Gurney's Inn
April 18, 2007

Mayor Considers Protest "A Threat"

This time, it's personal.

So said Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley at a press conference he held on Saturday to discuss a protest that took place outside his home that morning.

Members of organizations such as the Anti-Illegal Immigrant Association gathered outside the mayor's Southampton Village home on Saturday, carrying signs and marching for approximately 30 minutes. (The Independent has chosen to withhold the mayor's street address).

Epley and his family, however, were not home. "I chose to move my family out of potential danger," said the mayor, who has four children.

Epley said after reading anti-immigration blogs that picture men holding guns, and mentioning his name, "I have to view that as a potential threat — a serious threat."

Epley was asked about comments he'd made suggesting that if protesters were to gather at his home on Saturday, someone would get hurt. Epley responded by saying the words were "an instantaneous reaction to the news." He added that the comments were ones he regrets, but a first reaction when a man hears of a potential threat to his family or home.

Epley has been taking the heat after giving the nod recently to a hiring site to be located on Aldrich Lane next to the 7-Eleven in Southampton.

Upon hearing the news, protestors who have long renounced a formal hiring site in the village vowed to remain vigilant in their efforts. Village police arrived at the scene and outlined the rules for public protest to individuals present.

At Saturday's protest, Center Moriches contractor Tom Wedell, a familiar figure who stands outside 7-Eleven protesting illegal immigration, was furious.

Carrying a sign that read "No Amnesty" Wedell shouted, "Stop breaking the law, Mayor Epley. Stop forcing an illegal hiring site. You are not the lawmaker; you are the lawbreaker."

Epley has been seeking a solution to stem the ever-escalating dangers on North Sea Road and County Road 39 posed by crowds of more than 200 day laborers who congregate outside 7-Eleven. With crowds of day laborers on the street, Epley maintains safety is a critical issue and that there have been "multiple near-misses on North Sea Road."

And, he stressed on Saturday, "I'm not a pro-immigration person. I'm just a small-town mayor trying to clean up a street."

The mayor's plan calls for the empty lot at the Knight's Last Stand property — a six-acre parcel purchased by the village in 2001 with CPF funds — to be hedged in, with a gravel turnaround added where drivers can pick up day laborers safely. There is no change in use to the property, he said, and the only goal is to get the day laborers off the street.

At Saturday's press conference, the mayor said the hedges are planted and the gravel in place.

The site, he said, has not been authorized by any village board resolutions.

Epley assured that he has kept track of every single man hour and piece of equipment, and that all costs would be paid for by private donations from foundations and others who have offered to foot the bill. "This is not costing the taxpayer anything."

So far, the mayor estimates that work and equipment totals approximately $15,000.

Next, Epley plans to introduce legislation that prohibits solicitation of employment on a public right of way, measured from the curb to 10 feet in, and also in commercial parking lots.

The legislation is expected to be introduced to the village board at its April work session, with a public hearing tentatively expected for May.

Epley has also met with members of The Coalition for a Work Link Center, seeking solutions. Sister Margaret Smyth and members of the coalition have pledged to organize day laborers. Day laborers, however, are not yet onsite. Smyth said they will not congregate there until security can be assured.

Epley has said increased village police enforcement and presence will be provided, but not continually. He's looking to model municipalities that have set up buffer zones, with designated areas for protesting, allowing for freedom of speech but mitigating potential violence in the area.

The mayor plans to proceed with plans to collaborate with Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney, developing an inter-municipal agreement on code enforcement for the licensing of contractors.

But Heaney had some questions for Epley last week. The supervisor denounced protestors congregating at the mayor's house, saying, "It's one thing to assert your displeasure" over the hiring site. "It is unacceptable to personalize the issue by now threatening a man and his family in the peaceful setting of their home."

Heaney, however, added, that his statement regarding Epley does not mean that he's "pleased with what he's doing."

In fact, said the supervisor, while he agrees the village "has a serious problem on their hands and is being pulled in two directions by two passionate opinions," elected officials have "a constitutional oath to uphold the law."

In Heaney's opinion, "not enough thought" went into the plan to get the day laborers off the street. The supervisor said he would rather see the village enter into a management agreement with the Town of Southampton since the fact is that the "town has an undivided interest in the land."

The management agreement would be to build a park that would satisfy the interest of residents as far as walkways, gardens, rest rooms, benches, and perhaps a toddler park. The supervisor said he would not be in a position to question those types of amenities.

However, said Heaney, if Epley chooses to go about "cherry-picking' and putting up a privacy wall, circular drive, and portable toilets, as well as working with the Worklink Coalition on organizing day laborers, "That's not a park. That's a hiring hall."

Heaney said he's sent Epley a letter, asking him to assert clearly what his intentions are regarding a park, under the provisions of the CPF requirements for a village green.

In addition, Heaney has asked for copies of any resolutions from the village board authorizing him to go ahead with such construction in "the absence of a management agreement with the Town of Southampton." Heaney said he is waiting for a response from Epley.

Epley said he received the letters but has not yet had a chance to respond since he's been away in Florida. And, he said, "It's a village issue."

The bottom line, said Epley, is that it's a federal issue he's been forced to address. "At least I'm trying to do something," he said.

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