The two women seeking election to the Town Board on November 8, the only local race on the ballot, met for a public discussion Sunday afternoon at the school auditorium and agreed on almost every issue raised.
Dubbed a “Meet the Candidates Forum,” the event featured incumbent Democratic Councilwoman Mary Dudley and Republican challenger Amber Brach-Williams.
It was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Shelter Island and the Shelter Island Association and
The candidates’ hour-long discussion was moderated by League Treasurer Kathleen Minder who put questions to the candidates, some coming from the audience. Town Engineer John Cronin and Town Assessor BJ Ianfola then took the stage to speak and answer questions on the other significant local ballot choice this year, a referendum that, if passed, would allow up to 20 percent of the annual Community Preservation Fund (CPF) to pay for water quality projects.
Both candidates were enthusiastically in favor of a ‘yes” vote on the referendum.
Ms. Brach-Williams and Ms. Dudley aired few new proposals and there was little daylight between them on the issues facing the Island.
The candidates promoted their resumes as the main incentive voters should support them. Ms. Dudley, an Island resident for four years, was sworn into office in January after being chosen from a field of nine candidates by the Town Board to replace Councilman Ed Brown, who resigned in December 2015 with two years to go in his term.
She has an associate degree in animal husbandry and is certified as a paralegal. She has a working knowledge of legal matters through her work as a legal secretary and paralegal, she said. During her 10 months on the board, she has written a “good neighbor brochure” for Island visitors stressing community values and helped develop the town’s criteria to fund water projects if the CPF referendum passes.
Ms. Dudley also developed a boater’s guide for visitors and is a Town Board liaison to several town committees. As a member of a large family and through her work experience, she said, she understands the concepts of teamwork and compromise.
Ms. Brach-Williams has been an Island resident for 23 years and has a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Binghamton, a master’s degree form the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and is a certified public accountant. A principal owner of A&A Williams accountants in the Center, Ms. Brach-Williams has served as the treasurer of the fire district for 15 years, been a claims auditor for the school, and served on the Board of Education.
On the issues, both women were in favor of regulating short-term rentals, and both called for creating a part-time position of code enforcer to maintain community standards during the summer rental season.
Both candidates judged the financial situation of the town as basically sound. They agreed that more emphasis should be placed on creating a capital plan so, as Ms. Dudley said, money “isn’t allocated by crisis.” Ms. Brach-Williams said it was important to plan for the future to, for example, “keep our roads paved before they degrade to a more costly situation.”
As for limiting the size of new house construction, Ms. Dudley noted that the town code limited homes to 6,000 square feet of living space, but special permits are reviewed by the Town Board for applicants seeking to building beyond that. She said the board is scrupulous in reviewing water usage and the effect on wetlands. “It does work,” Ms. Dudley said about the process, adding that the board has discussed limiting size and needs more input from the community.
Ms. Brach-Williams said that most applications to go above the limit are approved with variances but “we need to tighten up” on the approvals. “If we have a limit of 6,000 square feet we should stick to it,” she said. “If we don’t want to follow what we have in place we should change it.”
A question about the financial state of the Shelter Island Country Club (SICC) and if the town should take a greater role in the situation showed some daylight between the two candidates. The Goat Hill property is owned by town— assessed last year at $$766,600 — and leases it to the nonprofit SICC for $1 a year.
The cash-strapped club was helped by a Town Board resolution in May agreeing to spend $10,000 to buy a mower from the SICC and then leased the equipment back for a $1 for the coming golf season.
Ms. Dudley said she was a member of the club and new management had brought the club back and the town should not become more involved. Ms. Brach-Williams, noting that she wasn’t a club member and “not as intimate with the issue,” disagreed and said that the town “should get more involved,” citing the buy/lease arrangement of the equipment. “We need to take a closer look” about the finances of the club, she added.
Asked what the three priorities the Town Board should set, Ms. Dudley listed water quality, vacation rentals and community housing. On the last issue she said, “We don’t’ have the answers” but are exploring options.
Ms. Brach-Williams listed keeping taxes low, protecting the environment and community housing “so everyone who works here can afford to live here.”
Ms. Dudley, summing up said her greatest qualities were listening and a capacity for hard work.
“I listen to everyone who comes before the Town Board, “ she said. “And I listen to my colleagues.” She promised the voters to “continue to work hard.”
Ms. Brach-Williams, in her summation to the voters, stressed her “strong financial background” and that “I’m a worker bee.”