BY JOHN H. NEEDHAM
It was with great interest that I read the letter titled “Confidence” written by Lynn Weikart in the Nov. 25 edition of the Reporter. In the past several months, I too have heard this sentiment of the lack of confidence in our elected officials. In this small town, a lot has to do with perception. I’ve known all the members of our Town Board for many years. I believe they are all well-intentioned individuals, but some have lost touch with a significant portion of our residents.
The Town Board schedule is busy, to say the least, and there are many challenges facing our Town. Aside from regular business, the threat of lawsuits is a fairly new development for our officials and must be extremely distracting for them.
I also blame the internet for a breakdown in communication resulting in a distrust of the current Board. I’m guessing a fair number of our residents are “baby boomers” or better. We grew up with carbon paper and a typewriter. The increased use of the internet, Zoom in particular, is not second nature to this portion of our population and this needs to be recognized by those in Town Hall.
The Town website is challenging. I’m sure those in Town Hall, who are negotiating the site multiple times a day, have no problem. This is not the case for many residents and committee members who need to access information. Starting from scratch to navigate the inefficient task of trying to find out what’s really going on in our Town is cumbersome, leaving residents and committee members feeling uninformed and detached from Town Government.
In order to find an agenda and meeting dates for Town Board and other open committee meetings, one must embark on a hunt and peck mission up and down the website. Many residents I’ve spoken with don’t even attempt to decipher the agendas and meeting schedules. At the public hearing for the $11 million town budget, just three people were in attendance at Town Hall and one on Zoom. That’s a problem in my book.
If it’s possible, and not terribly expensive, I’d like to suggest an email subscription service that would notify residents of upcoming agendas and meetings with reference to the Zoom and YouTube links. I believe we have a dedicated IT team that could handle the implementation. These kinds of notifications would be extremely helpful in terms of getting the public more involved and thereby building trust between residents and Town government. The Town could even offer a seminar on how to navigate the website, Zoom meeting attendance and YouTube. What a great message to send out… “if you want training in following our Town Government, we are offering it!”
Lastly, there seems to be a disconnect between a number of Advisory Committees and the Town Board. Just recently, the Waterways Management Advisory Council was unanimously opposed to an action proposed by the Town Board regarding increasing mooring fees and expenditures from the Waterways Fund.
The Advisory Council, with 125 years of accumulated experience, was essentially ignored. Even after each member sent follow-up letters to the Town Board, the only reply was a polite “Thank you.” Board members had obviously already made up their minds!
Of the hundreds of mooring holders on Shelter Island, I’m curious how many are aware that the Town is in the process of raising the residential mooring fees by some 360%.
In case you haven’t noticed, it’s “On the Town Website” and the 10/24/22 YouTube broadcast! Here’s the link… https://YouTube/fvKgfkSLg50
The additional money being collected as mooring fees and withdrawn from the Waterways Fund will not decrease the Police budget. It will go toward harbormaster salaries, patrol boat expenses and other waterfront capital projects. Harbormasters will replace our excellent bay constables (in title) and increase enforcement of our mooring code that is purportedly in dire straits. Hard to believe, as according to Online Mooring Service, the number of registered moorings in our harbors has been decreasing!
Before COVID, Town Hall was an open book. “My door is always open” was the motto. As more and more people are vaccinated, the in-person separation between Town Hall and our residents can be relaxed. The time has come to pull back the curtain.
Mr. Needham is president and co-owner of Coecles Harbor Marina and a 25-year volunteer and current chairman of the WMAC. The opinions expressed above are his own, and not necessarily those of the Reporter.