Brookhaven Conservatives balk at extending town board terms

The Brookhaven Town Board is to vote on

The Brookhaven Town Board is to vote on Tuesday, June 25, 2014, to accept a land-use plan for a struggling neighborhood in North Bellport. (Credit: Newsday / Bill Davis)

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A proposal in Brookhaven to give the supervisor and town board four-year terms is on the verge of stalling, even before it gets a public airing.

That's because the town's Conservative Party has taken a hard-line stand against the proposal, even though it also would impose a 12-year term limit for office holders.

Kenneth Auerbach, co-leader of the town Conservatives, said the party opposes any change from the current two-year cycle because there is "no benefit" to voters.

"We've made it very clear this is an issue that goes to the heart of representative government," Auerbach said. "Elected officials should have to come back to the source of their power as often as possible, and two years is not unreasonable."

Town Conservative officials also were upset that Republicans did not consult with them before going public with the plan -- although Auerbach concedes the lack of consultation might have been an oversight, given pressing issues such as the GOP primary in the 1st Congressional District on June 24.

The minor party Conservatives have huge clout with town Republicans. In last fall's elections, the Conservative ballot line gave town Republicans 11 to 15 percent of their total vote -- a cushion no GOP official wants to lose.

Auerbach downplayed any possible rift with the GOP in 2015 town races. "There's not been any direct threats . . . but we want to make sure everybody understands we feel strongly."

Frank Profeta, Auerbach's co-leader, was less guarded. "We are not going to endorse any town board member that votes to entrench themselves," Profeta said. The proposal for longer terms is being made for "purely selfish reasons," he said, so incumbents interested in running for other offices "can protect their current seat." Profeta also said the 12-year limit is too long and it should be limited to six or eight years.

Jesse Garcia, Brookhaven Republican chairman, said he is "continuing to talk" to Conservatives but would not be more specific. Conservative leaders say Garcia is hoping to win them over.

The minor party's stance surprised some. Jane Bonner, the lone Conservative town board member, stood with town officials when they announced the proposal late last month. Bonner did not return calls for comment, but party sources say she has backed off her support of the measure. A July 15 public hearing, which had been discussed when the proposal first surfaced, also has never been scheduled.

Backers say Brookhaven is the only one of the 13 Long Island towns to have two-year town board terms. They say the move would reduce politicking and increase the time officials spend on policy issues.

Said Auerbach: "Just because 12 others are doing it wrong doesn't mean we have to follow."

Brookhaven Town Board members had four-year terms until the town went to councilmanic districts after a 2002 public referendum. Brookhaven's supervisor term has always been two years so the supervisor could lead the ticket when half the board ran every two years.

Republican Supervisor Edward P. Romaine, at age 68, noted that he ran every two years as a Suffolk County legislator and never sought a change. But Romaine, who supports the term extensions, admits there have been "some rumblings" about the proposal and its future "seems to be in limbo."

Romaine said there will be no referendum unless the town board is unanimous. "If I get the sense we do not have seven votes on board, we will not be going forward," he said.