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At newly balanced Town Hall, swearing-in ceremonies feature optimistic message of bipartisanship

Bipartisanship, forward-thinking and even a bit of humor were on the menu at a swearing-in ceremony for newly elected and returning Southold Town officials Tuesday.

Briefly looking over his shoulder and out the window on a sunny but frigid afternoon, Town Justice Dan Ross remarked that it was “a cold day.”

“Someone once said it would be a cold day,” the judge joked to an audience comprised mostly of town officials and family members of the newly elected, a nod to the record number of his fellow Democrats being sworn into office in the historically Republican town.

Judge Ross, who served on the Town Board during the last Democratic majority in 2007, conducted the oath of office for all 11 officials being sworn in Tuesday – a group of six Democrats and five Republicans. The Southold Town Board is now evenly split and there are an equal number of members of each major party comprising the 18 elected posts at Town Hall.

The judge recalled working alongside Republican John Romanelli and being so impressed with his preparedness and willingness to listen to others to shape his opinions on the issues. Both he and Supervisor Scott Russell, who he had served alongside on the board, spoke from their own experiences that working together across party lines is possible.

“There are going to be disagreements, because that’s the system,” Judge Ross said. “It’s a somewhat adversary system. But you’ve got to take what you have, put it on the table and make decisions as a board … that’s what it’s gonna take to be a good board. And I know the people who are on this board have that capability.”

Mr. Russell said when he served in the minority party for his first term as supervisor, party enrollment was set aside to do the work of the people.

“I have to tell you the minute I stepped into that office, all of that went to the side and we had a very productive and very good working relationship together,” Mr. Russell said. “It was an absolute joy and an honor to work with them.”

The supervisor welcomed councilmen Greg Doroski and Brian Mealy to the board and said he felt they were off to a good start as a collective unit.

Mr. Mealy, who expressed a sense of pride at being the first black community member to hold elected office in Southold Town, agreed.

“To me being a board member, it’s the highest honor,” he said. “I look at the people on this dais, as we say, and I’m proud to be among them. Together we want to do the work of all the people of Southold.”

Also taking the oath of office Tuesday was a new Democratic majority on the Board of Trustees, including Eric Sepenoski, Liz Gillooly and Elizabeth Peeples, who is the first openly gay elected official in town. New Democratic Highway Superintendent Dan Goodwin was also sworn in, along with first-term Republican Town Clerk Denis Noncarrow.

Returned to office were Justices Eileen Powers and Louisa Evans, who also serves as the Town Board representative to Fishers Island, and Assessors Kevin Webster and Charles Sanders, all Republicans.

Mr. Russell ended his remarks Tuesday with a message of optimism about a more politically balanced future.

“I know that we’re going to be very productive,” he said of the new Town Board. “We’re very nonpartisan, we’re going to focus on the issues that are important.”