Three candidates share views on the future of Greenport

03/13/2013 9:40 AM |

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Candidates Mary Bess Phillips, Julia Robins and Bill Swiskey debated Monday night as they’re vying for two seats on Greenport’s Village Board.

The starkly varied viewpoints of the three candidates vying for two seats on Greenport’s Village Board were on full display at Monday’s trustee debate, sponsored by The Suffolk Times.

Before a packed house at Greenport United Methodist Church, candidates Mary Bess Phillips, Julia Robins and Bill Swiskey weighed in on issues ranging from rental permits to beer sales in Mitchell Park to parking. The debate was to take place at the village’s Little Red Schoolhouse on Front Street, but was moved to the church in response to concerns over seating space.

Ms. Phillips, owner of Alice’s Fish Market and the only incumbent running, and Mr. Swiskey, a former trustee and village utilities director who served out the term of George Hubbard Sr. several years ago before losing a re-election bid, were clearly at odds over how best to handle village affairs. Ms. Robins, a carpenter and real estate agent, provided the perspective of someone not intimately involved with the workings of village government.

Last year, the board nixed a plan to bring parking meters back to the downtown commercial district. The meters had initially been proposed because business owners were worried that people were parking all day, making it difficult for customers to get to their shops. But the parking meter solution didn’t suit them either.

“Do we need a [traffic control officer]? I don’t know. I want to hear from the people,” said Ms. Phillips “Marking tires? Yeah, it might work. Somebody should say what they would like. Last time I stuck my neck out, it pretty much got chopped off.”

Mr. Swiskey is all for traffic control officers.

“If we had a person four days a week, even if it costs $15,000, I guarantee you’ll get revenue to cover it,” he said. “If we can find the money for $1,500 wind farm surveys, we can find the money for a TCO.”

“I think meter parking creates a sense of bad will in town,” said Ms. Robins. “The business community needs to come together. We need to hear more from them. They were vocal against the meters. Was the summer as bad as they thought it was going to be?”

The three candidates all disapproved of the sale of beer during events in Mitchell Park, although their approach to whether for-profit groups should be allowed to hold events there was more nuanced.

“I’m going to put an end to this business of selling beer in the park,” Mr. Swiskey said to a chorus of whoops and chuckles from supporters in the audience. “You know I’m no puritan, but I don’t want them selling beer in front of my grandchildren.”

Ms. Phillips also said she had a problem with the sale of beer in the park. She said she hopes the Village Board develops a clear policy for which groups can use the park, and hopes they favor cultural events.

“We have lots of opportunity for that,” she said. “We need to do it with a love for the park.”

“I don’t think anybody should be selling anything for a profit there,” added Ms. Robins. “Northeast Stage, Dancing in the Park should be there. It’s a community property for all of us.”

Mr. Swiskey said he believed the policy on the park’s use should be flexible. The San Simeon by the Sound nursing home, for example, had been denied use of the park for a fundraiser, even though they provide jobs and care for seniors.

“If we can allow a beer brewer to sell product in public park for profit, we should allow San Simeon to have the same rights,” he said.

In the debate’s most heated moment, moderator Tim Kelly asked if the fact that Mr. Swiskey already receives village benefits didn’t make it easier for him to say in his campaign that he wouldn’t take them as a board member. Mr. Swiskey collects a pension and health benefits from his service as utilities director.)

Several of Mr. Swiskey’s supporters in the crowd objected loudly and one audience member briefly shouted that he believed the question shouldn’t have been asked.

Mr. Swiskey said he believes there’s a difference between full-time employees receiving benefits and part-time elected officials, who can get benefits through their own business.

“Pay for it through your businesses, the same as my son does,” he said. “I don’t think anybody who works 20 hours per month deserves benefits.”

Ms. Phillips said she doesn’t take the village’s health insurance but doesn’t feel like it’s her place to tell other officials not to take it.

“It’s been in existence for quite a while,” she said. “I don’t know where to go with it. Litigation has held up a lot of things.”

“I’m not familiar with what people are getting. I’ll have to look into it a little bit more before I make a knowledgeable comment,” said Ms. Robins.

Candidates agreed the village needs to do more to make sure rental housing is safe, but some wondered if the village could afford to do so.

“We do have to have a law that requires landlords to have safety standards they have to adhere to,” said Ms. Robins. “As a realtor, I’ve seen safety issues in apartments. I won’t take it as a listing because it’s not safe.”

Ms. Phillips said rental laws need to be enforceable, and the village’s code committee, which is currently reviewing a rental permit law, is looking for more public input.

Mr. Swiskey said the code committee is seen in the village as the place where bills go to die. He asked why a new draft of the rental permit bill hasn’t been posted on the town’s website or made available to the public.

“You’ll have to ask the chairman of the committee, who’s sitting in the back of the room,” said Ms. Phillips, referring to Mayor David Nyce, who was in the audience.

“Put the draft online. People will look at it and make comments. I guarantee people will give feedback,” said Mr. Swiskey.

In their closing statements, the candidates summed up their perspectives on the race.

“I moved here as a young woman determined to become a carpenter,” said Ms. Robins. “I spent 25 years building and renovating houses on the North Fork. I’m a hard worker. I’m very good at getting things done. I raised my son here and he’s grown to be a fine young man. We’re so fortunate to live in a town that cares about its neighbors.”

Ms. Phillips said she wants to continue working to make downtown active year round and focus on capital improvements throughout the village, while improving communication between government and residents.

“I was born and raised here,” she said. “It’s been tough to stay here and we have tough times ahead. I want to plan for the future with the same activity of spirit and dedication.”

Mr. Swiskey pledged to keep being a thorn in the side of the Village Board.

“They’re running a $20 million a year enterprise, and it’s just running around like it’s rudderless,” he said. “I might be a little bit confrontational, but I will stand up to the powers that be.”

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