The appearance of open, deliberative government can be deceiving. Listen to Supervisor Aguiar and you would think she and the town board have always welcomed and continue to welcome input from the public. Take the time to watch a town board meeting on Channel 22 or try to participate in a town board meeting and you will quickly understand that is not the case. It started with a plywood wall at Town Hall to keep the public out during COVID. Yes, that wall came down this spring but the message and sentiment it sent remain exactly the same. The supervisor is in charge and it will be her way or the highway. Real public participation be damned.
In response to COVID, we were advised on the town website that we could not attend board meetings in person. Instead we could participate by Zoom. Like many, I found this to be a reasonable accommodation given the pandemic. On several occasions I spoke via Zoom and I quickly came to understand Zoom is not ideal. Better than nothing, but not ideal. There was no opportunity for give and take with board members. You were allowed five minutes — go beyond that and you would be cut off. You could ask questions but rarely if ever did you get any answers, and if by chance you did get a response, there was no opportunity to follow up once your five minutes had expired. It almost felt at times like no one was listening. But that said, Zoom did afford you the chance to make your statement and be a part of the record.
Thankfully, this spring there was a respite from COVID and meetings resumed in person. Those who could make it to the meetings (with rare exceptions they are in the afternoon when most people are working) could go and speak in person and those who could not still had the opportunity to participate by Zoom. Suddenly, however, as of July 22, with no apparent discussion among the board members and almost no notice to the public, Zoom was discontinued. Why? If the supervisor truly values public input, why not afford the greatest access possible to the people you represent? The aged, the infirm, those with work conflicts or transportation challenges for whom Zoom is a gift. This supervisor loves talking about the “new normal.” Why then does she not make Zoom participation a part of that “new normal?” Sure, it might lengthen the meetings but isn’t expanded public participation and input what she constantly claims to want? Isn’t listening to public comment part of her job?
Zoom aside, there are even more disturbing developments under the Aguiar regime. Supervisor Aguiar has repeatedly taken action that requires board approval before getting that approval and then later, after the fact, introducing a resolution to obtain that approval. That’s not how democratic government is supposed to work.
Respect and common courtesy toward those with whom she disagrees has been totally abandoned. And facts take a back seat to her garbled assertions of being an expert and to always trying to make sure she looks like she has handled everything as it should have been handled when, in fact, it wasn’t.
Another favorite tactic is blaming those who came before her. The supervisor’s recent attack upon former longtime planning board chair and board member Barbara Blass over Ms. Blass’s comments on how the town abdicated its responsibilities regarding the huge new Solar 2 project in Calverton has to be seen to be believed. But wait, I’m sorry, that July 15 work session is nowhere to be found among the videos on demand on Channel 22 at the town’s website so you can’t see it. I wonder why?
And the supervisor’s relentless condescending, demeaning treatment of Council Member Catherine Kent is inexcusable. She interrupts Ms. Kent, makes faces while she speaks, responds to her with demeaning comments, and often chit-chats with her sidekick, Member Rothwell, while Ms. Kent is speaking. The word “immature” comes to mind.
Wake up, Riverhead, pay attention. Local governance matters, facts matter. Town government is seriously broken. Get out and vote in November.
Kathleen McGraw is a lifelong part-time resident of Northville.
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