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Shelter Island Reporter Letters to the Editor: Oct. 27, 2023

Siller takes issue with Codger

To the Editor:

While the “Codger” refuses to tell you who to vote for, or who he will vote for, anyone capable of reading his column can read between the lines. 

But first, a definition:

Noun: handmaiden

• A female servant.

• A subservient partner or element.

A handmaiden is a personal maid or female servant. Depending on culture or historical period, a handmaiden may be of slave status or may be simply an employee.

It is beyond comprehension that Robert Lipsyte, the Codger, would publicly refer to Amber Brach-Williams as a subservient partner. It’s clear from his past columns that he’s not a fan of me or my administration, but to attack Amber in this way is completely uncalled for. To  claim anyone is subservient to anyone in town government is appalling, but to say a female member is so, is that much more egregious.

If Mr. Lipsyte took the time to actually watch and pay attention to any Town Board meetings, he would have seen that Amber, like every other Town Board member, is indeed their own person, thinking for themselves and their community, not in lockstep with me or any specific group.

I believe Mr. Lipsyte and the Reporter owe Amber Brach-Williams an apology for this appalling description in last week’s paper.

GERARD F. SILLER, Supervisor, Town Shelter Island

West Neck Preserve

To the Editor:

As described in an Oct. 19 Reporter article, several members of the community attended a recent Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board (CPF) meeting with questions about the restoration of West Neck Preserve. CPF has hired a Nelson Pope & Voorhis (NPV) wildlife biologist and landscape ecologist with over 20 years of experience to guide the restoration of 5 acres of the preserve. The goal of this first-time CPF project is creating better habitat for wildlife — insects, birds, mammals, and reptiles — by planting an array of native trees, shrubs, grasses, and meadows.  This project can also serve as a model for other Island preserves. A draft of NPV’s plan is available on the CPF page of the Town website.

The project will take several years. Among the first steps is controlling the remaining non-native invasive species, particularly mugwort, an aggressive plant that pushes out native species and provides little wildlife value. At the recommendation of the NPV consultant, we will be tackling the mugwort with deep plowing that will flip the surface plants, so they’re buried under a foot or more of soil. The plowing will be followed by tilling and the planting of a winter cover crop. Tilling will be repeated next spring. There have been questions about plowing mugwort, as it readily reproduces via rootstock. Our consultant has successfully used this method on several projects. Care will be taken to ensure the safety of wildlife during this process.

In early November, CPF will be planting 100 donated white oak seedlings in the preserve. If interested in helping, contact Tim Purtell at [email protected]

For further questions, please contact CPF members at their Town email addresses or attend our public meetings in person or Zoom. For those who can’t attend, the meetings are recorded.


Confusion or lack of transparency

To the Editor:

Last Friday night at the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee meeting the conversation revolved around confusion of the zoning changes proposed in the update of the 1994 Plan. This confusion has arisen due to the fact that there are no goals, objectives or implementation strategies listed in Chapter 3 Build Out, Land Use, and Zoning.

There are no descriptions or documents relating to the creation of a new Marine Business District and a Planned Development District as proposed in this update. The BFJ consultant and the Task Force continually asserted at this meeting that the public is confused because we do not know the consequences of spot zoning, small lot ordinances to allow for increased density, relinquishing/or relaxing the current noise ordinance and rezoning the Center to a newly created business zone. This is false. The citizen attendees at the Sept. 23 public hearing are well-educated, experienced professionals from all walks of life who do understand more than the BFJ consultants and the Task Force give us credit for.

If such arrogant and dismissive behavior as displayed by these writers and developers of the new Comprehensive Plan continues, I assure you the final plan will not reflect the will of the people. Transparency of the details regarding any language within this plan that will allow for changes to the current land use and zoning ordinances or any other town code provisions on Shelter Island must be willfully and clearly revealed by the Task Force, Advisory Committee and the consultants. That will end the confusion they alone have created.

Proposed zoning and land use changes must be delineated in Chapter 3 where they belong, not scattered within other chapters where they may apply.

PAM DEMAREST, Shelter Island

A false assumption

To the Editor:

Sunday we went to the candidates’ debate. During the section for the councilman candidates, a question came up that has been gnawing at me since. The question was how would one balance the interests/needs of residents vs. second homeowners? I was surprised that a question this subtly divisive would make it into a League of Women Voters forum. Ben Dyett initially (appropriately) said he didn’t understand the question.

There is a false assumption abroad that, if one is a second homeowner, one is less likely to be interested in the town government. This was even a “finding of fact” at the top of the housing section board at the open Comp Plan meeting. The paragraph was covered with red stickers with comments like “baloney.”

It is a false assumption that people who spend years investing (not just financially) in the Island, many anticipating the time when they will become full-time residents, somehow want to despoil the very island that they fell in love with in the first place.

It is a false assumption that the interests of full-time residents and second homeowners are necessarily competing. This underlying distrust makes discussion difficult, if not impossible.

Are there some nonresidents lost in self-interest? Probably. Some “locals” as well? Could be.  Is this a “finding of fact?” No.


What will change?

To the Editor:

The current Town Board, including Ms. Brach-Williams in her role as Deputy Supervisor and resident financial expert, has overseen and approved budgets which have dramatically increased spending, property taxes, and fees.

In the last four years, the property tax requirement has increased by 20% and fees have increased by 15%. Fees used to plug the budget deficit now account for over 20% of the budget. User fees are also regressive taxes paid disproportionately by lower income residents. 

Recent spending and property tax increases exceed inflation, are above Shelter Island’s historical increases, and are higher than more modest hikes in nearby towns like Southold. Shelter Island’s spending per capita and total taxes per capita are now above the four other East End towns.

And more tax increases are coming. The 2024 budget negotiations started with another 11.9% spending increase, suggesting that spending is out of control. Ever rising property taxes also make housing affordability even worse. It’s clear that Ms. Brach-Williams has not prioritized fiscal responsibility or protected residents on fixed incomes during her seven years on the Town Board.

What will change if she is elected supervisor?


Working with Amber

To the Editor:

I have been serving on several town committees since 2019 and that affords me to see much of what’s going on behind the scenes to make our government run.

I have also had the pleasure of working closely with Amber in particular on the Water Quality Improvement Committee Advisory Board. In these four years we’ve experienced staff turnover and new hires across many areas. Countless times I’ve heard where it’s Amber who is “sitting down with (fill in the name of new person) to go over …” Reviewing procedures, forms, budgets, administrative items.

It’s one thing to suddenly appear in the spotlight for a brief moment, but it’s another thing to be doing the unglamorous work behind the scenes to make committees and departments run smoothly. I’ve witnessed Amber taking these tedious tasks and keeping us on track. I don’t think people realize and appreciate what she has done and continues to do. There’s a lot we take for granted. I wanted to take a moment to let you know and express my gratitude as a committee member.


Editor’s Note: Ms. Weisenberg is a member of the Shelter Island Republican Committee.

House in order

To the Editor:

The Town Board’s current budget proposal calls for a 6% tax increase. By contrast, Southold has kept its tax increases at less than half that for the last three years.  Moreover, to bring taxes down from the original 11% proposed increase, the Town Board is using federal COVID money and the General Fund Balance that will only have to be replenished in the future. It is also relying on the significantly increased user fees. The bottom line: Expenditures are clearly outpacing revenue.

In recent years, tax increases have exceeded inflation. At least recently, this has been in part because of money wasted to justify the Town Board’s ill-conceived plans, such as a wastewater treatment plant, and on legal fees incurred because of conflicts of interest or ill-conceived actions (like sawing up the disputed Ram’s Head’s dock).

I have extensive financial experience from running a successful company for decades, and from leading the Community Preservation Advisory Committee for eight years, watching over more than $10 million of income it received during that period, from the tax on real estate sales.

If I am elected supervisor, I will examine and improve past fiscal practices and get our financial house in order.

GORDON GOODING, Shelter Island

Editor’s note: Mr. Gooding is running for supervisor on the Democratic line.

Vote Republican

To the Editor:

Sunday’s debate confirmed something that I’ve known for a while. Things need to change in town and Team Amber will be the one to do it.

As a current member of the Board, I understand the commitment required to do the job well. My hope is that I get to work with people who are present, accountable, finish what they start, and own their mistakes. Being on the Board is no walk in the park. As an elected official you are accountable to the public, responsible for the well-being of everyone in the community, and held by the law. Change is happening rapidly, and we need to keep up with it.

Fiscal responsibility is going to be a big part of maintaining diversity and affordability for future generations and needs to be considered as we move forward. Amber, Art and Tom will be responsible with your money. Amber and Art bring a significant amount of experience to the Board and will have no need to “learn on the job” making them an efficient investment in the town’s future.

One of the biggest things we need to tackle is the Town Code. There are loopholes and vagueness that lead to exploitation and lawsuits. An important aspect of tackling code modification is ensuring that different points of view are considered. I think it’s a benefit that Amber, Art and Tom don’t agree on everything. That will promote comprehensive discussion and analysis of any modifications being proposed. A big complaint that we hear about the current Board is that everyone seems to agree with each other. I think it’s more important that we have disagreement and discussion that comes to a compromise, than it is to outvote your opponent.

Please Vote for Amber, Art and Tom in November.

MARGARET LARSEN, Councilwoman, Town of Shelter Island


To the Editor:

We are aware of the posts made on social media that allege Albert Dickson cleared wetlands on his property without applying for any wetland permits while he was a Town Board member. It is also alleged that this fact was discovered while Mr. Dickson was serving on the Town Board (2017-2020).

These allegations are particularly troubling as Mr. Dickson, a current candidate for Town Board, has made it clear in his platform that the wetlands application process should be removed from the Planning Board and given back to the Town Board where the Board would have final authority on all wetland applications. Obviously, if the allegations are true, this is an example of abuse of power and completely unacceptable for somebody re-seeking office.

We can find no evidence that a permit was filed with the town of Shelter Island. The next steps are to contact the Department of Environmental Conservation to check if a permit was filed and compare GIS satellite imagery for the time in question.

Mr. Dickson could easily clear his name and put an end to the allegations by simply producing copies of the permits in question. With a Class E felony federal environmental conviction on Mr. Dickson’s record, I would think Mr. Dickson would be screaming his innocence from the rooftops if these illegally cleared wetlands allegations were false.

GARY BLADOS, Chairman, Shelter Island Republican Committee

Editor’s note: Mr. Blados agreed to allow Mr. Dickson to see this letter pre-publication and write a response. Mr. Dickson wrote the Reporter: “As to the Republicans recycling of prior attacks on me, 11 years ago (long before I ran for the Town Board), I cleared some invasives from a wetlands area of my property. It was my understanding then and now that a permit was not required under the Town Code Section 129-3b(1)(2).”

Recent Reporter story

To the Editor:

We enjoyed the feature story about a well-known local nonagenarian opening a bakery, which was filmed in the Shelter Island school cafeteria. We were delighted by the photo of our sister and sister-in-law in the role of a nun after participating in a pie fight and her accompanying article.