June 07, 2006

Village Trustee Candidates Debate

Beach access? An unqualified yes. A hiring hall for day laborers? A qualified maybe. And the fire and police departments? Keep them.

The five candidates for the two spots on the Southampton Village Board of Trustees, Robert DeVinney, running on the newly-formed Heritage platform, incumbent William Bates and his Good Sense party running mate Michael Irving, Bonnie Cannon and Blair West, running under the banner of Citizens With Integrity, held forth on these and other issues at a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters, last Saturday afternoon at Southampton Hospital's Parrish Memorial Hall. The debate, in advance of next Tuesday's election, found the candidates offering variations on a fairly similar theme on most issues.

The questions in the debate were culled from queries written by audience members and reviewed by members of the LWV, and the actions and make-up of various village boards were the source of much audience scrutiny. Asked if it was a conflict of interest for realtors to serve on the Architectural Review Board, DeVinney said while it was "difficult for the Building Inspector to be a realtor," realtors should not be prevented from serving on the Zoning Board of Appeals or the ARB because "you can't swing a cat in a room without hitting a realtor."

Irving said a "balanced board" with "qualified people" was necessary, sentiments shared by West. Cannon added that the Ethics Board could deal with conflicts of interests; only Bates argued that realtors and builders should not be allowed to serve on the ARB or in the position of Building Inspector under any circumstances. As for the Ethics Board, all agreed it would be difficult to set exclusionary standards on who could serve, with Bates saying only people with "proven bias" should be excluded.

When asked what should be done with the increasingly contentious situation between the day laborers who gather near the 7-Eleven on North Main Street and the anti-illegal immigrant protesters who have taken to picketing nearby, Cannon was supportive of the idea of a hiring hall, saying "the streets have become a hiring hall for people willing to work." Bates, DeVinney, and West offered tepid backing for the idea, but argued that no village money or land should be used in the construction of such a building.

The candidates were supportive of keeping the police department (the single biggest village budget expenditure) and the village fire department intact; both Bates and Irving suggested that a staffing study of the department should be undertaken so that long-term liabilities such as sick pay and vacation time would not go unchecked or unwatched.

There was little enthusiasm about the Community Preservation Fund, a town-administered fund financed by a two percent real estate transfer tax that is used to preserve open space. "I like to call it the East Quogue Preservation fund," DeVinney said. Cannon agreed, noting that the village contributed far more to the fund than it received back in open space purchases. West argued for a more efficient use of CPF funds, noting that each purchase also removed land from the tax rolls.

Beach access received unanimous support from the panel; all of the candidates said that village residents should have continued access to the picnic area on Meadow Lane that some nearby homeowners would like to see closed. "Access to the beach is a right for all residents," Irving said.

As for a question regarding how the candidates would work towards making the Board of Trustees more of a team and less of a forum for partisanship, West suggested that trustees should learn to "keep the passion and lose the emotion."

DeVinney was more succinct. "Prayer," he said, to laughter.

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