By Christine Sampson
Former Sag Harbor School Board trustee and current Center Moriches High School teacher Tommy John Schiavoni was sworn into office as a Southampton Town Council member on January 3. He spoke with The Sag Harbor Express about his observations on the state of the town, his priorities and his ideas for effecting change in Southampton Town.
What are you looking forward to now that you’re in this new role?
I’m looking forward to doing the business of the town and keeping my campaign goals in sight, namely reducing nitrogen loading for our bays. I can’t stress that enough. I know the town, county and state are moving to collectively to reduce nitrogen loading and I think that kind of inter-municipal cooperation is key to getting this done. I think it is an important issue.
When he was sworn into his second term, Supervisor Jay Schneiderman gave “State of the Town” remarks. If you had to offer your own “State of the Town” comments, what would they be?
Financially, I think the town is in good shape. We’ve got AAA bond ratings and that’s an excellent reflection on our supervisor and the town council. I think the comprehensive plan that Supervisor Schneiderman mentioned is something that we need to take a long, hard look at to set a course for the next 50 to 70 years for the town. I’m up for that task. One of the great challenges we have is keeping our young people here, and this is something we’ve been saying for many years on many levels of government. Affordable housing, workforce housing, fair and affordable housing — I think that is an issue that the town really needs to address. I think it needs a multipronged approach. I would like to talk to my colleagues about what they think, but I’m thinking about shared equity with the town along with accessory apartments and some rental units in the area. I would like to get more affordable housing on the eastern side of the town to help alleviate the traffic congestion coming from the west, and it would promote the growth of young families here in our communities.
What are some other priorities you have for your work in Southampton?
One of the issues that is important to me is to begin some initiatives to combat tick-borne illnesses. It’s something that we need to put some resources toward. I know on the county level, Legislator Bridget Fleming is doing good work in that area, and I would like to get some of the research initiatives that she is employing into the town of Southampton to create a database over the next couple of years of rates of infections and individuals. We’re fortunate to have the Tick-Borne Illness Resource Center at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital. They are second to none as far as medical treatment and prevention, they are doing a fine job, but I’m talking about the ecological aspect of why this exists in our community. I grew up here, I camped in the woods, I golfed, and people just weren’t getting sick the way they are now.
With your full-time work schedule as a teacher, what will your schedule look like over the next few months, particularly when it comes to work sessions?
I am a teacher approaching retirement and I will be completing the school year at Center Moriches. My office hours at town hall will be in the afternoons, evenings and weekends, and I will make every town council meeting. The work sessions, which are interactive presentations from a variety of departments, I will be watching from recordings and keeping myself versed on the issues that are presented. As far as the work sessions go, you know the topics of the work sessions in advance, and I will be submitting questions regarding the topics. I’m excited to do this job. I’ve been teaching government for 32 years, and I’ve been saying ‘retire.’ To me it’s not retiring — it’s just shifting my work.
What will you miss about being on the school board?
Hands down I will miss the people on the board. They’ve got their priorities straight, their hearts in the right place, they’re smart and they’re committed to the students and property owners of the Sag Harbor School District. I’ve grown close to the school. It was hard leaving.