The Village News: Editorials

February 18, 2014

The Bellport Village Board Shouldn’t Try to Muzzle the Press


EditorialOn Monday, February 10, 2014, the Bellport Village Board held a Work Session in the Community Center on Bell Street in the Village. The meeting started at 7pm and I was surprised that the Mayor didn’t open the meeting to the public for questions and comments before the Work Session began as he had in the past. I decided to hold my questions for the Village Board until the end of the meeting as I was sure I would have additional questions at that time.

The 2 ½ hour meeting lasted until about 9:30pm. By 8pm, an hour into the meeting, the five or six people in the audience at the beginning, had gone home so only was still in attendance and we were the only ones who stayed to the very end of the meeting.

I was surprised when the Mayor suddenly closed the meeting without opening it up to the public, in this case, for questions and comments. I tried to tell the Village Board that I had questions for them and was told by the Mayor and Village Attorney that the Village Board would not be taking any questions or comments from the public. I pointed out that they had in the past and that I had politely not made an issue of them not starting the meeting with a period devoted to questions and comments. I was again told I could not ask any questions or make any comments. That was it. The meeting was over. Period!

Let me explain why this behavior is particularly upsetting to me...
Hopefully, you’ve already read my Editorial on the lack of transparency on the part of the Bellport Village Board. I hope you’ve also read my current Editorial on Village Taxes and how you should not, “Check your brains at the door,” when dealing with the Village Board. Click Here if you haven’t.

As only five or six people attended this Work Session and only stayed to the end, is the only source of information for you, the Village residents, regarding this and many other meetings in the Village. Village Hall doesn’t publish information about what takes place at these meetings so it falls on to try to keep you informed. We take this responsibility seriously and I can assure you that there are a lot of other things I’d rather be doing for three hours on a Monday evening, but it’s important that you be informed because the decisions the Village Board makes are going to cost all of us a lot of money in the end.

So, why am I making such a big deal out of this?
I simply cannot allow Mayor Fell to muzzle by refusing to answer our questions. As I have said before, this is a Village of only 2,100 people. In the interests of transparency and being responsive to the residents of Bellport Village, there is absolutely no reason why the Village Board couldn’t have allowed an additional ten or fifteen minutes for questions at the end of this 2 ½ hour meeting. When the issues discussed at the Work Session are brought up for a vote at the next Village Board Meeting there will be no real discussion. The Mayor will mention something to be voted on. He’ll ask if there’s any discussion. He will then say something like, “Hearing none, can I have a vote...” Those of you sitting in the audience will have no idea of what is being voted on or what the issues are. Because of our extremely limited staff, we can’t be everywhere and at every meeting, but is the only chance you have to be informed prior to the Village taking action and that’s why it’s important that we not be muzzled.

So, here are the questions I wanted to ask and why I would have asked them...

First, Click Here for a copy of the agenda for the Work Session

The Grill Room at the Golf Course:
I agree that Nick and Guss Mokkas are a great choice for operating the Grill Room at the Golf Course, but what happened to Carmody’s? There was no mention of a bid taking place for the operation of the Grill Room as there had been in the past. Was there one? Who bid? If there wasn’t one, why not? Is it legal?

Osborn Park:
I bet you didn’t know that the park down at the marina is Osborn Park. It’s named Osborn Park because the Osborn family donated the land to the Village just as Mrs. Mott donated the Community Center to the Village.

A presentation was made to the Board regarding a proposed new plan for the park. I can’t comment on the plan because it was never shown to the public. I can only hope a presentation to the public will be made at some point in the future before any final decisions are made.

In order to evaluate the plan, we will first have to know what the purpose of the park is. Is it only supposed to be pretty to look at? Is it meant to be a recreation area for individuals and families? Is it a “memorial” park? Does it have a nautical purpose? Once you know the purpose, you can then decide how well the design fulfills that purpose. Shouldn’t the residents of the Village have a say in what the purpose of the park should be?

I was at a meeting in Village Hall where the naming of the park was discussed. Some individuals at the meeting saw the naming of the park as a source of income for the Village. The naming of the park could be sold to the highest bidder just as they do with baseball stadiums. I think this is wrong and the Bellport-Brookhaven Historical Society should get involved and prevent this renaming of the park. The park belonged to the Osborn family and they were generous enough to donate the land to the Village. Their generosity should be acknowledged and appreciated, not sold!

Proposed Sewer System:
H2M made a presentation to the Board regarding a new sewer system for the Village. Of the three alternatives mentioned, the “low pressure” system, which would connect to the East Patchogue sewer system near CVS on Montauk Highway, seemed the most feasible. However the costs involved are staggering and couldn’t be considered unless outside funding for all or almost all of the costs can be found. My question about the low pressure alternative would be... The capacity of the East Patchogue system seems adequate now, but if the Village wanted to expand the Village’s system, would the East Patchogue system still have enough capacity? I ask this because we could be pouring money into a dead end system without any capacity for expansion in the future. It might make sense to pay a little more upfront for a system that could expand with our needs in the future.

Proposed Mooring Field:
There’s a proposal for a new mooring field at the marina so that the marina can accommodate more boats and so that the Village can control the quality and location of moorings being placed on Village property. I have a lot of questions about this one, but first, will the moorings be available to non-residents? If so, where will they park their cars? If not, what are we going to do about the existing moorings by non-residents?

Bellport Golf Course:
Mayor Trotta was the last Mayor to “market” the Village Golf Course. He placed print ads in magazines and newspapers and he hired to create a successful web presence for the golf course that identified many new potential members for the golf course. Mayor Pate did nothing, Mayor Veitch did nothing, and Mayor Fell has done nothing in the first seven months of his administration to market the golf course. At this work session, the Village Board acknowledged that the golf course is losing money and is now being partially supported by the residents rather than turning a profit to offset Village expenses and reduce Village taxes.

The first step in Mayor Fell’s plan to market the golf course is to hire Larry Hirsch for $25,000 to develop a marketing plan for the Village golf course. This $25,000 is just for a plan, not for any marketing itself. If I could have asked some questions, I would have asked how much money Village Hall planned on spending on the marketing itself. $100,000? $200,000? If you’re paying $25,000 for the plan, you’re not talking about $2,500 for the marketing itself, are you?

If Village Hall had tried every marketing plan they could think of to market the golf course and had failed, I could see the wisdom in bringing in an “expert” to help, but we don’t have any money. There’s a lot that could be done for little or no expense if Village Hall would just get going. We should have been talking about this last July for this golfing season, not now in February. Every day, week, and month the Village Board has procrastinated has cost us money! Bringing in a very expensive “expert” is a last step, not a first step.

Voter Registration Day:
Village Hall is talking about having two rather than one Voter Registration Days this year. It wasn’t quite clear as to what the extra costs might be, but I wanted to ask if the people who registered on the one Voter Registration Day last year would have to register again this year or is the once enough? If it’s only once, my guess is that most of the people who wanted to register did so last year. I’m not sure that the expense of a second day is warranted considering that we may be talking about only a hand full of registrants. Of course if for some reason someone can only register on what would be the second day, maybe it is warranted.

Ethics Charges:
At the January Village Board Meeting, Trustee Terwilliger raised some questions about violations of New York State’s Open Meetings Law and she asked that the Village’s Board of Ethics look into the actions of some of the other Trustees. She did so because the Village Attorney, David Moran, had advised her to do so. Mr. Moran now says he was in error in the advice he had given Trustee Terwilliger and now, in his opinion, there was no violation of the Open Meetings Law and that it was not an issue for the Village’s Board of Ethics.

However, Mr. Moran did at one point specifically say that if Trustee Rosenberg were to call a meeting, in his official capacity as Village Trustee, of all the business property owners in town, that meeting would have to be legally noticed under the rules of the Open Meetings Law even if only he and the business owners were in attendance. I think Mr. Moran simply misspoke and I think he meant that Legal Notices would have to be posted if at least two more of the Village Trustees were also going to attend the meeting, but I may be wrong. I wasn’t allowed to ask so I really don’t know.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Village Board, it’s enough already. The residents and aren’t the enemy. There’s no reason for Village Hall to have gone into a bunker mentality feeling they have to go underground. In a Village of 2,100 people transparency doesn’t mean simply that things aren’t done behind closed doors. It means that things are done in the open with all of us pitching in for our common good. We’re friends and neighbors and we should be trying to help each other. There’s no need to be afraid of someone asking some questions if, as I’m sure, you’ve been doing everything in an aboveboard manor and you have nothing to hide.


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Larry Sribnick

Larry Sribnick