Board, residents debate term limits
After a sharp debate at the Aug. 2 meeting, the town board passed a resolution requiring a mandatory referendum on November’s ballot that would establish term limits and extensions for Brookhaven elected officials.
Fourteen people spoke at the public hearing, with varying comments on the merits of the proposal. Only a couple dozen people attended the meeting. Preceding the hearing, chief of staff Emily Pines, a former state Supreme Court justice, provided legal background for the resolution. It comes after several changes in the makeup of the town board and its terms for officials.
As previously reported in the Long Island Advance, a 1993 referendum established term limits for the supervisor and councilmembers. That law was nullified in 2002, when voters chose to switch the Town of Brookhaven to a ward district system. In the state of New York, all ward district governments are required to have councilmembers serve two-year terms.
According to state law, the town has legal authority to override the state statute, providing an opportunity to give officials four-year terms. Every other town in Suffolk County operates this way.
Paul Pontieri, mayor of the Village of Patchogue, was the first to speak on the issue during the general public comment period of the meeting. He said that a major testament to the transformation of Patchogue was the ability to oversee policy change and project development over a four-year term.
“There are no projects that can be done in 18 months,” Pontieri said. “There are no major policies that can be made in 18 months. There are no major legislative changes such as zoning, building codes, the list goes on, that can be made in 18 months.”
Not all who spoke were in favor of extending terms. Anthony Portesy, of Centereach, a former candidate for Brookhaven highway superintendent, said that while he agreed with the issues that come with two-year terms, it should not be extended.
“Two years is good enough for the [New York] State Assembly, it’s good enough for the United States Congress, it’s good enough for Brookhaven,” he told the board.
Another resident, Ashley Hunt-Martorano of Medford, agreed, saying that two-year terms allow voters to have a voice more often. “Elections happen to keep politicians accountable,” she said. Hunt-Martorano argued that four-year terms could allow for complacency in officials with less time spent meeting or courting voters.
Councilman Dan Panico argued that the system still allows for accountability while also providing additional stability. “This is democracy in action,” he said.
Another repeated concern from speakers was the combination of these issues on the ballot. The current stance is that the question would have to be decided on both the extension of terms from two to four years and the limit of three terms per office. Officials from the supervisor’s office said that the questions could not be separated, and now that the resolution has passed, it will appear on the ballot with both measures, to be drafted by the town attorney.
Some speakers also requested that the decision be held off until more citizens had a chance to understand the ramifications and what the details and history were for this issue. Board members pushed back on that notion, saying that there has been time already since the resolution was announced, and voters will have three months until Election Day to craft their opinions.
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