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Brookhaven to put longer term limits for town board to a vote in November

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine, seen here

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine, seen here in March 2017. Credit: Daniel Goodrich

Brookhaven residents will vote in November on a proposal to double the length of terms for town board members and impose 12-year term limits on elected officials.

The town board voted 7-0 on Thursday to place the proposition on the Nov. 6 ballot, but some town residents at a public hearing questioned the need for the measure.

Town officials said longer terms would allow them to spend more time working and less time campaigning. They said term limits would ensure elected officials cannot hold what amount to lifetime jobs.

Terms for supervisor, town council members and the highway superintendent, currently two years, would be extended to four years if the proposition passes. The town clerk and receiver of taxes currently hold four-year terms, which will remain unchanged.

All town elected officials would be limited to three terms, or a maximum of 12 years. The new terms and term limits would take effect on Jan. 1, 2020, after town elections next year. 

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, a Democrat, said longer terms would help town board members complete complex projects such as code and zoning changes before their terms expire.

"It is difficult to work for six months and then go to campaigning," she said. "Two years is almost impossible to get something done."

Most of Long Island’s 13 town supervisors serve two-year terms. Brookhaven is the only Long Island town where council members serve two-year terms. Most towns do not have term limits.

In 2016, Riverhead voters rejected a proposition to extend the supervisor’s term from two years to four years.

Most of the 13 speakers at the sparsely attended hearing said they opposed longer terms, saying two-year terms help hold officials accountable to voters.

"In my opinion, this is an attempt by entrenched politicians to avoid elections for an additional two years," said David Bligh, a Holbrook resident.

Anthony Portesy of Centereach, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for highway superintendent in 2017, said two years should be enough time for officials to do their jobs.

"We don't want to create electoral feudalism through the coercive powers of incumbency," he said. "Two years is good enough for the New York State Assembly and the United States Congress. It should be good enough for the Town of Brookhaven."

Some speakers said they were conflicted because they oppose longer terms, but favor term limits, or vice versa.

"How do I express that in my vote?" said Ashley Hunt-Martorano of Medford.

Jim Gleason, vice president of the East Moriches Property Owners Association, said he agreed that two-year terms were too short, but added, "four years seems kind of long. Maybe the right number is three." 

Some civic association leaders said the November vote should have been postponed to give the public more time to discuss the proposal. "It's a very complicated issue, and to roll it into one [proposition] is not good for the public," said Don Seubert of the Medford Taxpayers and Civic Association.

But Councilman Kevin LaValle, a Republican, said there was ample time to debate the issue before Election Day.

"Three months is an eternity for this to be discussed," he said.

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