The speech by Mr. Gerth was striking in what it didn’t say rather than what it did, with several testaments to the beauties of Shelter Island and the generous spirit of its people, but short on facts and figures.
Although mentioning that he was “a problem solver … here to help you and be responsive to you,” there was no mention of short term-rental regulations at the beginning of the tourist season, a subject that has divided the town and sparked a lawsuit in federal court.
As for the financial position of the town, Mr. Gerth had no news, or even referred to the topic.
In the wake of the death of Reverend Canon Paul Wancura, the first homicide on Shelter Island in many years, which has shocked and frightened many Islanders, Mr. Gerth was silent, as well as on the continuing case of dozens of trees illegally cut down off Menhaden Lane.
Mr. Gerth briefly touched on plans to save Reel Point — the endangered spit of land protecting Coecles Harbor — and the cable TV contract with Cablevision. He also responded to a question of the town’s infrastructure by asking Commissioner of Public Works Jay Card Jr. to give a brief update on the state of the Island’s roads.
He also mentioned a 17-point Pure Water Action Plan that is being rolled out.
In her introduction and welcome to the attendees, League President Lois B. Morris, noted that Mr. Gerth is only the second supervisor to address the gathering since its inception, with former Supervisor Jim Dougherty having the honor for the past 10 years.
Mr. Gerth, a Republican, narrowly defeated Mr. Dougherty, a Democrat, in November.
Ms. Morris noted a change in atmosphere at Town Hall since Mr. Gerth’s administration took over in January, and that “right now the relative quiet is music to our ears.”
Ms. Morris, after announcing that the supervisor would take some audience questions when he finished his remarks, spoke about the lack of partisanship on Shelter Island.
“We all take sides in the voting booth and maybe the dinner table,” she said. “But not here, at the lunch table,” adding that since the League is a non-partisan organization, she asked that audience members refrain from asking political questions.
This request sparked some controversy, when Gary Paul Gates asked Mr. Gerth if he “approved of” Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), prefacing his question by noting that Mr. Dougherty “was strongly opposed” to Mr. Zeldin because he thought his policies “were detrimental to Shelter Island.”
Some audience members vocally objected to the question and Mr. Gerth said, “I made a promise to Lois that there would be non-partisan issues only.”
Mr. Gates asked to rephrase his question, but was interrupted by the supervisor who said, with some irritation, “No, we’re not going to rephrase the question,” but then said Mr. Zeldin has been “fantastic” in helping the town in its efforts to stabilize Reel Point “by going to bat for us” with the Army Corps of Engineers.
Mr. Gates then said he wanted to ask a question about “the anti-immigrant issue,” but Mr. Gerth cut him off, as audience members began to object to the question. Mr. Gerth said that Mr. Gates should call him or “ stop by my office, if you have the courage. Call me. I’ll be there. O.K. Next question.”
Mr. Gates, a Reporter columnist but not present in that role, said after the meeting that he thought his question was appropriate as a matter of free speech in a public forum.
Mr. Card, when he took the podium on the infrastructure question, said he wanted to thank the Island’s state representatives, State Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) for securing $1 million over the years in state aid for the Island’s roads. He mentioned that the town is working to get on a $400,000 annual maintenance project “in a 20-year cycle.”
When a questioner asked about the town’s getting a better deal from Cablevision, Mr. Gerth said he was “having trouble getting [in touch with] these people … We’re having a communications problem.”
Asked if there was the possibility of negotiating with Verizon for a better deal, Mr.
Gerth said he has spoken to representatives of that company and received a response that he paraphrased, as Verizon would come to Shelter Island “when hell freezes over.”
He didn’t foresee a competitor of Cablevision coming to the Island since for a such a small market it wasn’t worth their while because of the cost of putting new infrastructure in place.
Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. took the podium at Mr. Gerth’s request to answer a question on why the town wasn’t as “aggressive” as other East End towns in pursuing renewable energy sources such as wind power.
Mr. DeStefano said Shelter Island wasn’t “in a financial position” to get involved in extensive wind power projects, but there were ideas under discussion to have a solar power facility at the Recycling Center.
Mr. Gerth said that the meeting room at Town Hall — revamped with new furnishings since he took office — would feature a stained glass window from St. Gabriel’s Chapel, salvaged by the town when the building was razed to make way for a high end development.
Sounding more like an upbeat campaign speech than an analysis of issues facing Shelter Island, Supervisor Gary Gerth gave the 11th annual “State of the Town” address, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Shelter Island, at a Sunday luncheon at the Ram’s Head Inn.