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Shelter Island supervisor-elect’s priority is to fill the vacant seat: Board members agree to appointment

After months of discussions, debates and promises from candidates about why they deserve to be entrusted to lead the town have finally ended in a super-close election between Supervisor-elect Amber Brach-Williams and Gordon Gooding.

With her victory by only a 45-vote margin, many residents are curious if they’ll be seeing a less contentious and volatile administration than the one they rejected in a June Democratic primary when Supervisor Gerry Siller’s bid for a third successive term failed.

Ms. Brach-Williams spoke with the Reporter about her plans and priorities. “I want to have a full Board,” Ms. Brach-Williams said. Her first priority is to add a fifth member to the Town Board to fill the vacancy that will exist because her term as councilwoman comes to an end when she takes the oath of office as supervisor in January.

It’s not something she will decide without consulting with the other three Town Board members — Councilwoman Meg Larsen and Councilmen-elect Albert Dickson and Benjamin Dyett.

There is simply too much work ahead to be handled by four members, Ms. Brach-Williams said, remembering when Mike Bebon resigned from the Board at the end of June 2021 and the seat was not filled by appointment, but had to wait for an election.

A special election isn’t in the offing, because it would take a change in town code to bring that about.

She recalled Mr. Dickson voting against filling Mr. Bebon’s seat, resulting in a few months of functioning with a four-member Board. It’s a different day, she said, and hopes her three colleagues will support an appointment.

Mr. Dickson said Monday that he was open to the idea. “Nothing would stop me from soliciting letters of interest and resumes” for an appointment, Mr. Dickson said. “Let’s see what response we get.”

Mr. Dyett said he agrees with Ms. Brach-Williams on an appointment, calling it “an interesting test of our ability and willingness to work together and I think we are up to the task. It’s important so that the table will be clear for us to get things done.”

Ms. Brach-Williams said she wants someone who is “an independent thinker.” With two Democrats and two Republicans on the Board as of January, she believes it’s vital to have someone not strongly aligned with either party. At the same time, she doesn’t want to dictate the choice and hopes a consensus can be reached among the four members.

Councilwoman Meg Larsen said she supports appointment of a fifth member, calling it “a disservice to our community” not to do so. “I’m ready and willing to look at all applicants for the position and negotiate in good faith with my fellow board members to come to an appointment.”

Ms. Brach-Williams acknowledged her predecessor, Mr. Siller, preferred to play things “close to the vest” and have a complete plan in mind before involving the public on issues. That will change, the supervisor-elect promised.

Looking at Town Hall staffing, some changes have been made and the supervisor-elect doesn’t envision changes in personnel. But there likely will be changes in responsibilities among staff members, Ms. Brach-Williams said.

She credits town workers, led by Board Administrative Assistant Kristina Martin Majdisova, with helping identify areas that needed to be beefed up. It doesn’t mean a host of new hires, but redefined responsibilities.

At the October candidates forum, Ms. Brach-Williams declined comment on the future of Town Attorney Stephen Kiely. He has been a lightning rod for critics claiming he steps beyond his role, seeming to function as a sixth Board member.

Ms. Brach-Williams said she’s spoken with Mr. Kiely about the role she expects him to fill that would differ from how he has functioned in Mr. Siller’s administration.

Another major appointment on which she will be judged is who will be chosen as deputy supervisor, a role she’s had with former Republican supervisor Gary Gerth and Mr. Siller, a Democrat.

Although a deputy doesn’t have to be a member of the Town Board, Ms. Brach-Williams is inclined to follow suit as her predecessors have done and appoint one of the elected Town Board members as her deputy.

Among the first members of the current Town Board to support residents’ call for more time to write an updated Comprehensive Plan, Ms. Brach-Williams said that’s high on her agenda. It’s now clear it will fall to her administration to make a decision on the future of the draft expected to be presented to the Town Board, possibly by early spring.

Acknowledging the town code has inconsistencies and unclear language in some sections, Ms. Brach-Williams said there could be a need to bring in an independent law firm to review the code and provide a report on areas that need revision.

Nitrate contamination resulting from a lack of a reliable septic system for public buildings in the Center clearly became a major issue of dispute within the community. Instead of continuing to push installation of a unified Nitrex system for the Center buildings, rather than individual septic systems for each, Ms. Brach-Williams said she wants new studies to be done to determine how to proceed.

She emphasized, however, that it’s important to involve the public early about such initiatives, and receive input that can help inform the Board.

She supports extending the moratorium on large house construction. As a result of conversations with Ms. Larsen, who is on a subcommittee working on revisions, she knows the subcommittee is looking at the conditions that affect what can’t be allowed on specific sites, and the environmental impact of such decisions.

The subcommittee is considering lot line exceptions and what shouldn’t be allowed because of impacts on neighboring properties. The subcommittee is also discussing all structures on a property in terms of impacts on the environment and community character.

Ms. Brach-Williams sees the need to extend the moratorium, but also thinks the public should be getting more information along the way, instead of waiting until the subcommittee is ready to issue its full recommendations.

On a personal note, Ms. Brach-Williams is closing her accounting practice. It has been difficult to maintain her commitment to her clients while functioning as deputy supervisor, she said, and as supervisor, it would be impossible to maintain both roles.