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Debbie Stevens

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.

Village of Poquott held its election June 18. 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

Village of Poquott held its election June 18. 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.”

Village of Poquott held its election June 18. 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.”

Village of Poquott held its election June 18. 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.