CAPITAL PROJECTS, COLLABORATION AND COMMUNITY DOMINATE DISCUSSION AT SEA CLIFF VILLAGE MEET THE CANDIDATES FORUM
March 16, 2015 -- Despite it being an uncontested election, and the event having been postponed a week due to a snow storm, the Sea Cliff Meet the Candidates for Village Board forum drew a healthy crowd of nearly three dozen this past Thursday evening in the second floor meeting room of Village Hall. Sponsored by the Sea Cliff Civic Association, and moderated by the group's president, Ann DiPietro, the forum gave residents the opportunity to learn about the governing philosophies of the three candidates - Mayor Bruce Kennedy, who is seeking a fourth two-year term, Trustee Ed Lieberman, who is just completing his second year on the Board, and Dina Epstein, currently Chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals. In their remarks, the three, who are running as a slate with the the endorsement of the Sea Cliff Civic Progress Party, focused a considerable amount of attention on the capital projects currently underway in the village and the importance of collaboration and community mindedness in bringing about those improvements.
In their opening statements, each of the candidates recognized the service of outgoing trustee Carol Vogt, who has served on the Village Board for the past six years. Trustee Lieberman credited Ms. Vogt with encouraging him to get involved in Village government, and said that she had a great respect for the past while at the same time embracing the new - by "acknowledging all of the great things people before us have brought to Sea Cliff and also for looking forward to the future." Ms. Epstein said that the outgoing Trustee has been "a tireless advocate and on top of every issue. She is an amazing role model for me, and I hope to do as well as she has done." Mayor Kennedy, who was first elected to office along with Trustee Vogt six years ago, reiterated those sentiments.
Village improvements undertaken during the past few years such as the Sea Cliff Avenue sewer line, the children's library restoration and village hall renovations clearly dominated Thursday evening's discussion and the three candidates emphasized that those changes not only help to modernize the village, but also to preserve its past and its treasures.
"Sea Cliff is in a Golden Age - the village is in the midst of an upswing," said Ms. Epstein. "I do hope to be able to further usher Sea Cliff into the future while maintaining her antique patina."
Trustee Lieberman emphasized the importance of community mindedness and collaboration when it comes to making improvements to the village as well as always keeping in mind future generations. "We live in a very unique spot," he said. "Not only because of the vistas and the venues, but also the people." He explained that people and groups are quick to offer their help when the village needs a particular skill set or professional assistance. He cited the renovations to the 100 year old Stenson Memorial Library as an example. "Now we're going to have a masterpiece right in our own village. . . We are producing right now for future generations to come." He added that the sewer project "will benefit us for the next 100 years. . . This is what it's all about - Sea cliff growing over the next 100 years."
Mayor Kennedy explained that his philosophy of governance is about "collaborating to try to build that grand picture that most of us agree upon, and deciding on how we are going to achieve that." "It's been a village of volunteers long before I arrived," he continued, "and that spirit is alive and kicking."
He cited as an example, when as the head of the Sea Cliff Business Association, he had worked closely with then mayor Eileen Krieb and the Downtown Revitalization Task Force to improve the Village Green with volunteers from the community contributing skills and expertise to the project. As Mayor, he said his goal has been to promote collaboration and partnerships, whether it was encouraging live music in local restaurants, or in the building of the performing arts gazebo at Sea Cliff Beach.
That collaboration not only involves village residents and organizations, but also working with other nearby communities and different levels of government, he explained. "When you establish these relationships, it helps to secure the necessary funding for projects."
During the question and answer portion of the meeting, the first question was directed to Ms. Epstein. "What do you believe are the two or three most important issues facing the village today," Sea Cliff Civic Progress Party Chairman Dan Maddox asked. "Fiscal issues such as the funding of pensions," replied Ms. Epstein. She added that revising the zoning code and continuing to work towards acquiring grant monies for the funding of other village improvements were also important priorities.
Trustee Kevin McGilloway asked the candidates to talk a bit about the Scudders Pond project, which he said was another major infrastructure accomplishment of the Village government in recent years. Mayor Kennedy responded that the pond acts as a filter for 60% Sea Cliff's storm water run-off that ends up in Hempstead Harbor, but because of silt build-up, the depth of the pond was only 18 inches, greatly reducing its effectiveness. He said the proposal for the project went back to Mayor Blackburn, but that only in the last few years was the village able to pull together the $2 million in funding necessary for the restoration. "We have been able to follow through on the visions of previous administrations and close the deal," he said.
The mayor added that the renovations to Village Hall were one-third done, and now that more grant funding has been secured, the next two phases can be completed. "It's all about teamwork," he said.
Most of the questions, the candidates received from residents concerned village operations.
Resident Heidi Hunt asked about water testing of Hempstead Harbor - who is responsible for doing it and how often it is done. Ms. Epstein responded that the county tests the water everyday and that if there is more than one and a half inches of rainfall, the county will notify the village of chlorophyll-a levels. If those levels are below the acceptable level established by the county, it would then be up to the Village's discretion as to whether or not to close the beaches. She said that at a recent board meeting the trustees and mayor had decided that the village would err on the side of caution and close the beach to swimming for a full day if there is more than one and a half inches of rain in a 24-hour period.
Mayor Kennedy added that water monitoring is done year-round by the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee, and that the harbor has become significantly cleaner as is evident by its now being open to shellfishing. However, because of what ends up in the storm sewers during a rainfall, the Mayor said, "if it rains an inch and a half for 24 hours, we close the beach for 24 hours."
Trustee Lieberman added that the Village has an Environmental and Waterfront Committee and the Village Board hoped to utilize that group to help with types of issues.
With no further questions from audience members, Ms. DiPietro then read questions that had been submitted in advance by residents.
"What's the policy for lost animals?" one resident asked. The Town of Oyster Bay Animal Control unit handles that, the Mayor replied.
"What should a resident do when a street light is out?" another resident had submitted.
Trustee Lieberman said that he reports those types of issues to the Department of Public Works.
Mayor Kennedy said that street light issues should be reported to assistant Village Clerk Pat Guy who maintains a list, and that about four times a year, an outside contractor is hired to replace the bulbs. He said it could take up to three months to replace a light bulb.
Ms. DiPietro then read the last question. A resident, she said, had asked about the proliferation of plaques around the village such as memorial plaques, and "was wondering if it didn't feel a little cemetery-like." The Mayor replied that a Memorial Committee had been formed years ago, because of concerns regarding the issue, and that certain criteria were established for affixing plaques at various locations. He continued that the benches around town and on the boardwalk are donated, and as a result may have a plaque memorializing or honoring an individual according to the donor's wishes. The mayor said he didn't believe that there was a proliferation of plaques.
Despite the outcome appearing to be a foregone conclusion, all three candidates urged residents to exercise their civic duty and vote. The Mayor pointed out that in a nearby village, write-in candidates had won in two successive elections.
Election Day is Wednesday, March 18, with polls at the Department of Public Works building on Altamont Avenue open from 12 noon until 9 pm.
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