Shelter Island has been given the opportunity to look into the mirror.
Three mirrors, actually: one is a look into residents’ relationship with the Police Department; one into a comprehensive view of the Island today; and one into how seriously the community wants to make affordable housing a reality.
The Police Reform committee — officially known as the Shelter Island Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative — was set up by state mandate in the wake of America’s long, hot summer of 2020, when police misconduct, including brutality and in some cases murder, brought people into the streets in protest.
Here on Shelter Island, students organized a demonstration unlike any in living memory to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement, attracting close to 1,000 people to a march in the Center.
The mission of the committee is to assess the Shelter Island Police Department — which, in our minds, under the leadership of Chief Jim Read, has been exemplary — and make recommendations to make it better. A survey is now up and running and public forums are scheduled.
The second mirror is being provided by the Comprehensive Plan Committee, which is tasked to look into almost every aspect of the Island at this moment in time, and determine what steps can be taken to improve the lives of Islanders over the next several decades. The committee has its own survey, ready to launch on Monday.
And the last is a re-energized Community Housing Committee, through which Mary-Faith Westervelt, as the former chairwoman, tirelessly kept affordable housing in the public eye, before handing the reins to Councilman Mike Bebon. This committee has brought in highly-regarded consultants and is exploring genuine, workable plans to finance affordable housing here.
If young people and working people can’t afford to live here, then we’re in danger of turning “our jewel of an island into an elitist private club between two ferries,” as former Councilman Ed Brown so eloquently warned as he was leaving office several years ago.
We need a mix of incomes, ages and professions to retain the character of the place we love and not see it become just another garden-variety resort community.
Looking closely at our Police Department, at the state of Island institutions and how to make a future better than the present, plus finally doing something to bring affordable housing initiatives into reality, is to see government working, engaged and dedicated to the common good.