Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright was among those to speak at a...

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright was among those to speak at a forum Tuesday about the town's proposal to lengthen terms for elected officials and impose term limits. Credit: Richard T. Slattery

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright on Tuesday defended the town’s proposal to lengthen terms for elected officials and limit the number of years they can serve, as residents argued the measure would promote corruption.

Cartright was among those speaking during a community forum at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in East Setauket. The forum was sponsored by the Three Village Civic Association.

Other speakers said they opposed longer terms but supported term limits, although some questioned whether a proposition is needed to impose them.

Brookhaven residents will vote Nov. 6 on whether to double the length of terms for the supervisor, council members and highway superintendent to four years from two years. The town clerk and receiver of taxes currently serve four-year terms.

The same proposition would limit all town elected officials to three terms, or a maximum of 12 years in office.

Opponents of the measure said shorter terms increase accountability for town officials.

"The longer we allow elected officials to serve ... the more likely it is they are going to be corrupt," Richard Johannesen, a Rocky Point lawyer and former chairman of the Suffolk County ethics commission, said during the forum. "One of the reasons that things go south is because there are no checks and balances."

But Cartright and former deputy town supervisor Anthony Figliola said town officials are forced to spend most of their two-year terms campaigning, neglecting tasks such as land use and revitalization studies.

"It doesn't take a year and nine months to get it done. It takes a long time," Cartright, serving her third two-year term, said. "Two years is extremely short to be able to get that done."

Figliola, a Setauket resident and political consultant, said longer terms would not encourage political complacency. "Whether it's two years or four years, it doesn't change human nature," he said. "If people are going to be corrupt, they're going to be corrupt."

MaryAnn Johnston, president of Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organizations, said the proposition is unnecessary because town residents voted in the early 1990s in favor of term limits. Town officials argue those limits were inadvertently rescinded by a 2003 proposition creating town council districts. Council members previously served at-large.

Johnston, of Yaphank, said two-year terms should be preserved. "The Founders thought it was good enough for our congressmen," she said.

Jeff Kagan, of Farmingville, said in an interview that the town clerk should be exempt from term limits because it is "a detail-oriented job. There is a lot of institutional knowledge there," he said.

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