Feeling ‘muzzled,’ trustee calls vote to eliminate benefits

From left, Greenport Village Trustee Doug Roberts, Trustee Julia
From left, Greenport Village Trustee Doug Roberts, Trustee Julia Robins and Mayor George Hubbard at Thursday’s meeting. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

As Greenport Village officials continue talks about cutting their own healthcare benefits provided through the village, the board’s two newest trustees have officially requested to end the practice sooner rather than later.

During Thursday’s Village Board meeting, Trustee Doug Roberts and deputy mayor Jack Martilotta sponsored two separate walk-on resolutions. One would have eliminated health benefits in nine months for board members and the second would have immediately set aside money otherwise used for their own benefits to pay for roadwork and infrastructure repair projects.

Both measures failed by a 3-2 vote without discussion, with Mayor George Hubbard, Trustee Mary Bess Phillips and Trustee Julia Robins voting in opposition.

Mr. Roberts and Mr. Martilotta do not to take the benefits. The other three board members have said that while they’re currently taking the village’s offer, they would likely be switching to different plans soon.

“I thought [Mr. Roberts and Mr. Martilotta] were in agreement with it. Obviously they’re not,” the mayor said after the meeting, referring to recent discussions about board members getting off benefits.

When asked by a reporter if he believed his resolution was premature since the Village Board is already looking into doing away with benefits, Mr. Roberts said, “Maybe, but we could also be sitting here six months from now and have no movement on it.”

“I think we just need to keep having the conversation, keep moving toward a compromise and we’re working toward it,” Mr. Roberts said. “I figured let’s go ahead and put some teeth behind it and commit to the public we’re going to do this. The public wants it overwhelming.”

That wasn’t the only issue the mayor and Mr. Roberts didn’t see eye-to-eye on Thursday night.

Mr. Roberts said he wouldn’t have proposed the walk-on resolutions if the mayor hadn’t fired off a memo a few weeks ago titled: “Village Board Members Responsibilities and Chain of Command.” [Scroll down to read the memo]

“This reads very much to me like a muzzle,” Mr. Roberts said during the meeting. “It reads to me as if I’m to be muzzled and to be at the beckon call of the mayor.”

Mr. Hubbard said the memo was sent after a couple incidents of miscommunication occurred.

In particular, Southold Town created a committee to work with the village following a meeting between Supervisor Scott Russell and Mr. Roberts and Mr. Martilotta unbeknownst to the rest of the Village Board.

When a Suffolk Times reporter contacted the mayor this week for comment about the committee, Mr. Hubbard said his response was: “What are you talking about?”

“I think working together is fine,” the mayor said about the village-town committee idea. “But when a reporter and the town are talking about something that’s going on in the village — and I’m the chief officer of the village and I know nothing about someone who’s representing the village — they need to speak to me.”

Prior the new trustees being sworn-in, they discussed with Mr. Russell starting joint monthly meetings to discuss shared projects.

Assuming the entire Village Board was aware of the idea, Mr. Russell asked during Tuesday’s work session if any Town Board member would be interested in joining the committee.

Greenport residents and councilmembers Jim Dinizo and Bob Ghosio volunteered to the positions.

When asked for comment Wednesday about the miscommunication, Mr. Russell said both municipalities have common goals to enhance communication and described the situation as “disconcerting.”

“In the future, I don’t think the town will act unless it’s a Village Board-driven initiative,” he said.

In addition to streamlining the communication process, Mr. Hubbard said the memo was also needed because Mr. Roberts had set up meetings with village employees.

“The supervisors have to know what their employees are working on and where they are,” Mr. Hubbard said.

After the meeting, Mr. Roberts said he’s OK with the mayor’s requests.

“What was frustrating is that I agree with almost everything,” Mr. Roberts said. “The memo didn’t say what he told the public tonight.”

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Village Board Member Responsibilities and Chain of Command by Timesreview