Candidates address Brightwaters board differences

Brightwaters Village Hall, shown on Aug. 4, 2012,

Brightwaters Village Hall, shown on Aug. 4, 2012, houses the village court, board of trustees meetings, vehicle and traffic department, and more. (Credit: Brittany Wait)

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Meetings of the Brightwaters Board of Trustees sometimes have been raucous. In the past year, residents have shouted at the board over allegations of an illegal ambulance company contract, secret meetings and a lack of transparency.

The three candidates vying for two at-large seats in this year's election -- incumbent Robert W. Fischer and challengers Joe McDermott and John E. Lawlor -- acknowledged the tensions, but differed on how to improve relations.

Fischer, a member of the Citizen's Party, said he was unsure how to respond to the hostility, which surfaced during talks on a now-dead deal for a cellphone tower and during the process of passing the current budget, which raised taxes 7.5 percent.

"I would prefer it be a very polite place," said Fischer, 64, who voted for the tax hike. "I understand people complaining . . . and I listen to them and I'm not sure how to respond to that frankly."

Lawlor, a fellow Citizen's Party member, who's making his first run for public office, said, "We have a very proactive electorate in Brightwaters, which I think is good," and added, "Not everything that the board does is subject to the electorate's micromanaging, either."

McDermott, a member of the Unification Party who's also running for public office for the first time, sided with many of the board's critics. "A lot of people think it's hostile sometimes, but if you only get one time a month to talk to somebody, what do you expect?" said McDermott, 47, a structural iron worker.

Beyond the political strife, the candidates pledge to tackle a variety of issues as board members, including the village's post-Sandy revitalization and what they describe as its perennially potholed streets.

Fischer, who said the village's implementation of 24-hour code enforcement patrols was among his chief accomplishments, said he plans to use his skills as an electrical engineer to help secure funding for a system of berms to protect Brightwaters' waterfront from storms.

A lifelong resident who served two decades on the village planning board, he said the patrols "seemed to improve matters in the village. My job as a trustee is to listen to people and if I hear a good idea, run with it."

Lawlor, 54, an attorney who has lived in the village for 24 years and since 2010 has served as the acting village justice, said he's pleased with how Brightwaters is run, but would look to shore up infrastructure to ensure quality of life is maintained.

"I'm not a change candidate -- change costs money," Lawlor said. "It's not a good economy to start spending money. I'm not dissatisfied with the way that things are running."

McDermott, who has lived in the village for a decade and has coached youth sports teams, said he'll work to develop a road maintenance plan, beef up village security and establish term limits for elected officials.

Of the board's recent 7.5 percent tax hike, McDermott said, "I understand taxes have to go up. But what's the plan? Is it a tax increase to do roads, or a tax increase just to float the budget?"

The candidates have taken a mostly low-key approach to campaigning -- no fundraisers or debates -- and said they've paid for their fliers out of pocket.

McDermott said he has been knocking on doors to make his case. "I'm doing it old school."

Voting is Tuesday, June 18, from noon to 9 p.m. at Village Hall, at 40 Seneca Dr.

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