06/03/15 7:54pm
06/03/2015 7:54 PM
Notes taken at a Greenport Village Board meeting Wednesday afternoon detail the money brought in by the village for the Tall Ships festival. (Credits: Paul Squire)

Notes taken at a Greenport Village Board meeting Wednesday afternoon detail the money brought in by the village for the Tall Ships festival. (Credits: Paul Squire)

A second attempt to make payments for the Greenport Tall Ships event Wednesday afternoon went smoother this time around than last week — though not exactly smoothly. (more…)

04/24/15 10:01am
04/24/2015 10:01 AM
Former Greenport Village Mayor Dave Kapell, left, and Trustee Julia Robins.

Former Greenport Village Mayor Dave Kapell, left, and Trustee Julia Robins.

The son of former Greenport Village Mayor Dave Kapell is accusing a trustee of making a crass remark about his father.

During the public portion of Thursday’s Village Board meeting, Mr. Kapell’s son, Matthew, said he was in Village Hall March 27 and overheard Trustee Julia Robins and village clerk Sylvia Pirillo discussing village birth and death records.

(more…)

08/09/13 8:00am
08/09/2013 8:00 AM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Greenport Village Board candidates Mary Bess Phillips (from left), Julia Robins and William Swiskey at a debate sponsored by The Suffolk Times in March. Mr. Swiskey says he feels statements his opponents made regarding health benefits cost him the election.

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.

[email protected]

07/17/13 11:09am
07/17/2013 11:09 AM

COURTESY PHOTO | Garbage overflowing at a receptacle in downtown Greenport over the Fourth of July weekend.

Fourth of July weekend was particularly busy in Greenport with fireworks, a carnival and other special events attracting thousands of visitors.

But there’s also a less welcome and smelly side to the holiday: Great heaps of trash piled up around unemptied downtown trash containers.

“I consider it a dangerous situation,” Trustee Julia Robins said.

The rubbish overflow from busy weekends, falling onto walkways and in parks, creates a stinky and unsanitary problem for guests and residents alike. Village board members plan to ask the Business Improvement District to help take out the trash.

Ms. Robins and Trustee Mary Bess Philips said they hope the BID will help chip in to the cost of more frequent trash removal on Saturdays and Sundays. At present, the responsibility for emptying the trash containers falls on the village highway department.

“It’s just an idea,” Ms. Phillips said. “We need to think outside the box.”

As board liaison to the BID, Ms. Robins will propose the idea during the BID’s next meeting July 25 at the Little Red Schoolhouse.

[email protected]

03/19/13 9:28pm

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTOS | Julia Robins (left) and Mary Bess Phillips at a debate last week.

Mary Bess Phillips and Julia Robins won four-year terms on the Greenport Village Board in a close election Tuesday.

Ms. Phillips, the lone incumbent, was the tope vote-getter with 214 votes, followed by Ms. Robins, a first-time candidate, at 189. A third candidate, William Swiskey, secured 171 votes.

A total of 330 votes were cast, including 63 absentee ballots. Forty-three voters selected only one candidate. There were seven write-in votes, including two for “nobody.” Seven absentee ballots were also left blank.

Mr. Swiskey and Ms. Phillips shook hands after the results were announced. Ms. Robins was not in attendance.

“I’m very happy,” Ms. Phillips said. “I’m glad they honored me for my last four years. I plan on being just as busy in the next four years.”

When reached by phone, Ms. Robins admitted to being nervous over the outcome.

“I’m very grateful to everyone who supported me,” she said. “I’m excited and looking forward to being a member of the Village Board.

“I’m very happy the campaign is over and I’m ready to go to work,” Ms. Robins added.

Mr. Swiskey called the village a “mess” as he made his way out the door Tuesday night. “It’s probably just as well,” he said of the defeat.

Read the complete story in Thursday’s issue of The Suffolk Times.

03/14/13 8:00am
03/14/2013 8:00 AM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | The Suffolk Times endorses Mary Bess Phillips (left) and Julia Robins for the Greenport Village Board.

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.

[Related: Three candidates share their viewpoint on Greenport]

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.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Bill Swiskey at Monday night’s debate.

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.

03/13/13 9:40am
03/13/2013 9:40 AM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Candidates Mary Bess Phillips, Julia Robins and Bill Swiskey debated Monday night as they’re vying for two seats on Greenport’s Village Board.

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.”

[email protected]

02/15/13 11:00am
02/15/2013 11:00 AM
BETH YOUNG PHOTO | William Swiskey outside Greenport Village Hall Monday.

BETH YOUNG PHOTO | William Swiskey outside Greenport Village Hall Monday.

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.

BETH YOUNG PHOTO | Julia Robins, a carpenter and real estate agent, is one of three people running for the Greenport Village Board.

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.

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