Column: Bad politics makes for bad planning

01/19/2011 12:02 PM |

There are two sides to every story, they say, and what follows are the two sides of the story of the Southold Town Board’s recent appointment of Jim Rich to the town Planning Board.

I must begin with a disclosure: The man Mr. Rich replaced is former Greenport mayor and town councilman Joe Townsend Jr., who has been a friend of mine since I first moved to town in 1977. (He is the nephew of the people we bought The Suffolk Times from, Barbara and Stuart Dorman.) So what I am about to say is not impartial, I must admit. And it is most decidedly my personal opinion, not the opinion of the editors and reporters who recently named Supervisor Scott Russell this newspaper’s Person of the Year for 2010.

Without so much as advertising the vacancy, seeking resumes, interviewing candidates or, most troubling of all, having the decency to tell Mr. Townsend that his services were no longer required or desired, the Town Board voted, 5-1, on Jan. 4 to replace him with Mr. Rich in a straight party line vote. Councilman Al Krupski Jr., the board’s lone Democrat, cast the lone dissenting vote. (In fact, Mr. Townsend learned he was being sent to the sidelines not from the Town Board, but via a phone call after the vote from Suffolk Times staff reporter Beth Young.)

Both both on the surface and deep below the surface, the appointment of Mr. Rich makes sense on one level and one level only: politics. What else can you conclude when a man with more than 40 years of public service (as a mayor, village trustee, town councilman, town Planning Board member, Peconic Land Trust director, etc.) is replaced by builder whose primary qualification appears to be his membership in the Republican Party? (Supervisor Russell said he would send me a copy of Mr. Rich’s resume, but so far it hasn’t arrived.)

I’m certain Mr. Rich is a very nice man — and, as I understand it, a helluva sailor — but what is it about his experience that makes him better qualified than Mr. Townsend to serve as a town planner? Short answer: nothing.

I have a theory ­— and it is my theory alone, not Mr. Townsend’s — that his support for the Mattituck 7-Eleven application rubbed a powerful neighbor the wrong way. It’s sort of counterintuitive, I know, when a Democratic environmentalist votes in favor of a 7-Eleven, but Joe Townsend is no knee-jerk environmentalist, and he ultimately concluded, along with every other member of the Planning Board, that the application was rock solid and responsive to the planners’ various concerns.

And please remember: His bona fides on this subject are beyond reproach because he was a town councilman and member of the Town Board’s planning and zoning committee more than a decade ago when the town acted to mitigate the impact of fast food restaurants by outlawing drive-thru windows and limiting them to shopping centers, among other restrictions.

When I asked Supervisor Russell if the 7-Eleven vote entered into the equation, he responded as follows in an e-mail message: “ … that was not my reason and you would need to speak to the other board members on their thoughts. However, I was disappointed with the Planning Board on that and many other issues … Bill [Cremers] and Marty [Sidor] were the only ones who seemed to express concern about the growing impacts of franchises in Mattituck. In fairness to Joe, I did not get much support from either side of the political aisle on that one.”

Typically, and in keeping with his even-tempered character, Joe Townsend doesn’t fault the supervisor or the Town Board Republicans for doing what they did, but he does have a problem with how they did it — behind the scenes, with no input from, or participation by, the public. And what’s more, he points out, it’s a repeat of what happened when another experienced Planning Board member who happened to be a Democrat, Jeri Woodhouse, was replaced by another comparatively inexperienced person who happened to be a Republican.

“I don’t like the implication that we were doing something wrong,” Mr. Townsend said in a telephone conversation Tuesday. “I don’t think Scott understands what the Planning Board is supposed to do.”

Earlier, again typically, he said in an e-mail of his own: “In fairness to Scott, he has been frustrated by the number of businesses that operate in violation of the Town Code. That has been a problem for as long as I have been in town government.

Unfortunately, the Planning Board has no power to punish violators other than to withhold permission for new operations or prevent the sale of old [ones], which requires a [certificate of occupancy].”

I don’t know about you, but those sound like the words of a public servant who puts the public’s interests above partisan politics. For a while there, I thought the Town Board was heading in that direction, but the Rich appointment harkens back to the bad old days of one-party rule at Town Hall.

Said GOP Councilman Vincent Orlando on the occasion of Joe Townsend’s forced retirement: “I don’t see it as political. It’s about who’s doing the best job.”

Yeah, right.

Click here for the full text of Supervisor Russell’s e-mails on the Rich appointment.

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15 Comment

  • It’s sad to see and hear that this type of behavior still exists in politics today. Yes Joe Townsend is a very good friend of mine and it saddens me that he was replaced in such a way. Unfortunately saddens but doesn’t surprise me the only thing that can be said is business as usual. Troy you are right on the money on this one and I also will say even though I’ve been chastised by Troy in an editorial and we disagree on more than on issue he to is a friend.

  • Kudos for a gutsy, thought-provoking opinion piece. It’s been a long time since Suffolk Times has taken a hard look at anything that would blemish the halo bestowed on this administration. The excuses offered by Mr. Russell, and criticism of the planning board members are just another dismal example of lack of integrity that typifies this administration. Mr. Townsend is not a personal friend, but common decency would have been to at least notify him of his demise, and here’s a thought, thank him for his years of dedication and work. As for the “direction” of the planning board, seems to me Mr. Russell voted to appoint every one of them, which by the way, doesn’t include any women or minorities. Was it politics? You bet is was.

  • Actually, Isent a letter to Mr. Townsend thanking him for his service and encouraging him to stay involved with the comp plan. He is a welcome part of Town Hall and I know he will continue to be. Further, I had originally offered my support to a woman who declined the offer. And no, i didn’t vote for every one of them. You should be aware that the Planning Board is for 5 year terms and I was outvoted several times in my first few years there. That is fine and how the process is supposed to work. Sometimes the vote goes the way I want and sometimes I don’t. That is the way it is supposed to work. Scott

  • Still no valid reason why Mr Townsend was replaced.

  • I produced the agenda on the Friday before the organizational meeting and did not include any name in the appointment because there were not enough vote for any one particular candidate. There were phone calls, emails, etc to see if a consensus could be developed around one name. Albert Krupski was included and there were many names that were being discussed. Joe had no more then 2 votes at any one time. I like Joe a great deal and do not think it is fair to him to discuss here in this forum why there was a lack of support for him. Truth be told Leslie, was my first choice but, she declined the offer. Ultimately, the votes were coming around for Jim Rich who had interviewed in the past and had been a strong candidate. Beth Young had the luxury of talking to Joe before I did because we were still in our work session. The particular discussion of particular individuals belongs in executive session however, I know you know how to get a hold of me and if you would like to discuss my position on the Planning board issues feel free to contact me. Scott

  • I stand corrected. After checking your voting record for the past six years, it appears that you voted for all of the planning board members, EXCEPT JOE TOWNSEND, whose appointment you voted against along party lines in 2006. So, if you don’t like the direction they’ve taken: look in the mirror. To thank Mr. Townsend after you’ve gutted him and ask him to “stay involved with the comprehensive plan” is adding insult to injury.
    In other words, you weren’t good enough to be a paid member of the planning board, but if you want to sit on one of our unpaid, advisory, we don’t have to listen to you committees — that’s great. No way to treat people. It’s disgusting.

  • >> if you would like to discuss my position on the Planning board issues feel free to contact me.

    Please explain your position. Also can you explain the position of the Town Board?

    Thank You in advance for your anticipated consideration and communication.

  • Alas, instead of small town politics being more responsive and transparent, it seem the opposite still prevails.


  • Said GOP Councilman Vincent Orlando on the occasion of Joe Townsend’s forced retirement: “I don’t see it as political. It’s about who’s doing the best job.” Of course, it’s politics. And Jim Rich is the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Just another yes man gumming up the works for this town. It is pathetic the way Joe was mishandled. Let’s remember that during the next vote, when the good old boys promise one thing and deliver another….

  • >> if you would like to discuss my position on the Planning board issues feel free to contact me.

    Please explain your position. Also can you explain the position of the Town Board?

    Thank You in advance for your anticipated consideration and communication.

    The forgoing was posted three days ago. No reply yet :-(

    The Russel administration always has been, is and will be dedicated to the mediocracy of partisan politics. I do not blame Scott. He is what the voters and the press want.

    There is an alternative! Southold Town could have a five member Town Council running an open democratic republican blank local government preserving and promoting our common interests.

  • Forget Reublican vs Democrat. The people of Mattituck rallied and cried to the Town board begging for help in keeping the 7-11 out of that intersection. When they felt they were ignored they spoke up against those they believe didnt hear their concerns.

  • So let me get this straight… Troy, your good friend doesn’t get appointed to a position, and you go on a tirade? You apparently know little to nothing about Mr. Rich, but you feel you know enough to say he is less qualified than Mr. Townsend? How about this: Your good political buddy Joe, your former house-mate Joe, who is a party hack for whatever party will nominate him, who was a former Republican, United Southolder, and now, this week, a Democrat, who has has been involved in government and politics for 40, yes 40 years, did not get what he wanted, so you, in your position as an individual, and not having anything to do as a newspaper publisher, somehow manage to obtain the right to have this tripe you call a “story” printed? What unmitigated gaul, and what outright crap.
    Joe is a good man, but maybe if he took his job(s) in Town Hall a bit more seriously, he’d still be there. Or maybe not. After all, he has been involved for 40 years, perhaps, just perhaps, it is time for Joe to say “thank you,” and move aside.
    Also, I find it absolutely hysterical, not to mention completely hypocritical, that when a Democrat gets appointed to the Chair of the ZBA, you don’t write an article on what a brilliant and nonpartisan action it is, but when your good old boy Joe doen’t get appointed, you break out the keyboard. You want to know the definition of bad politics: Using your own newspaper to grandstand for your friend, while implying negative qualities and qualifications on a good decent and qualified man… That is bad politics Troy… or perhaps no, maybe I am wrong. What it is is poor style, and a poor choice of actions. On your part.
    Have a nice day.

  • Your tirade and venal attack against Mr. G. and Mr. T. is nothing short of a desperate attempt to justify the inappropriate handling of this appointment. It speaks volumes to the character of your cohorts.

  • Sorry if I forgot. Thanks to everyone, it was my priveledge and pleasue.

  • Guest if you are not Scott Russell then who are you? You sure sound like Scott.

    While Scott does not usually let his temper show, when you get to know him, you learn that even when it is in hibernation his temper is always present, waiting for a victim.

    Scott is smart enough to make a good Supervisor. The problem is that he is dishonest and arrogantly overestimates his own competence.

    >> Have a nice day.

    Thank You. I will have a nice day when Scott learns that being a Town Supervisor does not mean having authority or power to control everything and everyone in town.

    In fact, being Supervisor includes neither potestas nor imperium* I notice that when the Supervisor is absent, Town Board Meetings include more and better contributions by the other Town Board members and the public. As Chairman of the Board, rather than leading with his own opinions and seeking unanimous agreement, the Supervisor should facilitate development of a general consensus.

    On the other hand, for the sake of Southold Town I hope that Scott can learn new tricks.