Southold Town is so ingrained in Town Board member Jill Doherty’s identity that many of her constituents don’t know or don’t remember that she grew up in Port Washington.
“We came out here every weekend, [for] school vacations and all summer long,” she said during a recent interview. “My work life and social life were out here. There are even people out here that go, ‘Oh Jill, remember [that time] in school?’ I go, ‘No, I didn’t go to school here.’ [They would reply] ‘Yes you did’ because I was just always around outside of school.”
Feb. 8 marks Ms. Doherty’s 30th anniversary working for Southold Town. She is currently serving her fourth term on the Town Board and reflected on what has changed and what has stayed the same in Southold.
“I think there’s a lot of new people in town and their respect for the way the town was is not [yet] known,” Ms. Doherty said. “It used to be that the biggest [question for Town Board candidates] was like, ‘Okay, what are your roots here?’ and that kind of has gone out the window.
“In some aspects, that’s good,” she continued. “You get new blood, but in other aspects there’s a lot of the old stuff that people don’t understand why things are certain ways and they want to get rid of it and in a small town like this, you have to keep the history, you really do.”
Ms. Doherty’s family ties to the area go back to the early 1900s. Her great-grandfather was ordained at the East Marion Baptist Church as early as 1902, Ms. Doherty’s family estimates.
“I knew from a young age that this is where I wanted to be, as opposed to Port Washington. My whole family just showed me community-mindedness and just being that person,” she said. “Everybody that’s here year-round doesn’t just work and come home. They are part of the community — they do something, whether they volunteer at CAST or fire departments … and that’s what this small community is about.”
Ms. Doherty got her first job in the area at 14 at the former Brian’s Song restaurant in Greenport. After high school, Ms. Doherty went to Nassau County Community College, commuting from the North Fork. After two years of college, Ms. Doherty began working for local banks, using what she’d learned in bookkeeping or accounting Then, she saw an opening at Town Hall, took the civil service test and was hired at the town planning department, where she worked with former land preservation director Melissa Spiro and former planning department director Valerie Scopaz.
In 1988, Ms. Doherty transitioned to work as a clerk for the Town Trustees. She stayed there for about nine years, taking a break in 1997 to raise her two children.
In 2005, Ms. Doherty was elected to her first four-year term as a Town Trustee and in 2011, in the midst of her second term, she was selected and screened by the Town GOP to run for a Town Board seat.
She was initially hesitant to run for Town Board because she loved the work she and the Trustees were doing to preserve the local environment.
“When they asked me to run for Town Board, I didn’t want to leave where I was, because I liked the environment,” Ms. Doherty said. “But then I thought I could still effectuate change with the [town] code, simplify it and also, the bigger issues that also affect why we can’t change the environmental code and have a broader say.”
Lauren Standish — now confidential secretary to the town supervisor — replaced Ms. Doherty as clerk for the Trustees in 1998 and worked with her again after she became an elected Trustee.
“Jill has always been committed to doing what’s best for Southold Town,” Ms. Standish said. “She’s always been dependable, certainly dedicated to whatever position she takes on.”
Current Supervisor Al Krupski remembers working with her both on the Town Board and as a Town Trustee. One of their most memorable shared projects, he said, was adopting the State Environmental Quality Review Act.
“We developed this really long, big flowchart, like six feet tall, to try to help us decipher how to do this law properly,” Mr. Krupski said. “It was a very big moment because it was the law in New York State, we had to make sure we were following it.”
Former councilman Bob Ghosio — who worked with Ms. Doherty for about 15 years as Town Trustees and council member — recalled 2012’s Superstorm Sandy as one of the biggest challenges they overcame as Trustees.
“She gave up a lot of her own time and work to be able to deal with things that were going on,” he said. “There were times that we were doing wetland inspections — 60 to 70 in a month — because of that storm. If she needed to run out and go do something, she would sacrifice her own time at work and go do it.”
While there are many things Ms. Doherty is proud of during her time serving in Town Hall, one of her proudest achievements was helping build the code enforcement department along with Chris Talbot.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some great colleagues. We have our differences, but in the end, we get down to what’s best for the community and, to me, that’s what’s important about being an elected official,” she said. “I’m not there for myself, I don’t have any agenda, so give me the problem. Let’s tackle it.”
Southold Town GOP chair Peter McGreevy has known Ms. Doherty for about 30 years. They first met when he was an intern at the district attorney’s office in the East End Bureau and she was a clerk at the Trustee’s office. Their offices were in the basement at Town Hall at the time. He said she has an innate sense of how to effectively budget.
“She literally knows town government from the bottom to the top and everything in between,” Mr. McGreevy said. “She knows almost every employee in each department; she’s an enthusiastic, outgoing, personable, sociable individual who enjoys meeting people, listening to what they have to say, and she acts on it when she can.”
Peter Ganley worked as Ms. Doherty’s campaign manager for the summer and fall of 2023. He said she was very supportive of his 1st Assembly District campaign in 2022.
“It is my belief that she is the best voice we have in town government,” he said. “She’s experienced, she knows the issues, she knows the people [and] she’s incredibly trusted by her neighbors.”
Ms. Doherty hopes to maintain the qualities residents love about Southold Town while also welcoming change.
“We have to know our history to know what path to take for our future,” she said. “And if you want to keep this town the way it is, the paradise that it is, we can’t ruin our history. A piece of our history has to be in our future.”