New faces, ideas at Town Hall as newly elected take office
After dominating the polls this November, Southold Democrats and a newly-elected Republican town clerk are expected to bring fresh perspectives and a new direction to Town Hall.
The local Democratic Party made Southold history a few months ago, sweeping six out of seven elections — the most wins in a single-town election for the party in at least 90 years. Former government liaison officer Denis Noncarrow, in a bid for Town Clerk, was the sole Republican to win a contested seat.
The Republican party also retained unchallenged incumbents in two assessor posts, a judge’s seat and Fishers Island Town Justice.
Campaign promises assured more transparency from town government, a renewed focus on the comprehensive plan and attention to climate change, among other things. But now that candidates have actually taken office, how can Southold expect the next few years to shake out?
The Southold Town Board now features an even 3-3 split with a Republican supervisor, after Greg Doroski and Brian Mealy started their terms this month. The pair have emphasized the helpfulness of standing Town Board members and Supervisor Scott Russell in aiding a smooth transition. Mr. Doroski said the new-elects are also meeting with department heads.
“As we learn more about our local government, it really does seem like a vital component of our mission here is building trust. And that’s building trust in each other and kind of in and within our government,” Mr. Doroski said.
Mr. Mealy said he’s still in the “assessment phase” of the process, comparing the experience to his work on the school boards for Mattituck-Cut-chogue and Eastern Suffolk BOCES.
“Understanding that initial process is important. And that experience from the school board and from currently on BOCES really is helpful about navigating the process of how to get things done, how to bring up an issue that’s important,” he said.
He added that he’s excited to start attending committee meetings. Mr. Mealy has been appointed to the anti-bias task force, youth bureau committee and the conservation advisory council.
“Greg and I really are trying to make sure we know the issues and I think during the campaign, we showed our understanding of the issues, but now it’s time to put aside the politics of that, but to execute those things,” he said.
Mr. Mealy cited affordable housing and, along with Mr. Doroski, a renewed focus on the comprehensive plan among his immediate priorities.
“I think it’s easy to misunderstand the importance of implementing the comprehensive plan as something that’s solely a zoning issue, you know, in that we need to get the plan implemented so we can make zoning code updates,” Mr. Doroski said. “Implementing the plan is certainly a zoning issue, but it really is much more. It’s really about setting the rules of the game to reflect the goals and priorities of the community so we can move forward together.”
He pointed out that both applicants and opponents of development projects lift “lines out of the comprehensive plan to support their positions.” That’s where, he said, the town needs to implement code changes.
As Mr. Doroski’s term begins, he said he plans to focus on improving code change implementations and facilitating public participation. He complimented the town’s progress on code updates to limit house sizes but said he’d like to get a final version “on the books as fast as possible.”
He also said, on a more micro level, his priorities include continuing discussions with the state to find a traffic solution at the Love Lane intersection; pushing forward earlier Town Board discussions about hiring a consultant to recommend zone changes; and finding a developer willing to build a multi-use sports facility.
“The community has been calling for a multi-use sports facility with an indoor pool since I was a kid,” he said, clarifying that the town would not build the facility. “I realize things got slowed down with COVID-19 a little bit, but we really got to push that forward.”
Mr. Doroski said board members are committed to “putting in the work that’s necessary to get the job done,” despite holding other jobs. And, echoing a message of bipartisanship from last week’s inauguration ceremony, he emphasized modeling “a style of leadership that encourages honest and hearty debate.”
“On the local level, these really aren’t Democrat issues or Republican issues. It’s really figuring out the best way to achieve shared goals within our community,” he said. “Vital to that is promoting transparency, accountability and excellence.”
Mr. Mealy expressed a similar sentiment.
“I just am excited for the opportunity that both parties’ voices are being heard currently on the Town Board,” he said. “I really feel like that bipartisanship gives us more opportunity for success in terms of going forward on the issues that are affecting Southold.”
New-elects to the Board of Trustees in Southold also emphasized bipartisanship as a key theme, as Democrats Liz Gillooly, Elizabeth Peeples and Eric Sepenoski take office. There are now four Democrats and one Republican on the board.
“Our first act as a new Democratic majority board, for the Board of Trustees, was to reelect Glen Goldsmith as president,” Ms. Gillooly said. “He’s the sole Republican on the board. And that was really a no-brainer for us. He’s dedicated, smart, and really a good leader. But it’s just an interesting data point that illustrates our non-partisan commitment.”
She complimented the previous board and said all, including retiring members, have been instrumental in ensuring a smooth transition. The new trustees praised the work of clerk typists Elizabeth Cantrell and Diane DiSalvo.
“We really hit the ground running starting on day one with this organizational meeting,” Ms. Peeples said.
She said short-term goals for now include working within the trustees office to improve efficiencies and communication with other town departments, a goal echoed by Ms. Gillooly, who said — as both the youngest elected official in Southold and a freelance web designer — updating the technology and increasing efficiency in processing documents are priorities for her.
“If you’re not careful, the day-to-day tasks can suck up all your time and hinder progress with the larger agenda,” Ms. Gillooly said.
In the long-term, the new trustees emphasized prioritizing environmental concerns. Ms. Peeples said the town needs to develop “some long-term strategies and planning for coastal resiliency.”
“I’m an oyster farmer, so I’m out in the water almost every day … working with an animal, an oyster, that is a regenerative food source. And so, you know, encouraging other regenerative methods for improving water quality is also critically important,” she said.
Mr. Sepenoski also said his “big vision” is to revitalize the shellfish population in Southold. He also believes the trustees should build a more public presence, “so that people understand the work that we do,” through social media and written pieces published online and in local media.
These efforts would both “inform and educate but also … support good discussions for the path forward for Southold, particularly with respect to shellfishing, as I just mentioned, but also habitat restoration, and ultimately what climate change may have in store for our precious coastal environments,” he said.
Ms. Gillooly said her long term goals in office include updating code and working with neighboring municipalities to consider sea level rise and better protect wetlands and waterways. She also hopes to foster stronger relationships with volunteer boards and improve communication with the public through social media, the town website and maybe even educational programs.
“As a newbie, I’m really just here to learn and take it all in before I make dramatic suggestions for change or anything,” she said. “But I’m definitely taking notes and looking at all the areas where I think the status quo could be improved.”
Mr. Sepenoski similarly said that, for the time being, his goal is to “understand the mechanics of municipal government, understand how applications for trustees come in, how they move through various departments, who are the people within those departments, how are decisions being made so that I can really help the town become more efficient at processing these applications and doing it well, so things don’t slip through the cracks.”
Ms. Gillooly described herself as a “community activist first,” who speaks up and asks tough questions. “I’m looking forward to fostering good relationships with volunteers who can help us tackle some of our bigger goals and really just partnering with the community,” she said.
She added that her experience as a solo entrepreneur brings a useful perspective to the board. “It gives me a lot of ability to think outside of the box and come up with creative solutions to problems that exist across both public and private sectors,” she said.
Denis Noncarrow will be a familiar face to Southold residents. A longtime public servant, he was elected to the Town Clerk position following the retirement of Elizabeth Neville, who served in town government for 50 years.
He said it’s been busy so far, as people apply for disposal and beach permits, but otherwise the job has been going well.
“I’ve worked with the folks here for a while because of the government liaison stuff so I know them well, and I know a lot of the public that comes in, so it’s going well so far,” he said.
Mr. Noncarrow said one of his goals in office is to make the town website easier to use.
“I want the website to be improved. I want people to be able to go to the website to find what they’re looking for,” he said. “There’s a lot there, it just needs upgrading as far as the clerk’s office.”
He emphasized that people can visit the town website for information or reach out with questions.
“The most important thing is that we all communicate. So I want to hear from the public. I want to hear from our employees and I want to make things as smooth as possible for everybody,” he added.
Dan Goodwin, stepping into the place of retiree Vincent Orlando, had only been on the job for a few days when a snowstorm hit on Friday.
A crew started salting and sanding town roads at three in the morning before switching over to plowing, and Mr. Goodwin pushed alerts through the town website and social media to keep the public updated on the department’s storm response.
“I put that all in the alert so that everybody knew what we were doing and what to expect if they did see our equipment and our crews out on the roads,” he said. “It’s really not only just a matter of convenience, it’s a matter of safety for everybody as well.”
A mechanical engineer and emergency response professional, he said his previous work experience has definitely proved relevant so far — between dispatching and organizing crews, and managing supplies and staff, he said it’s been a “pretty good pace.”
Plus, he and new deputy highway superintendent Michael Orientale have made their best efforts to address every call that’s been made to his office so far.
“We always make sure that we follow up with the people and [keep] open lines of communication with them. So responsiveness and the communication to the community has been key,” he said.
Mr. Goodwin said he aims to keep an organized “plan of attack” and learn the strengths and weaknesses of his department’s equipment and inventory. More long term, he said he has some “pretty big plans to systematically change the way that we do work in the department,” improving workflow and planning further in advance.
He praised the employees in his department and said he’s excited to support them.
“The biggest thing that I want people to know is that we are here to work for everybody here in the town,” he said, encouraging residents to reach out. “That’s what we’re here to do. We’re here to serve the community.”
Constituents can call the department at 631-765-3140 or email [email protected]. Anyone seeking help for an emergency should call 911.