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Shelter Island Town Councilman, committee chairman clash again over speaking to press

The disagreement that started with Councilman Albert Dickson and Water Advisory Committee Chairman Peter Grand at the Feb. 6 Town Board work session continued Monday.

The original dispute at the Feb 6 work session was Mr. Dickson’s criticism of Mr. Grand for speaking to the Reporter. He repeated at Monday’s WAC meeting the remarks he made at the work session, saying it was not in the chairman’s purview to speak with the press.

As Mr. Grand was about to start the WAC meeting, Mr. Dickson asked to speak. “I was upset,” the councilman said about Mr. Grand’s timing of remarks at the Town Board work session.

“You and I disagree about our behaviors in that meeting,” Mr. Grand said Monday.

Mr. Dickson noted there are now ample opportunities for anyone to speak during a work session, but not until Board members complete their remarks.

The Town Board was discussing a topic and “you jumped in and started to speak,” he told Mr. Grand. He said three times that Mr. Grand interrupted the discussion.

“That put me off. We don’t do that,” he told Mr. Grand at the WAC meeting Monday.

Mr. Dickson said he was glad Town Attorney Stephen Kiely had called a meeting of committee chairmen to tell them it wasn’t appropriate for them to speak to the press.

“No, he did not say that,” Mr. Grand said. “He actually said authority to speak to the press was granted to me in the Town Code.” Mr. Kiely also said, according to Mr. Grand, “that we have to be careful about liability” and should speak with the supervisor and him before speaking with the press, “which I am delighted to do.”

Mr. Kiely said the Town Code stipulates different policies for employees than committee chairs about speaking to the press.

Employees are not authorized to speak about policies without speaking with the supervisor. But committee chairs are clear to be conduits between their committees and the press.

The only caution is that if it’s something in terms of seeming to speak for the Town Board, the committee chairman should speak with the supervisor to ensure what’s being said is not contrary to Town Board policies or seeming to obligate the Town Board to a view its members may not hold.

Committees are advisory except for the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals that are authorized to make decisions without the Town Board.

The other committees and boards can advise the Town Board and often the advice is followed, but only the Town Board is authorized to make policy decisions or guide the town attorney to write laws for its adoption.

It wasn’t just the timing that concerned Mr. Dickson. He continued to insist that it was inappropriate for Mr. Grand to speak with the Reporter.

“I don’t think it was within your purview to go to the newspaper and talk as you did,” Mr. Dickson said, repeating the criticism he had stated at the Town Board work session.