While speaking to a group of elementary school students at Floyd Memorial Library in October 2011, Greenport Village Mayor David Nyce said he might not run for re-election when his second term expired in March 2015.
“My feeling now is no,” Mr. Nyce told a student. He acknowledged that 3 1/2 years was a long time away, but said he felt that if he hadn’t been able to accomplish his goals in eight years in office, it would be time for someone else to take the helm.
That time is now.
In our 2007 election preview, Mr. Nyce proclaimed it was “time to open the curtains around Village Hall.” He said of the then-village board at a debate sponsored by The Suffolk Times that “something was dreadfully wrong when five people constantly are in agreement.”
Mr. Nyce promised to make open government a hallmark of his administration, saying he was ready to reach out to trustees and villagers to ensure their voices would weigh heavily in future decisions.
Something changed with Mr. Nyce at some point in the eight years he has served the people of Greenport. He seemed, at least for the past couple of years, to not really want to be mayor anymore.
His promises of transparency and inclusion gave way to one of the most closed administrations on the East End.
Last month, during a discussion about filming permits, a village official made a reference to something that shot in the village earlier that week, and a Suffolk Times reporter asked village clerk Sylvia Pirillo what was filmed. We were told to file a Freedom of Information request. More than a month later, we still don’t have an answer.
More serious unanswered questions include the rationale for making village electric customers pay the $108,000 penalty the department incurred in 2013, information regarding a major power outage in Greenport last year and justification for requiring one commercial fisherman to carry twice as much insurance coverage as others who use the village railroad dock.
The most recent instance of little or conflicting information coming from Village Hall occurred when residents questioned the process that was used to negotiate a sewer hookup fee for new development at Peconic Landing.
When our editorial board screened candidates, the two incumbent trustees running in this election gave us completely different answers. Trustee David Murray indicated there was no negotiation, saying that Peconic Landing agreed to pay exactly what the village asked for. George Hubbard, who is running to replace Mr. Nyce as mayor, spoke of a very specific give and take. Either someone isn’t telling the truth or doesn’t know exactly what transpired. Clearly, they’re not on the same page.
Yet, as trustee candidate Douglas Roberts effectively pointed out during his strong campaign, this Village Board votes 5-0 on just about everything. The lockstep consensus Mr. Nyce ripped when he was first running for office was only repeated during his eight years, even as distrust with village government grew and cries for accountability and transparency became louder.
It is clearly time for change in Greenport Village. Mr. Nyce did residents a favor by not seeking a third term and guaranteeing that at least one seat will change hands this year. And three well-informed and passionate challengers — Mr. Roberts, William Swiskey and Jack Martilotta — have emerged as options for village residents to vote into the trustee seat being vacated by Mr. Hubbard.
Mr. Roberts’ calls for consistent code enforcement, infrastructure upgrades and park improvements, along with several creative ideas to increase revenue to the village, make him an appealing candidate. And unlike Mr. Swiskey, who shares a lot of the same ideas but laughs at the thought of more studies and committees — because he and a handful of his friends know all there is to know about Greenport — Mr. Roberts and Mr. Martilotta have preached bringing a thoughtful, calculated, goal-oriented approach to Village Hall.
Mr. Martilotta, a football coach and veteran who currently serves as a reservist in the Army National Guard, makes a lot of sense when he says the Village Board needs to present a plan to the public about what it will accomplish each year, with goals and deadlines to meet. That approach breeds accountability and makes disasters like drawn-out, costly upgrades to the village electric plant disappear — along with the public officials who allowed them to occur.
We believe Mr. Swiskey, a former village utilities director and appointed trustee, is much more effective in his role as village watchdog than he could ever be as an elected official. He boasts of not caring what anyone thinks of him, except that’s the same attitude he and his band of angry gentlemen have grown frustrated with during Mr. Nyce’s tenure. It’s too bad Mr. Swiskey seems to thrive on the circuses he helps to create because, drama aside, he’s a knowledgeable candidate who does care about the community he’s called home for a lifetime.
Mr. Murray, meanwhile, praised the board he’s served on the past four years, mostly for holding the line on taxes while reducing and refinancing debt and improving the village bond rating. He believes the administration has been effective — citing upgrades at the marina and the hiring of a new village administrator as other examples of positive change — and says the public’s displeasure comes from just a vocal minority. But we believe he’s underestimating how many people are disappointed with the current Village Board.
Mr. Murray has served admirably — he deserves credit for spearheading the resurfacing at Third and Fifth street parks — but the public could really benefit from two fresh faces on the board. We’re excited about the possibility of Mr. Roberts and Mr. Martilotta working both together and as individuals to create a new atmosphere. If the next mayor truly works collaboratively with the public and the trustees, a system of checks and balances can develop that will work in favor of village residents.
Even Mr. Swiskey agrees that Mr. Hubbard would bring a more patient approach to the mayor’s office, and the mayoral candidate has vowed to improve dialogue and transparency in his administration. (Though we’ve heard that one before!) Mr. Hubbard has set improving village parks and carrying out an upgrade of the firehouse as goals for his first term in office.
Unlike Mr. Murray, however, Mr. Hubbard is not facing a significant challenge in this election. Zuleyha “Julie” Lillis emerged as a second option in recent weeks, but her campaign message lacks any specifics and it’s hard to find a compelling reason anyone should vote for her.