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Codger’s column: Transparency

Even Codger is struggling to see through this transparency thing. It’s simply not clear.

In less than two weeks, Shelter Islanders will vote in a complicated election in which the supervisor is suddenly running against a guerilla candidate while five contenders for Town Board are competing for two seats of different terms.

Adding to the intricate electoral conditions is a certain murkiness about the various candidates’ visions for the Island — is it back to the future or ahead to the past? — that makes choices more difficult.

And then there’s the election for Town Clerk. When was the last one? The incumbent claims experience; she has been in office for 44 years, she reminds us, after having been her mother’s deputy for 16. Sixty years! Her opponent asks, “How long does it take to get to tomorrow?”

The supervisor himself has not been opaque about his lack of transparency. Three months ago, in a pleasant and candid conversation with Codger, Gerry Siller said: “Just as soon as I know what I’m doing, I explain everything.”

Codger replied: “That’s too late. People like to be part of the process so their ideas can inform your decision-making.”

“Or throw wrenches.”

He explained how years ago, in his previous reign as supervisor, his attempt at affordable housing was thwarted by an opponent of the plan who learned of it in time to buy the land before the town could.

That explained Siller’s paranoia but didn’t answer the current question: Do the ends justify the means when a positive outcome is threatened?

Codger is troubled by Siller’s back-room practices. Most recently, he was surprised and annoyed when Siller blindsided a town department, the West Neck Water District, to hire Suffolk County Water Authority to manage the system for some 60-odd families and businesses.

Maybe it was a good move motivated by a long-term water plan. Who knows? It was behind Codger’s back, and he’s a member of the West Neck Water Board. But Codger shouldn’t have been surprised. Siller seems to have thrown a wrench of his own into the highly-touted campaign to create a new Comprehensive Plan, the foundation for progress on the Island. He marginalized his own Advisory Task Force and frustrated Town Board members.

Enter Peter Reich, a former Town Board member making a comeback as a write-in candidate for supervisor. He cites Siller’s lack of transparency as a reason he’s stepped up. Reich served three terms, from 2004 to 2015, recently enough for voters to judge him as a member of administrations that failed to plan for the future or to enact and enforce codes that might protect the environment, particularly regarding water quality and monster houses.

As for judging the candidates for Town Board, Codger recommends the remarkably civilized forum presented on Zoom by the League of Women Voters and the Shelter Island Association. It’s available on the town website. (Transparency alert: Codger’s wife, Crone, was a producer.)

Two of the candidates are familiar. Deputy Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams, the only incumbent running, was asked to defend her added salary of $10,000, presumably to handle the budget. She is an accountant with an active practice. In the past, the entire Board worked on the budget and deputies did not make more money than other board members. Brach-Williams has not been exactly transparent in trying to explain the discrepancy.

Marcus Kaasik is making his third run for the Board. He is still vaguely anti-regulation and believes the Island must be maintained as “an American place, not a manicured, gated community, where individualism is important.” Is that clear enough?

The three newcomers seemed more open.

Brett Surerus displayed his organizational talents by bringing the Fourth of July fireworks back to the Island and creating the Action Alliance to support restaurant owners and workers through the pandemic. Can this everyman with a wife, small kids and multiple jobs find time for an intense civic responsibility?

Meg Larsen claims that she sure can. The youngest and perkiest of the candidates has no husband or children, she announced, and will be able to show up for every meeting and read every document, as she has been doing lately in preparation to compete against Amber and Brett for a regular four-year term. She works in her family’s septic-installation business.

Barbara Jean (BJ) Ianolla, a former tax assessor vying against Marcus for the two-year vacancy, also wants to keep the “essential islandness” alive but with boundaries and guidelines.

Town Clerk Dorothy Ogar has the job “in my blood,” as do many of her relatives. Her opponent, Kristina Martin Majdisova, wants to upgrade to online payments and credit cards and “improve transparency.”

No wonder Supervisor Siller recently told my colleague Julie Lane that he’s “tired of the whole transparency discussion.” Is that clear?