Harbor Race Heats Up

Eight candidates weigh in on police and waterfront
Mayor Brian Gilbride, left, will try to keep his seat in Tuesday’s election. He is being opposed by, left to right, Pierce Hance, Bruce Tait, and Sandra Schroeder.

    With two Eds, two Bruces, and two Brians taking part, eight candidates running for mayor and trustee in the Sag Harbor Village election on Tuesday  spoke at a forum on the prominent issues — including the future of the Police Department and concerns about the waterfront. The event drew about 50 residents to Pierson High School on Sunday afternoon. Brian Boyhan, the editor of The Sag Harbor Express, organized and moderated the event.

    The four candidates for mayor, Sandra Schroeder, Pierce Hance, Bruce Tait, and Brian Gilbride, the incumbent, whose background and interest in running for office was described in these pages two weeks ago, made their positions clear.

    “I’ve seen some things I want to have changed in Sag Harbor,” said Ms. Schroeder. She had worked in Sag Harbor government under eight mayors and was the village clerk between 2002 and 2010.

    Mr. Hance, who had been Sag Harbor’s mayor from 1993 to 1999 and is a banker, financial analyst, and business consultant, said he wanted to return to office to “work on basics and transparency.”

    As chairman of the Sag Harbor Village Harbor Committee and owner of a yacht sales business for 32 years, Mr. Tait said it was time “to be more proactive in dealing with the same problems that people have been dealing with for 30 years.”

    Throughout the discussion, Mr. Gilbride, a 44-year member of the Fire Department who has had two two-year terms as mayor of the village, expressed forthright opinions and said, “We’ve gotten a lot of things done.”

    The hot topic of how many police officers are necessary in the village was a matter that Ed Deyermond, who is running for the board and was village mayor from 2003 to 2006, said he was conflicted on. What he was sure about, he said, is that “calmer heads have to prevail.”

    Mr. Deyermond has retired after 33 years in government, having been assessor for the Towns of East Hampton and Southampton for many years. A study done in 1993 when Mr. Hance was mayor, Mr. Deyermond said, had recommended that 10 officers and 1 chief were adequate. “We need to review the study,” he said. But Mr. Hance said the study was insufficient because the village had grown. “I don’t know what an analysis would show today,” he said.

    Mr. Tait agreed. “My gut tells me that if 10 and 1 was appropriate when Pierce was mayor, it’s hard for me to believe that would still be adequate.” The village is in a difficult spot, he said, because of its failure to finalize negotiations with police. That would have been preferred, he said, rather than solving budget problems with an “ax that cuts an officer.” He also suggested lobbying Albany with regard to mandated benefits.

    On the other hand, Mr. Gilbride, the incumbent mayor, said he had “on every front attempted to save the 11th position.” When pressed, he added, however, “I don’t believe 11 and 1 is the correct number . . . 10 and 1 gives us what we need.”

    Bruce Stafford, who served on the board for two years before losing the last election to Kevin Duchemin, and who has said he supports the mayor 100 percent, noted that he had been on the village “negotiating team with Ed and Brian.” In apparent reference to the costs of maintaining the force, he compared salaries to “single moms working for the village making $30,000.” He said he was satisfied with part-timers filling the void in the summer season. Those positions, he said, cost “a quarter of the money and no benefits. . . . If it proves wrong we have to do something else.”

    Edward Gregory, who is completing his 24th year as a trustee and seeks to remain on the board, said he trusted the mayor’s opinion that the department would work with the smaller number of officers.

    For his part, Ken O’Connell, a newcomer to politics who owns La Superica, the restaurant and bar at the foot of Main Street, said, “Proper staffing is essential for anything to succeed.” He was uncomfortable about officers being on duty by themselves, he said.

    In addition to the study done during the Hance administration, a New York State study of Sag Harbor police in 2007 was brought to The Star’s attention although it was not mentioned on Sunday. It indicated that the force at that time — 12 full-time officers, 3 part-timers, and 1 chief — was inadequate and recommended an additional two police officers, an expansion of supervisory staff, and removing a detective from patrol to focus on criminal investigations.

    When the future of Long Wharf was broached, opinions also varied. Mr. Stafford expressed relief that the village had acquired the wharf from the county, saying he didn’t want to see condominiums there. The wharf is “vital to the economy and people of Sag Harbor,” he said.

    Mr. O’Donnell said the village should work with the harbor committee to include electric and water hookups to bring in more yachts. “We spent a dollar” for Long Wharf, he said, “but it came with liability and maintenance.” He stressed that “Long Wharf needs to generate enough revenue to maintain itself.”

    The wharf currently generates $50,000 to $94,000 annually, Mayor Gilbride said. He noted that the wharf was always a road, although he added that it was uncertain now if it is a county or village road.  

    “It’s terrible for pedestrians,” said Mr. Tait. “Either you walk in the middle of the road or on the edge with no railing.” He said the lack of cleats and difficult access made it impossible to tie up more boats. “We have to be creative,” Mr. Tait said. He suggested a general village discussion, and perhaps eliminating 10 to 15 parking spaces to create a park. That might allow financing from the community preservation fund, he said.

    Mr. Stafford did not agree with reducing parking. “It’s the center of the village and open to all . . . that’s how it should stay,” he said.

    A reserve account to fix up the wharf and keep it in good repair is of the utmost importance, Mr. Deyermond said. With an estimate from the county of $600,000 for repairs, Mr. Gregory said the village planned to do its own study of the costs of needed work.

    “I agree with everything,” Ms. Schroeder said, including “big boating there.” But “I would like more grass. . . . I don’t like looking at black top.” She later added, “I want my grandchildren to be able to fish there.”

Drainage and Flooding

    Mr. Gregory addressed another waterfront issue, citing the recent public outcry about drainage on Garden Street. “These are the areas where we will have to put our resources,” he said, “without forgetting about other areas.”

Mr. O’Donnell, who is a resident of Garden Street, shared that concern, mentioning flooding. “Water quality in our cove” is something, he said, that needed to be addressed. Mr. Deyermond also expressed concern about the quality of the inner cove. He applauded the work at Havens Beach, where remediation of longstanding contamination is under way, but added, “We have issues with drainage on Main Street.”

    Mr. Deyermond said that a number of post-Sandy grant programs were available that could help to upgrade and protect the waterfront. “We do need a lot of repair and upgrading on village things,” Ms. Schroeder said.

    “The village has a storm-water runoff problem that is environmentally degrading to the bays,” Mr. Tait said. He accused the village board of failing to obtain available grant money. “We have to do more than pay lip service to it,” he said, noting that property is fertilized to the water’s edge despite his committee’s suggestion against the practice. Mayor Gilbride took issue with him. “We follow the D.E.C.’s law.”

    In wrap-up comments, Mr. Tait admitted his competitors had more elected government experience, but he added, “Sometimes it puts you in a rut.”

    “Get yourself and friends out on election day to vote,” was Mr. Gregory’s final thought. Those who do so will find the  polls open from noon till 9 p.m. at the Fire Department’s headquarters on Brick Kiln Road.