Southold Dems want districts for Town Board

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03/31/2011 12:10 AM |

Southold’s Democrats are pushing for a major change in the way Town Board members are elected and serve by creating councilmatic districts, in which board members represent specific communities rather than running at-large.

TIM KELLY PHOTO | Democratic Councilman Al Krupski, who thinks Town Board districts would be counterproductive.

The change wouldn’t be easy to accomplish, requiring an act of the state Legislature followed by approval in a townwide referendum.

The town’s Democratic Committee voted without objection during a special meeting at the Red Rooster restaurant in Cutchogue Saturday afternoon to ask the Town Board to set the change in motion.

But the only Democrat on the Town Board, Councilman Al Krupski, opposes the change, which he called unnecessary and divisive.

Town Democratic Chairman Art Tillman said there’s ample precedent for the district system.

“Basically we’re asking for a Town Board similar to the county Legislature, state Legislature and Congress,” he said.
He argued that making the switch to councilmatic districts will improve local representation as well as increase his party’s chances to cut into the GOP’s lopsided Town Board majority.

Under the at-large system, Town Board candidates must aim their message at all of Southold’s 16,000 registered voters, Mr. Tillman added.

“That’s daunting, if not impossible to do, and expensive,” said the chairman.

Running in smaller districts, candidates would need to reach only 4,000 voters.

Democrats also believe they could pick up a seat in the Greenport, East Marion and Orient parts of town, which lean Democratic.

The political downside is the potential for creating heavily Republican districts.

“Is it a risk? You’re darn right,” Mr. Tillman told party members. “But the opportunities and benefits far outweigh the risks.”

Committee member Dan Durett of Greenport said council districts “bring democracy, the Democratic process, to my front door, to your front door.”

“I think it’s going to stir the pot a little bit,” said Benja Schwartz of Cutchogue, filling in for his wife, a committee member. “Who knows? If we succeed, this may break the Republican stranglehold.”

(All town offices to be decided in this year’s elections are held by Republican incumbents. See separate story.)
Councilman Krupski, one of only two elected Democrats in Southold, said he sees no benefit in the district approach.
“Southold Town is one unit,” he said during the meeting. “You really have to look at the town as a whole.”
Rather than foster better communication, he added, “if anything, it would cause friction.”

Committee member Sydney Abbott said she spoke for former Democratic Councilman Tom Wickham, who also opposes the district system.

In an interview following the meeting, Mr. Wickham said the geographic divisions in the legislatures and Congress Mr. Tillman mentioned cause them to be less effective forms of government.

“I don’t want to see the Town of Southold divided into fighting fiefdoms,” he said. “There’s already too much parochialism, not just in Southold, but across the nation.”

Mr. Wickham pointed to the service of Fishers Island Justice Louisa Evans, who he said is informed and involved in issues all across Southold, not just on the island. The island’s judgeship is decided by all Southold voters, not just islanders.

Former Democratic Councilman Dan Ross’ legal challenge to the state law giving Fishers Island’s judge a seat on the Town Board will continue in Albany on April 26 when the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, will hear arguments one of two lower court rulings upholding the seat’s dual nature.

Mr. Ross maintains that it’s unconstitutional for Fishers Island to hold a dedicated Town Board seat. In a decision later upheld in the first appeal, a state Supreme Court justice ruled that given the island’s location, the judge’s special status is reasonable.

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33 Comment

  • At-large voting forces the more difficult task of developing platforms with come inherent compromise and that is a good thing. While some of the benefits cited are true, representation strictly by district creates little political echo chambers and offers new, permanent ways to define “us” v. “them” – something of which the NF needs less, not more. This form also facilitates expenditure of town-wide revenues on highly local matters, pork-barrel politics writ small through the inevitable horse-trading and back-scratching that develops in such organizations.

    If a change is really necessary, the better solution is to have a board with a mix of at-large and district representation, with the slightest majority being at-large. This form allows local issues to get their due advocacy while affording the ‘big picture’ the ability to hold sway. But from the content of this article it seems the enormous energy needed to change the form of government would be best directed to coming up with a better platform. Just my 2¢

  • It is undemocratic to give Fisher’s Island, with only a couple hundred permanent residents, a full vote on the Board. Maybe it’s time to let Fisher’s decide if they want to stay in Southold, become independent, or become part of Connecticut. The idea of having one Board member that represents one’s neighborhood has some appeal in providing a smoother conduit to town government, but could have some downsides, as referenced in the article.

  • What’s next ban nuclear war in Southold town?

  • If Southold’s at large system is government is working so well how come we still do not have a master plan in place as many old studies lie in the basement of Town Hall gathering dust? Due to the lack of a Master Plan the steady commercialization of our corridors continues. No council person actively spoke against Seven-11 in Mattituck when 1260 signed petitions against it? Which council persons activily spoke out and supported those in Orient against extension of Suffilk County Water Authority? Which Council persons are speaking against the codos in Cutchogue? Council persons are elected to act as legislators, need the courage to make hard decisions and not pass difficult decisions off to the Planning Board without a Master Plan or the ZBA, neither body of which is elected. If we had a council person representing Mattituck I think that one would have been actively against Seven-11 and the people of Orient and Cutchogue would have overt support from the beginning in their fight.


  • Southold Town has a six person Town Board that behaves as if the whole gang is joined at the head. Currently only the Supervisor takes initiative and exercises authority. It is a fantasy to think that one Supervisor can effectively represent the entire Town. The Town is our primary unit of local government. The more local the better. The proposed reform of our government would encourage individuals to contact thier district representatives and would promote balanced actions by the Town Board.

    #1 Southold Town is more than double the size required to be designated a first class town.

    #2 Our current system fails to effectively represent the whole town, the hamlets and individual citizens.

    #3 The proposed councilmatic districts for Town Board Members would reflect existing social and cultural institutions and perception.

    #4 No change is proposed for the Office of Town Supervisors who would continue to be elected by all voters in the entire town.

    #5 Town Board Members from the councilmatic districts would continue to represent the entire town. But they would also be accountable to their district.

  • Dear Orienter: Your 2 cents is worth about…2 cents. Unless you know something I don’t know, combination at-large and representational systems were deemed unconstitutional in 1999, Goosby v. Hempstead by the 2nd Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, as a violation of the 14th Amendment. (Parallel equal protection in NYS Constitution, Bill of Rights, Art. 1, No. 11) If anyone attempted it, this argument would probably work to deny Fishers Island its “special” place on our Town Board. While we’re on the subject, since the present six member Southold Town Board violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965, any minority voter could get a lawyer and sue.

    If you believe in the democratic process, why not go with councilmatic?…divisiveness, horse-trading…sounds like human activity, rather than the present suffocating, fake “non-partisan” stasis. JUST MY TWO CENTS…

  • Councilmanic districts would be a mistake for Southold. Look at the situation in Crookhaven- um, I mean, Brookhaven- they have had councilmanic districts for a few years now and you know what? It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. This is a broad generalization but this is how it works-You have the councilpeople making deals: you vote for what I want in my district and I’ll vote for what you want in yours…they only care about their one little fiefdom because that’s where their votes are coming from- so they make decisions on an intensely localized basis without taking into account the best interests of the entire township in some cases. and then you have one councilperson only being held accountable to a couple thousand people in his/her district. Wouldn’t you rather have a full board accountable to all the taxpaying residents of Southold?
    I am a registered Democrat but I don’t agree with the local committee on this one. If they are concerned about having better representation then they should get out there and start building up the party to increase voter registration rates or do more activities to mobilize those that are already registered Dems. Trying to gerrymander some districts to hopefully tip the scale in their favor isn’t a holistic solution.

  • Dear Live-free-or-die and others with legitimate concerns:

    You are right, Brookhaven councilmatic is having growing pains, as is natural for almost everything new. I think Southold’s present political parties are less evolved and less partisan, and are less likely to evolve (or de-evolve) into the rabid power-brokers we see elsewhere. Our scale is more intimate. Everyone has to get and stay involved, and keep it civil. Do we assume the worst about ourselves?

    Has the present Town Board been responsive enough to various constituencies? Why not ask:

    1. Orienters about the water main and ferry issues.

    2. East Marioners about the noise ordinance that never happened, and the O-ki-do scare.

    3. Kenny’s Beach shore residents about the Goldsmiths jetty.

    4. The Mattituck petitioners against the 7/11.

    5. Cutchogue voters about the proposed condos.

    6. Anyone who has been hurt or had property damage from deer.

    6. Environmentalists about the Dock regulations that were never adopted.

    7. Concerned residents about a non-existent Comprehensive Plan, decades in the making.

    8. Private citizens, public servants and civic associations who dedicated their services and careers to the creation of a Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, only to see it languish, thousands of dollars of grant money never used for, among other things, Town Code revisions.

    I invite anyone who can think of other dead end “initiatives” to please write them in.

    Am I saying the Town Board does nothing? No. Could they do better? Yes. Is it the system, or the people? I am inclined to think it is the system, since we have hard working, decent people on the Board. Hamstrung by the requirements of a super-majority (thanks to its sixth member, the Fishers Island Justice) and lacking the survival instincts required of having specific constituencies to satisfy, no wonder the Town Board often defaults to… the status quo.

    I think discussions and debate are in order, you know, like they do in a democracy!

  • So let me get this straight. Our only Democratic incumbent councilman, Mr. Krupski, is opposed to councilmagic districts. Our former Democratic councilman, Mr. Tom Wickham, is opposed to councilmagic districts. Numerous other Democratic voters have doubts and severe reservations about councilmagic districts. But Art Tillman wants it, and as a result, it is becoming a party platform.

    Councilmagic districts are a bad thing for Southold, and an even worse thing for Southold Democrats. With so many important issues to address in our town, I can only ask why are we wasting our time trying to re-structure our town government. Well, I’ll tell you why. Because Mr. Tillman is concerned that he cannot win an election if you play the game by the existing rules. So what is the response to that? Change the rules! If we can’t win based upon the current system, well then, we’ll just change the system, and try to win then. You know what the problem is with that? Simple. Besides for dividing the town up, and opening the door for political gerrymandering, because let’s not forget, political districts are drawn up by party bosses, a/k/a Mr. Tillman and others, you divide the town up into fighting, and deal-making, districts. Don’t want low income housing in Cutchogue’s district? Well then, the Cutchogue and Mattituck councilmen join together and stick it to the Southold councilman. Not going to support me on this? Well I won’t support you on that. And let’s not forget, Congress uses this method, so it must be good, right? Well I have three words for you on that topic: Pork Barrel Spending. Bottom line, if you want to completely ruin this town, support Mr. Tillman’s councilmagic method. Personally, I would rather see the Democratic Party focus on important issues, such as keeping our town’s rural character, or access to our beaches without impediments.

    A second problem with Mr. Tillman’s councilmagic idea is that it will relegate the Democratic party in Southold to permanent minority status. We will never have a majority on the town board, because there will be at best two Democratic districts, and the rest Republican. So no matter what, we lose.

    Want to break the Republican majority Mr. Tillman, well, instead of trying to change the rules of the game to suit your personal needs, why not do something the Democrats have done in the past:

    It wasn’t so long ago that Mr. Horton, Mr. Wickham, Mr. Ross, and Mr. Edwards were the majority in this town. A Democratic majority. And that happened with the current system, because you see, Quality candidates beget Favorable election results. Or, to put it another way:

    I think the Democratic party leadership, Mr. Tillman in particular, should listen to the sage advice of Mr. Wickham, and Mr. Krupski. Drop this personal agenda, and focus on what our Town needs. Supporting this foolhardy plan will only begin the Balkanization of Southold, just to meet the political agenda of one man.

  • In response to your questions:

    1. Orienters about the water main and ferry issues.
    @ Orient did not want a water main, and Orient did not get one.
    @ The ferry company has been prevented from expanding their services and parking.

    2. East Marioners about the noise ordinance that never happened, and the O-ki-do scare.
    @ The proposed noise ordinance was untenable, and as a result is being reworked.
    @ There is no Oki-Do, and there will not be one.

    3. Kenny’s Beach shore residents about the Goldsmiths jetty.
    @ An East vs. West neighbor fight. Either way, Goldsmiths was just dredged, again.

    4. The Mattituck petitioners against the 7/11.
    @ 7/11 made concessions, is restricted in size, is set back, and is, as much as you hate to admit it, a legal use of the location. Besides, if you want to change the status quo, then you should not be supportive of keeping the gas station, with the potential leaky in-ground tanks, in existence.

    5. Cutchogue voters about the proposed condos.
    @ There are no condos. In all these years, they have not broken ground.

    6. Anyone who has been hurt or had property damage from deer.
    @ The current town board has, for the first time, opened up hundreds of acres to our local hunters, who have taken hundreds of deer, and donated the meat to charity.

    6. Environmentalists about the Dock regulations that were never adopted.
    @ Docks are regulated by the DEC and the Trustees. So are you now advocating councilmatic Trustee districts as well?

    7. Concerned residents about a non-existent Comprehensive Plan, decades in the making.
    @ There is a comprehensive plan. And there will be a new one completed soon. And a decade after that, another one, and another one. Change is, by definition, dynamic, and as a result, the comprehensive plans must be.

    8. Private citizens, public servants and civic associations who dedicated their services and careers to the creation of a Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, only to see it languish, thousands of dollars of grant money never used for, among other things, Town Code revisions.
    @ The LWRP is the worst thing to happen to this town’s independence since the British.

  • Are you running for office this year, or not?

  • The Southold Town Democratic Committee voted unanimously in favor of councilmatic districts 15 to 0. We also voted unanimously in favor of making Southold a First Class Town. The latter proposal was not reported on and will, if acted upon by the Town Board, bring positive reform in line with democratic principles, one being the hiring of qualified assessors from a civil service list and not getting assessors through the political parties and election process thereby eliminationg the perception of favoritism in the assessment system. Regarding opposition from within the Party, the Southold Democratic Party never has and never will require our members to march in lock step. We welcome debate from within and without the Party. We will formally present both proposals at the April 26th Town Board meeting where all aspects of the proposals will be presented.

    Art Tillman

  • At least be proper. It is not a “First Class Town.”
    It is a “Town of the First class,” and it refers to the size of the town, and the type of government available to it.

    The only reason you are pushing for Southold applying for “Town of the First Class” status, is that you absolutely must have that before you move to a councilmagic system. In short, you can’t break the town up into fiefdoms until you reclassify the town. Or, to quote the New York State Office of General Counsel:
    “The ward system of electing town councilmen is authorized by sections 81 and 85 of the Town Law. A town of the first class may, upon the vote of the town board or upon a duly qualified petition, submit a proposition to the voters for establishing the ward system. If the voters approve the proposition, the county board of elections must divide the town into four wards and fix their boundaries. “So far as possible the division shall be so made that the number of voters in each ward shall be approximately equal” (Town Law §85 [1] ). The ward system is deemed established only upon the date the county board of elections duly files a map “showing in detail the location of each ward and the boundaries thereof” (Town Law §85 [1] ). Note that the voters may also decide on a proposition at the same election, whether to increase the number of councilmen from four to six, which if approved, would require drawing six wards.”

    So, once you get the vote to break our town up into fiefdoms, you then have to have the districts drawn up by the Suffolk County Board of Elections, which, everyone knows, is populated solely by politically appointed officials, period. I, for one, do not want the future of my town, and it’s dividing lines, determined by people who owe their very jobs to the political party bosses, like yourself.

    We do not want our town to look like the towns up west. We do not want to have overdevelopment, like Brookhaven. Interestingly, Brookhaven did not want to look like Brookhaven. But they established a councilmagic government, like you are pushing for, divided themselves up into individual fiefdoms, and were then promptly overrun by development and commercialization. We are a small town, and we need to stick TOGETHER. not be separate fiefdoms, whose lines are drawn up by people who are appointed by political hacks.

    This is a fraud, and a hell of a way to stretch your political legs as our new Party Boss.

    What next, is Southold Town Hall going to be renamed Tammany Hall?

  • Wow. I guess you intend on doing the thinking for all of us. Good Luck!

  • No Sidney, just clarifying the issues.

  • “fiefdoms…party bosses…hacks…fraud…” “Clarification”…? If you say so. Where have you been all our lives?

  • Who knew that Southold was so screwed up?
    I guess we need some hope and change

  • You and Emily1954 should get together. One of you can think for everyone during the day, and the other can take the night shift. Oh, what a relief!

  • Dear “Emily1954″,

    Your comments show considerable knowledge of the “councilmatic” issue and most of us appreciate that knowledge. I believe that Mr. Tillman is acting in good faith and in plain view. I think your comments would gain authority if we knew who you were. Although this forum is not quite “Letters to the Editor” where the policy is that unsigned letters go unpublished, there are good reasons behind that policy, and I think it would be fair if you included your name.

    For those interested, another source on these issues is the New York State Dept. of State. By law they are required to answer questions and provide information to any citizen

    Sincerely, Tom Rozakis

  • Dear Southolder, et. al. As a member of the Southold Democratic Party, and as a member of its Executive Committee, and as a resident of Greenport, I write to express my appreciation for each and every comment posted for and against changing how we elect council members. Let’s understand, dare I say agree, that the terms “councilmatic” and councilmanic” are used, on an fairly equal basis by numerous towns, cities, and local governing bodies across the United States. For example, Hempstead Town uses “councilmatic” while Montgomery County, Maryland uses “councilmanic.” So, why do I support a change in how Town officials are elected? First, please recall that in my statement, I noted that it would: “bring democracy, the Democratic process, to my front door, to your front door.” For me democracy matters and matters a lot! I also made the observation at that meeting that as a person of African descent I am fully aware that it was nearly 15th Amendment 1870- black men and yes, it took another 50 years (1920) before women were granted their voting rights by passage of the 19th Amendment. A second reason for supporting the establishment of council districts is that this division seems to be working when one looks at the establishment of school districts. Why are there three high schools if we are one town? I know, I know, tax bases, etc. etc. Are our distinct school district’s a “balkanization” of educational services or are they in reality a reflection of the best way to educate our youth? A third, and final reason (at least for the purposes of this posting) why I favor council districts is because if we are to preserve what makes Southold distinctive, while effectively addressing changes and issues that are at our doorsteps: balanced growth and development, finding solutions to very pressing environmental and sustainability challenges, and energy conservation, to name a few; we need a process and a structure that brings democracy to its highest level of deliberation and direct participation.

    Southolder, as a minority voter, I am somewhat intrigued by your reference to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. What is the basis of your statement?

  • I called the Department of Justice about two years ago, after 20 years of watching the Southold Town Board and then reading about Goosby v. Hempstead. After carefully describing our scheme I was told in no uncertain terms that Southold’s Town Board was in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the the 14th Amendment (Equal Protection of the Law). I was told that the New York State Constitution offers similar protection, and found that it is in Article I, Bill of Rights, Number 11, Equal Protection of Law.