A longtime critic of the Greenport Village Board says he’s running in next month’s village election. (more…)
A longtime critic of the Greenport Village Board says he’s running in next month’s village election. (more…)
Despite indicating otherwise during their campaigns this past March, Greenport trustees Mary Bess Phillips and Julia Robins have both signed up for health care benefits through the village, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request.
The practice of offering health care benefits to part-time trustees has been a long-standing source of contention in Greenport. It was one of most hotly debated issues in the March election.
William Swiskey — a candidate in that election who lost his bid for an open seat on the Village Board to Ms. Robins by just 18 votes and finished 43 votes behind Ms. Phillips — said he believes his opponents initially promised not to take those benefits and that it cost him the election.
“It made a huge difference in the outcome,” Mr. Swiskey said this week. “To me, with what they implied, they broke their promise.”
While Ms. Phillips stated directly that she didn’t believe she would sign up for benefits, Ms. Robins declined to say either way during a debate hosted by The Suffolk Times.
At the time, Ms. Robins said she wasn’t sufficiently familiar with the subject of village benefits to make a knowledgeable statement. Ms. Phillips, an incumbent, noted that she hadn’t taken the village’s health insurance during her previous term.
But on April 1, less than two weeks after the election, she began receiving the benefits, according to the documents obtained from the Village.
“My situation has changed,” Ms. Phillips said Monday. “I took the health insurance.”
As the owner of Alice’s Fish Market on Atlantic Avenue, Ms. Phillips said she previously received insurance through her company. But the market no longer has enough employees to meet the quota mandated to obtain small business insurance, she said.
“Everyone in the village knows the market is in a state of transition,” she said. “My plans could change again next year.”
All four Greenport trustees currently receive health benefits through the village program. The benefits are equivalent to more than $20,000 annually for each trustee, according to the documents.
Mr. Swiskey already receives village benefits and collects a pension from his service as the village’s former utilities director.
He believes there’s a difference between full-time employees receiving benefits and part-time elected officials, who can get benefits through their own business.
“I don’t think anybody who works 20 hours per month deserves benefits,” Mr. Swiskey said.
Ms. Phillips said she treats her role as trustee as a full-time job.
“Mr. Swiskey is full of rumors and innuendo,” she said. “It wasn’t health insurance that cost him the election.”
Ms. Robins, who also enrolled in the benefits program April 1, did not return a phone message seeking comment for this story.
If Bill Swiskey is elected to the Greenport Village Board for a second time next week, we hope one of the television executives who calls the East End home in the summertime takes notice.
A reality series about the Greenport Village Board — with its artist mayor and his leather-jacket-wearing rival — would shake up the Nielsen ratings.
Every week people would tune in from afar to get a peek at just how crazy things can get when tempers flare in our little seaport village.
If The Suffolk Times were a television network, we might endorse Mr. Swiskey for that very reason. But we’re not.
There’s no denying Mr. Swiskey is a bright guy who knows the ins and outs of the village. He’s persistent and a lot of his ideas — and his complaints — make sense. For example, we agree that part-time board members shouldn’t receive health benefits from the village. He’s also spot-on in suggesting Greenport could make better use of its website as a public information resource.
If he only behaved a little differently, Mr. Swiskey might be a good choice in next Tuesday’s election. But the man is also a total loose cannon — the image of a cartoon character Matt Groenig might have thought up in his studio — who’s shown no ability or desire to work with others.
A five-member village board must be able to collaborate effectively. Dissenting voices are healthy, but not when they consistently fail to reach — or even attempt — any type of accord.
It will also be important for the new board to find a way to work well with the public, as daunting a task as that may be, given recent history.
Julia Robins, the other challenger looking to fill one of the board’s two open seats, touched on that issue during her campaign, when she said civil discourse has eroded under the current administration.
“I really would hope that everyone is treated with civility and respect,” she told The Suffolk Times. “That’s very important these days. That issue seems to come up a lot.”
We believe that Ms. Robins, a downtown realtor, has a calm demeanor that could be welcoming on the village board.
We agree when she says that metered parking downtown could create “a sense of bad will” and her appeal to approach the business community to find a solution for parking makes sense.
She seemed a tad overmatched in our debate next to the dominant personalities of Mr. Swiskey and incumbent Mary Bess Phillips, though. She’ll need to develop her voice to be an effective member of village government.
Ms. Phillips, meanwhile, should look to show more poise herself. So, too, should Mayor David Nyce, who could be seen in the audience sighing and rolling his eyes during our debate. Communication is a two-way street and the blame for all the animosity at Greenport Village does not fall exclusively on the dissenting public.
Ms. Phillips said she wants to continue working to make downtown active year round and focus on capital improvements. Projects like the wastewater treatment plant and roof repairs at the light plant lingered far too long. The time has come for a more modern and efficient village government, something that should be a priority for the new board.
We believe the hearts of Ms. Phillips and Ms. Robins are in the right place. They truly care about their village and we look forward to seeing them rise to the challenge of moving Greenport forward during difficult economic times.
There’s no doubt Mr. Swiskey cares about Greenport, too. But he seems more focused on conspiracy theories and personal revenge. We get that he’s playing the classic role of the candidate who doesn’t care what anyone thinks about him, but he’s so reckless in his approach he’d be more of a liability than an asset as a member of the board.
Mr. Swiskey is his own worst enemy and we couldn’t possibly suggest you give him your vote.
Vote for Phillips and Robins in Greenport Tuesday.
The starkly varied viewpoints of the three candidates vying for two seats on Greenport’s Village Board were on full display at Monday’s trustee debate, sponsored by The Suffolk Times.
Before a packed house at Greenport United Methodist Church, candidates Mary Bess Phillips, Julia Robins and Bill Swiskey weighed in on issues ranging from rental permits to beer sales in Mitchell Park to parking. The debate was to take place at the village’s Little Red Schoolhouse on Front Street, but was moved to the church in response to concerns over seating space.
Ms. Phillips, owner of Alice’s Fish Market and the only incumbent running, and Mr. Swiskey, a former trustee and village utilities director who served out the term of George Hubbard Sr. several years ago before losing a re-election bid, were clearly at odds over how best to handle village affairs. Ms. Robins, a carpenter and real estate agent, provided the perspective of someone not intimately involved with the workings of village government.
Last year, the board nixed a plan to bring parking meters back to the downtown commercial district. The meters had initially been proposed because business owners were worried that people were parking all day, making it difficult for customers to get to their shops. But the parking meter solution didn’t suit them either.
“Do we need a [traffic control officer]? I don’t know. I want to hear from the people,” said Ms. Phillips “Marking tires? Yeah, it might work. Somebody should say what they would like. Last time I stuck my neck out, it pretty much got chopped off.”
Mr. Swiskey is all for traffic control officers.
“If we had a person four days a week, even if it costs $15,000, I guarantee you’ll get revenue to cover it,” he said. “If we can find the money for $1,500 wind farm surveys, we can find the money for a TCO.”
“I think meter parking creates a sense of bad will in town,” said Ms. Robins. “The business community needs to come together. We need to hear more from them. They were vocal against the meters. Was the summer as bad as they thought it was going to be?”
The three candidates all disapproved of the sale of beer during events in Mitchell Park, although their approach to whether for-profit groups should be allowed to hold events there was more nuanced.
“I’m going to put an end to this business of selling beer in the park,” Mr. Swiskey said to a chorus of whoops and chuckles from supporters in the audience. “You know I’m no puritan, but I don’t want them selling beer in front of my grandchildren.”
Ms. Phillips also said she had a problem with the sale of beer in the park. She said she hopes the Village Board develops a clear policy for which groups can use the park, and hopes they favor cultural events.
“We have lots of opportunity for that,” she said. “We need to do it with a love for the park.”
“I don’t think anybody should be selling anything for a profit there,” added Ms. Robins. “Northeast Stage, Dancing in the Park should be there. It’s a community property for all of us.”
Mr. Swiskey said he believed the policy on the park’s use should be flexible. The San Simeon by the Sound nursing home, for example, had been denied use of the park for a fundraiser, even though they provide jobs and care for seniors.
“If we can allow a beer brewer to sell product in public park for profit, we should allow San Simeon to have the same rights,” he said.
In the debate’s most heated moment, moderator Tim Kelly asked if the fact that Mr. Swiskey already receives village benefits didn’t make it easier for him to say in his campaign that he wouldn’t take them as a board member. Mr. Swiskey collects a pension and health benefits from his service as utilities director.)
Several of Mr. Swiskey’s supporters in the crowd objected loudly and one audience member briefly shouted that he believed the question shouldn’t have been asked.
Mr. Swiskey said he believes there’s a difference between full-time employees receiving benefits and part-time elected officials, who can get benefits through their own business.
“Pay for it through your businesses, the same as my son does,” he said. “I don’t think anybody who works 20 hours per month deserves benefits.”
Ms. Phillips said she doesn’t take the village’s health insurance but doesn’t feel like it’s her place to tell other officials not to take it.
“It’s been in existence for quite a while,” she said. “I don’t know where to go with it. Litigation has held up a lot of things.”
“I’m not familiar with what people are getting. I’ll have to look into it a little bit more before I make a knowledgeable comment,” said Ms. Robins.
Candidates agreed the village needs to do more to make sure rental housing is safe, but some wondered if the village could afford to do so.
“We do have to have a law that requires landlords to have safety standards they have to adhere to,” said Ms. Robins. “As a realtor, I’ve seen safety issues in apartments. I won’t take it as a listing because it’s not safe.”
Ms. Phillips said rental laws need to be enforceable, and the village’s code committee, which is currently reviewing a rental permit law, is looking for more public input.
Mr. Swiskey said the code committee is seen in the village as the place where bills go to die. He asked why a new draft of the rental permit bill hasn’t been posted on the town’s website or made available to the public.
“You’ll have to ask the chairman of the committee, who’s sitting in the back of the room,” said Ms. Phillips, referring to Mayor David Nyce, who was in the audience.
“Put the draft online. People will look at it and make comments. I guarantee people will give feedback,” said Mr. Swiskey.
In their closing statements, the candidates summed up their perspectives on the race.
“I moved here as a young woman determined to become a carpenter,” said Ms. Robins. “I spent 25 years building and renovating houses on the North Fork. I’m a hard worker. I’m very good at getting things done. I raised my son here and he’s grown to be a fine young man. We’re so fortunate to live in a town that cares about its neighbors.”
Ms. Phillips said she wants to continue working to make downtown active year round and focus on capital improvements throughout the village, while improving communication between government and residents.
“I was born and raised here,” she said. “It’s been tough to stay here and we have tough times ahead. I want to plan for the future with the same activity of spirit and dedication.”
Mr. Swiskey pledged to keep being a thorn in the side of the Village Board.
“They’re running a $20 million a year enterprise, and it’s just running around like it’s rudderless,” he said. “I might be a little bit confrontational, but I will stand up to the powers that be.”
Greenport Village will have a field of three candidates for two Village Board seats to be decided in the March 19 elections.
Trustee Mary Bess Phillips, who owns Alice’s Fish Market, is running again, as are Julia Robins, a carpenter and real estate agent, and William Swiskey, a former trustee who previously ran the village’s utilities department.
The three candidates all filed the required nominating petitions prior to Wednesday’s 5 p.m. submission deadline.
Ms. Robins, an agent with Albertson Realty and a member of Greenport’s Planning Board, is making her first bid for a Village Board seat. Mr. Swiskey was appointed to the board in 2008 following the death of George Hubbard Sr, but lost his seat in the 2009 elections.
Ms. Phillips is finishing her first four-year term on the board. She said Wednesday that she wants to complete several major infrastructure projects at the village light plant and wastewater treatment plant in a second term. She also wants to put together a plan of action for improving sidewalks and lighting in residential areas.
“The biggest thing is working on the communication part of things,” she said. “We have a fair amount of critics. We’ve made a lot of upgrades that have helped communication, but some people are not pleased. We as a board have to work as a team to make things happen. The village is changing. Our community is changing. It’s exciting to see how the downtown district wants to reinvent itself.”
Ms. Robins was a contractor for 25 years before becoming a real estate agent four years ago. She was appointed to the Planning Board last fall.
“I’ve lived here for many years. I thought I might have something to bring to the board,” she said. “My son is grown and on his own and I’m making a second career for myself. I’m at the giveback time in my life.”
Ms. Robins said her career as a builder and real estate agent has made her keenly aware of the need for housing for local residents.
“Housing is a basic need. It’s a key issue,” she said. “It always has been, especially for local people and young people who provide the service economy and are part of the village. It’s very difficult for local people to get into the housing market. Even rentals are prohibitive now. I want to see that as part of the discussion on the board.”
Ms. Robins, who collected more than 100 signatures even though she needed only 50 to run, said people she’s spoken with are also concerned that civil discourse has eroded under the current administration.
“I really would hope that everyone is treated with civility and respect,” she said. “That’s very important these days. That issue seems to come up a lot.”
Mr. Swiskey turned in his petition Friday, Feb. 8. He said he’d been on the fence about running until he filed a Freedom of Information request for information on a special meeting held last week about a change order for the village light plant. He said the village told him they wouldn’t give him the information he requested until Feb. 27.
“This is a document they have readily available,” he said. “I don’t think people in the village have been given a fair shake or a voice.”
Mr. Swiskey said he believes the village has devoted too much of its energy in recent years to Mitchell Park and the downtown business community while giving short shrift to residential neighborhoods and outlying parks.
“Look at the condition of some of the side streets,” he said. “They’re just ignoring them.”
He added that the village had never before treated the public as badly as it does now, adding that when he was utilities director anyone could go to Village Hall to speak with him in his office. Now an appointment is needed, he said.
“If you call to complain about your light bill, no one calls back,” he said. “People have forgotten that government works for the people.”
Village residents can register to vote at Village Hall on Thursday, March 7, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday, March 9, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Voting will take place Tuesday, March 19, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Third Street firehouse.
Anyone attending a Greenport Village Board meeting over the past several years has probably noticed a tanned, gray-haired man demanding information on a wide range of village topics.
He’s Bill Swiskey, a village native. Before addressing the five-member board during the public comment portion, he’ll typically smooth out a stack of papers at the podium. Lately, Mr. Swiskey, a former village utilities director and trustee, has been asking for a detailed transaction listing of the village’s finances for the Tall Ships event in May. In addition, he wants copies of flow chart records from the wastewater treatment plant.
Mr. Swiskey said he has been requesting this information because he believes the village lost money hosting the Tall Ships. He also believes the village hasn’t been truthful about recent mishaps at the wastewater plant.
Village officials said Mr. Swiskey has received an accounting of the Tall Ships event that shows the village made about $20,000, as well as a report detailing how the spill of partially treated wastewater occurred last month.
But why is Mr. Swiskey requesting — meeting after meeting — the same information? He claims he has never received the specific documentation he’s been asking for and alleges the village is in violation of the state’s Freedom of Information and Open Meetings laws. The legislation requires governmental entities, including municipalities and school districts, to release certain information to the public upon request.
“The open meetings law is a simple law to read and they’ve been violating it,” Mr. Swiskey said. “Why should the average citizen fight his own government to get the information?”
Mayor David Nyce dismisses Mr. Swiskey’s allegations, saying the village has complied with the state’s regulations.
“I’m a huge proponent of free speech,” Mr. Nyce said. “It’s a shame because the basic voice of the public has been sidetracked by a few people with an ax to grind.”
Village trustee Mary Bess Phillips hopes a planned public meeting with a state FOIL official will help the village, as well as local residents, better understand the process.
“The public does have right to be informed,” Ms. Phillips said. “On the other hand, I’m seeing a group of three people who have their own personal agendas and are trying to create a situation that doesn’t exist.”
During the Village Board’s Aug. 27 meeting, Ms. Phillips sponsored a unanimously-approved resolution to schedule a public meeting with Bob Freeman, director of the state’s Committee on Open Government.
Mr. Swiskey remains cautiously optimistic about Mr. Freeman’s visit.
“In my opinion, [the Village Board] is going to get a lesson, if anything comes of it,” Mr. Swiskey said.
Mr. Freeman said last Thursday that the village has contacted him to schedule a meeting, which is set for Oct. 18 between 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
“Certainly, an educational presentation is a benefit for everybody,” Mr. Freeman said. “When issues come up, the clerk [Sylvia Pirillo] has contacted me. She strenuously attempts to comply with the law.”
Deputy mayor George Hubbard said he believes the meeting with Mr. Freeman is a good idea because it will provide Mr. Swiskey and others with a better understanding of the FOIL process.
“Nobody is trying to conceal or hide anything,” Mr. Hubbard said. “Hopefully, it will clear the air.”