In what was a mild tune up for a more extensive forum scheduled for Sunday, four candidates seeking election to the Town Board met Tuesday at an event hosted by the Shelter Island Women’s Club.
Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams, a Republican seeking re-election to the board, Republican Gary Gerth in a bid for town supervisor, and Republican Marcus Kaasik and Democrat Albert Dickson running for seats on the board met with a small group of club members in Fellowship Hall at Shelter Island Presbyterian Church. Each spoke briefly and there were no questions.
Democrat Jim Dougherty, running for his sixth term as supervisor, was a no-show. Nancy Fredericks, who organized the event for the club, said she had invited all candidates via email, but Mr. Dougherty told the Reporter after the event that Ms. Fredericks “spelled my name wrong on the emails and I never received them.”
The supervisor wrote to Ms. Fredericks, saying, “I am sorry I was not there. I very much look forward to these opportunities to share opinions and views with a concerned and intelligent group and always enjoy the experience immensely, as well as finding I inevitably learn something new to help me do my job better.”
Each candidate gave a brief biographical sketch and spoke of the important issues facing the Island, most agreeing these included financial challenges, clean water and the lack of affordable housing. The latter is a topic rarely considered at town board meetings.
Ms. Brach-Williams outlined her education and career in accounting, noting that she’s lived here full time for 24 years and raised two daughters on the Island. She recalled first coming to the Island and was struck by its diversity, with a mix of “executives, blue collar people, seniors and young families.”
That diversity is in danger of disappearing, Ms. Brach-Williams said, and affordable housing could be a cure.
Her work as a businesswoman and accountant, as well as her many volunteer efforts, have given her a sense of the needs of Islanders. She “doesn’t represent one group,” noting that one her traits of being “calm and easy going,” has made her “approachable” to everyone.
As for the budget, it’s essential to keep taxes low, the councilwoman said, but she also believes the board has to balance that with the “many requirements the board” must meet for Islanders.
Water issues, she said, “can make or break a community,” and the board has to focus on keeping water clean.
Mr. Gerth said he had “been here since 1979,” and had been a naval officer and a pastor in Sag Harbor and Bay Shore. He spoke of his work in the governments of Hempstead and Nassau County, and how he brought millions of dollars in benefits to Nassau County veterans.
Mr. Gerth said affordable — “I prefer community” — housing has to be worked on by the next town board and water issues has to come under the umbrella of a “comprehensive plan.”
The candidate was onboard with the town’s strategy to control deer and tick problems by the use of 4-posters — feeding stands that brush deer with a tickicide, permethrin — culling the deer herd and education. But he emphasized that incentives for local hunters to take more deer would be a welcome addition to the overall strategy.
The town has “to become more professional,” Mr. Getht said, on financial matters, and start funding maintenance of the town’s infrastructure.
The candidate concluded by saying, “we all have to care about each other.”
Born in Greenport Hospital in 1969, Mr. Kaasik said he couldn’t claim to be a Harelegger, but he was brought home five days later. He spoke of his family’s deep roots here, and of being a carpenter and fisherman “who has fed his family” with what he’s harvested from the bays.
“I can’t live anywhere else,” Mr. Kassik said. “I have a deep understanding of this place.”
He has been to every Town Board work session since January, he said, and had visited every town department, and is ready to serve on the Town Board.
Albert Dickson noted that he is a fourth generation Islander, a graduate of Shelter Island High School and has had a career in environmental property management, “to create means and methods to mitigate” problems. He would bring the same problem solving expertise to his work on the board, he added.
As chairman of the town’s Water Advisory Committee, Mr. Dickson said clean water “is critical to our health and economic well being.” With the Island’s water coming from its aquifers, “we have to look at water as a community property and not just individual private wells.”
He called some parts of the town’s laws on irrigation “ridiculous. What’s more important? Clean drinking water or a green lawn?”
His committee has been working with the town and other agencies to get handle on upgraded septic systems, and educating the public about the issue, he said.
As for affordable housing, the rising costs of real estate “affects seniors, young forks, everyone,” Mr. Dickson said. “Seniors, especially, have to choose to leave homes here to seek housing off-Island. This is wrong and should be addressed.” He added that the town should be looking at undeveloped properties to construct affordable housing.
Mr. Dickson concluded by saying that he had done a survey of the 16 town committees and found that women made up just 14 percent of membership. Although acknowledging that women on the Island make up the lion’s share of volunteer work here their absence on town committees is “disturbing. Your message and perspective is needed.”