June 06, 2007
Southampton Village Election Showdown
The gloves are off.
Candidates vying for seats in the upcoming Southampton Village Election on June 15 engaged in a heated debate last Saturday, held at the Parish Memorial Hall.
One of the key issues in in the village – the fate of a proposed hiring hall or park for day laborers, was but one of the hot button issues that found tempers flaring at the showdown.
Up for grabs in the upcoming race is the mayoral seat, with incumbent Mayor Mark Epley of the Citizens With Integrity Party running against former Village Trustee Jim McFarlane of the Good Sense Party. Going for the trustee seats are incumbents Paul Robinson and Nancy McGann of the Citizens With Integrity Party, running against Good Sense Party candidates Charles Manger and Roy Stevenson.
Moderated by veteran NBC News anchor Chuck Scarborough and Barbara Jordan of the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, the event was organized by the Southampton Association and the LWV of the Hamptons.
Epley said the village board passed the lowest tax rate increase in five years. The incumbents, in their platform, point to the fact that they hired a professional grant writer to bring alternate sources of income to village projects and received over $300,000 in grants. In addition, the current administration, they say, has streamlined business procedures and implemented monthly and annual reports to establish accountability, as well as hiring an internal auditor, and more effective budgets.
He pointed to investments in public safety such as new equipment, negotiating new contracts with the PBA and the employees' union, and updating the village preparedness plan; he also reinstituted police foot patrols in the village. The mayor said the there has been a focus on greater diversity in the village with the establishment of its first-ever affirmative action plan.
Finally, Epley said he has addressed tough issues facing village residents, such as the day laborer situation.
McFarlane said he has spoken to village residents who are enraged over the proposed hiring site and public hearings must be held on the issue. He said a situation in upstate Mount Kisko, where the new immigrants and the locals have finally managed to co-exist, was a better model for the village. He said the day laborer situation is a town issue.
McFarlane, if elected, would also like to see new zoning policies, a new ethics committee, and the institution of financial systems that eliminate risk of fraud.
During the course of the debate, candidates were able to ask one another questions; another round of questions included those to candidates by members of the audience.
Chief among concerns raised included questions regarding zoning laws. Stevenson, a businessman in the village, said it's critical that zoning laws must be clear and loopholes closed. "Many issues with zoning," he said, "get put on the architectural review board," but in reality are not aesthetic decisions.
Things got heated when incumbent Trustee Nancy McGann was questioned about the Southampton Village Police Department, which has been in the headlines recently. McGann said the department has a new chief and captain, who are a "credit" to the village. She said although there are still some issues – the department is short handed – she believes the situation is one that was inherited by Chief William Wilson.
Other issues discussed were the future of the space inhabited by the Parrish Art Museum when it makes its new residence in Water Mill.
The museum, reminded McGann, recently renewed its lease for another five years. "They're not moving so quickly," she said, adding that a good candidate must be found to take over the space and enhance the cultural landscape of the village.
McFarlane said a few years ago, a major effort was made to keep the institution in the village; he said he is "disappointed in the Parrish" and that the loss of its presence is a "tragedy."
Those who donated their art collections to the institution in years past, he said, would not want to see them relegated to a "cornfield in Water Mill."
Another major point of contention between the candidates was the issue of preservation. Many residents have complained, said McFarlane, that the village didn't fight harder to save more of the historic Fiore Farm, on the corner of Wickapogue Road.
Stevenson agreed that the transaction happened "quickly," despite the scores of signatures on the petition. The bottom line, he said, is the village needs to become more of a unified voice and presence to present itself to the town in such matters.
Epley countered that he met with the town, the county, the Peconic Land Trust and other agencies to save as much of the property as possible; as it stands, 10 houses are slated to be built on the property instead of the 16 houses allowed, and 35 percent of land being is being preserved by the property owner.
Another issue bandied about was that of large houses on small lots. "I'm not opposed to large houses," said Manger. "But they need to be more in keeping with the land." The issue can be addressed, he said, "through zoning and closing zoning loopholes."
Robinson said his Good Sense opponents are a one-issue party, "focusing on zoning laws and ignoring everything else."
McGann said zoning issues have been addressed: "This is not running rampant. There are rules." Stevenson opined his opponents made zoning the central issue of the last election but then never followed through.
Epley said change happens through a cycle; problems must be identified, studied and evaluated.
The debate also covered one-way traffic on Job's Lane.
Questions from the audience included what could be done to improve relations with the minority communities and the 2000 unaccounted for parking tickets that landed the village in the news this year.
Stevenson said the village had to ensure this didn't happen again, and pointed out Christopher Broich, a sergeant on the village police force, had been placed on administrative leave with pay while the matter was being investigated. "The village is in a legal situation with an employee who blew the whistle; that doesn't look good for the village," he said, adding that the village needs to have "an open government, where people can come forward without a fear of repercussions."
Manger said the concept of "favors" in government was "unacceptable."
McGann said that a study has been done and the books the police were using were not finished, and not all the tickets were used. She added that 500 missing tickets were found in Broich's locker. "You're trying to paint a picture," she said. "This is all taken care of."
Robinson agreed: "It's not fraud; a quarter of the tickets were found in the locker. These were blocks of tickets, not individual tickets. There was no collusion."
McFarlane said, "I'll bet $500 no one found 500 tickets in Broich's locker."