port Jefferson Civic Association formally entered their posts during a swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday, March 8, and went straight to work during the first official executive board meeting.
Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) officiated over the ceremony, swearing the newly elected civic leaders into their positions at the outset of the meeting. Kornreich, who had previously served as president of the Three Village Civic Association, outlined the value that civic groups can add to a community.
“I can tell you, as an elected, that the role of the civic is incredibly important because we want to get a sense of what the community thinks,” he said. “Your electeds in the village, and for things related to the Town of Brookhaven, we’re going to come to you.”
He added, “It’s a big responsibility because you have to reach out and be representatives of your community, and I’m very grateful to you all for stepping up to take this important responsibility.”
He then presented each officer with a town proclamation. The executive board is represented by civic president Ana Hozyainova, vice president Holly Fils-Aime, secretary Carol Macys Fox, treasurer Marilyn Damaskos and outreach officer Kathleen McLane.
Following the ceremony, the board quickly got moving, detailing the local issues it would prioritize. Based on a vote among the body, the most significant priority for the civic will be to advocate for voter input on major construction projects within the village.
The second will be to enhance walkability and calm traffic while referring to the village’s 2030 Comprehensive Plan to guide new development.
Third on the list is advocating for villagewide oversight and enforcement over planting and clearing. And the final item is creating a close partnership with the village Conservation Advisory Committee to preserve open space.
“Part of the reason why the civic association was created is because we found, as individual citizens, very little traction when engaging with trustees on those individual issues,” said Hozyainova. “Coming together as a formal association, we hope that we can start that conversation in a more fruitful way.”
To work toward implementing the civic’s collective goals and vision, the executive board brought in backup. Sal Pitti, vice president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, and Kornreich sat in on the executive board meeting, offering the newly installed leaders techniques for dealing with local government.
Pitti emphasized the value of high turnout and a growing body. “Get numbers on your side,” he said. “The more people you have on your side, the more they’re going to listen,” adding, “There’s always power in numbers.”
Pitti also recommended working to accomplish small tasks to help grow resident interest in the civic. “Get yourself a high school liaison, like we have at our meetings,” he said. “We have one of the kids at the high school telling people about events.” This method, he maintained, fosters interest from parents and boosts turnout at monthly meetings.
One of the core areas of concern among the PJCA body, according to Hozyainova, is the issue of coastal erosion at East Beach, which has endangered the restaurant and catering facility at the Port Jefferson Country Club.
“We are concerned about paying for a wall that might or might not survive the next few years,” Hozyainova said. She continued by saying that the village government has yet to comprehensively consider managed retreat away from the bluff.
Pitti recommended that the civic association establish new connections within the village so that important public announcements do not go unnoticed by residents. “Try to set up a new system working with the village, that they advise you directly when all these things happen,” he said.
Hozyainova suggested many of the decision-making processes and responsibilities within the village government tend to be consolidated within just a few hands. “A lot of decisions are made without extensive consultation, and very few people ask questions,” the PJCA president said.
To rectify this issue, Kornreich advised the board to forge tighter working relationships with village board members to develop more collaborative exchanges between elected officials and the public.
“Building those relationships with trustees is vitally important,” the councilmember said.
He added that educating civic members on local issues is another responsibility to promote a better-informed civic body and public. “Educate your members,” Kornreich said, adding, “You educate your members so that they understand” the local issues at stake.
Kornreich also mentioned that disseminating important information to the village would be another key function of civic leadership. This, he added, is especially important when it comes to advertising the civic to community members.
Pitti said one of the best investments for PJSTCA has been its website, which he said represents a vital organ for getting the message across to the public.
“That’s how we get our information out,” he said. “People come and join us there all the time. They love to see what’s going on in the community.”