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Picking up the pieces after sudden resignations: Comprehensive Plan process shut down, election question looms

“Now, we’re just waiting for the asteroid to hit.”

That was the response from a person close to the situation at Town Hall after the back-to-back resignations this week of Comprehensive Plan Project Manager Edward Hindin and Town Councilman Mike Bebon.

The person didn’t want to be named, but spoke to provide some context to the stunning turn of events. Mr. Bebon had advocated for Mr. Hindin to organize and run the effort to produce a Comprehensive Plan for the Island. But after months of work, and following a contentious, quarrelsome meeting on Monday of the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee, Mr. Hindin resigned his post.

At the meeting, there had been ongoing skirmishes between Mr. Hindin and committee member Kathleen DeRose. Mr. Hindin was accused of not being transparent with members over posting information, and it was suggested that committee members with ulterior motives were working on the Comprehensive Plan to benefit their personal interests and financial gains

A day after Mr. Hindin’s resignation, Mr. Bebon resigned from the Town Board.

A municipality’s Comprehensive Plan dictates policy on multiple fronts, including development, land use, the environment, transportation, housing and other aspects of community life. It’s not merely a statement of beliefs and a guide to successful planning, but shows a commitment to serious ideas to improve the municipality, which in turn is used to attract funding from the state, federal, county and other entities. In 1994, a Plan was adopted by a Town Board resolution. In 2008, a seven-month effort of discussion and research produced an update to that plan, but the board at that time didn’t act on it.

The current effort to create a Comprehensive Plan is now in limbo in the wake of the dual resignations. Supervisor Gerry Siller, in a statement on Wednesday, said: “With the resignations of Mike Bebon and Edward Hindin from the Comprehensive Plan Task Force, the Town Board has decided to suspend further work on the Comprehensive Plan until such time as the Task Force can be reconstituted or reconfigured. The Town Board recognizes the work and momentum that has been achieved thus far and anticipates restarting as soon as possible.”

The person with knowledge of the current situation noted that Mr. Hindin quit because he felt he was under personal attack and “didn’t think anyone could put together a Comprehensive Plan” with the circumstances and attitudes he was dealing with.

Several factors came together to inform Mr. Bebon’s decision to resign, the person said. There was the fact that Mr. Bebon wanted to spend more time with his family, a reason often given by officials leaving their posts, but true for Mr. Bebon, the person said.

In Mr. Bebon’s letter of resignation, he wrote: “My wife and I have decided to accelerate our plans to leave Shelter Island to relocate near our children and grandchildren in the south.” The Reporter reached Mr. Bebon Thursday in South Carolina. Asked if there had been any other motivations for his resignations, Mr. Bebon said his letter said it all.

But the person familiar with the situation said part of the councilman’s decision was because of “the way Edward was being treated.” The person added that the demand by Bob Kohn, a member of the Community Housing Board  — which Mr. Bebon had chaired before stepping down — that Mr. Bebon and Supervisor Gerry Siller resign from the Town Board had nothing to do with Mr. Bebon leaving his post.

Mr. Kohn had revealed that the Town Code prohibits any Town Council member to serve on certain boards, including the Housing Board, and he called for the resignations of Mr. Bebon and Mr. Siller from the Town Council.

Reached Thursday Morning, Mr. Kohn said, “It should be no surprise that public officials, even well-intentioned ones, who in their political zeal turn a blind eye to the rule of law, eventually face public accountability. That is how it should be. Supervisor Siller seeks volunteers to sit on advisory committees in this town, but when he doesn’t like the advice he gets he goes ballistic, muzzling discussion and seeking new volunteers. I suggest Mr. Siller step back and reconsider his leadership style.”

Heather Reylek, chairwoman of the Shelter Island Democrats (Mr. Bebon is a Democrat), said “it was a personal decision by Mike and we respect that. Mike has spent his whole life in public service, including the military and his work on Shelter Island.”

Asked about the next step politically, Ms. Reylek said she was going to consult with the Suffolk County Board of Elections on what procedures are for appointments to the Town Board and for elections.

“Don’t listen to anyone out there who tells you what will happen,” Ms. Reylek said, “We’re going to ask the commissioners at the Board of Elections.”

Shelter Island Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr., however, said that after consulting the Town Code, the Town Board “may appoint someone who will serve the rest of this year. There would be an added election this fall, on Election Day, to fill the unexpired term of the next two years.

“I was shocked at the resignations,” said Gary Blados, chairman of the Shelter Island Republican Committee.

Mr. Blados said he had watched the disruptive and contentious Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee meeting Monday and was distressed at “how absurd it was. The bickering and quarreling was a shock when people are trying to come together to move the Island forward. If I was in Edward’s position, I might have done the same thing.”

He noted that people, including Mr. Hindin — “who put in so much time for zero money” —  were only trying to “make the Island a better place.”

The accusations, “with no proof,” of someone benefiting financially, was “outrageous,” Mr. Blados said.

As for Mr. Bebon, Mr. Blados said he was a smart, dedicated man “who had enough and has been driven away. Listening to some people constantly hammering for resignations — I don’t know where it’s going to end.”

The Island’s GOP chair said he was in a similar position as that of his counterpart, Ms. Reylek, seeking counsel from Suffolk County election officials on replacing Mr. Bebon on the Town Board.