Mayor and Challenger Disagree on Administrator and Public Input

Sag Harbor Village Mayor Sandra Schroeder and her challenger in the coming election, Kathleen Mulcahy, at Saturday's Meet the Candidates event at John Jermain Memorial Library. Peter Boody photo

Mayor Sandra Schroeder and her challenger in the upcoming June 18 Sag Harbor Village election, real estate agent Kathleen Mulcahy, squarely disagreed on only two issues — the hiring of a village administrator or project manager and reinstating public comment at the beginning of the Village Board’s meetings — when they met before a packed conference room in the John Jermain Memorial Library for a Meet the Candidates forum co-sponsored by Save Sag Harbor and The Sag Harbor Express on Saturday morning, June 1.

“I strongly believe we need a project manager in this town,” said Ms. Mulcahy, “especially with things like Long Wharf coming up, the Havens Beach pipes” to “be sure it is done right. We need someone with real project management chops to do this and that costs a lot of money and we need to find that money, but I do think that will be a return on investment that will be so valuable.”

The village clerk and the departmental staff in the Municipal Building are “wonderful but overworked,” she said, “and honestly the board of trustees and the commissions and boards are part-time at best and volunteers for the most part.”

“We’ve had plans sitting on shelves for a long time because there’s no one who can do them,” she added.

Mayor Schroeder argued that the village’s practice of hiring engineers to handle individual projects is the better way to go. She said a village manager, under Civil Service law, is limited to handling “financial documents for the state, for the trustees and everything else … so I think we’re better off going, as I said, with the project engineers who developed our projects” to manage them.

Ms. Mulcahy countered that “bringing in consultants for this over here and consultants for that over there is not thinking in this comprehensive and strategic way” that she said she favored in her opening remarks.

“With that in mind,” replied the mayor, “it sounds like we’re going to need to create a whole new department like an engineering department like the towns have … The ones who come up with the plans that are successful are the ones who run the project as it’s being done,” she added. “I don’t understand your point of view.”

How to increase public participation and communication was the last of 12 questions posed during the hour-long mayoral forum by moderator Kathryn Menu, editor of The Sag Harbor Express. It was followed by another hour-long forum devoted to three of the candidates for two village trustee seats at stake on June 18. (See separate story).

Mayor Schroeder went straight to the issue of “public participation,” as it’s called on the agenda of Village Board meetings. During her administration, “public participation” at the beginning of the board’s monthly meeting was removed, leaving public comment for those not on the agenda for the close of the session, after the board had completed its business.

“Public comment — we have it at the end now because the people who go through the process to be on the agenda,” she said. “Many of the people in the audience are volunteers who have meetings they have to attend afterward.” Ms. Schroeder said she would rather give those of the agenda the ability to be addressed first and that is why public comment was removed at the start of the meeting.

Ms. Mulcahy called for “public input” to be “at the beginning of the meeting. Everyone who’s there needs to hear what the public wants to talk about, including those board members and commission members who have other places to be,” she said. She also called for “board meetings once a quarter” on a “Friday or Saturday so more residents can get there. Look how many people are here … So many of our residents are not here during the weekdays. They have a right. They are taxpayers.”

She also called for an annual meeting “to tell the whole village in a large venue … what’s going on with our village and hear from them with public input what they’d like to see … Some of the most creative people in the world live here. Let’s see what they have to say about some of our issues.”

Mayor’s Opening Remarks

The forum opened with each candidate making a two-minute opening statement. “I’ve served two terms as mayor and we’ve accomplished an awful lot in the past and for the future, which we’re talking about today,” Mayor Schroeder said, who called for more environmental initiatives and “a long-term commitment to storm water pollution.”

The Long Wharf project, she said, includes a plan to divert runoff from the bay. Long-term plans are also in progress to expand the village sewer district. “Other than that, we have a lot of projects under way and one of them is electric car charging stations,” said Mayor Schroeder.

Mayor Schroeder also disclosed other developments during Saturday’s forum that had not been widely publicized before: the creation of a Parks Department “is pretty much in the works,” she said; an environmental consultant will explain plans to improve the drainage and filtering system at Havens Beach at the next meeting of the Harbor Committee, which will be at 5 p.m. on Monday, June 10; the village has acquired a vehicle that operates as a sifter, she said, “to help clean the rest of the stuff out of the sand” at Havens Beach; “very nice people from the Peconic Estuary Program” are “out looking for grants for us” for the planned John Steinbeck Waterfront Park, which could fund landscaping for a DEC-required wetlands buffer. She also said the village has only two more years to lease the “gas ball” gravel parking lot on Long Island Avenue before National Grid sells it — something the village needs to plan for.

Mulcahy Opening Remarks

“I’m running for mayor to bring open communications, collaboration and cooperation back to our village government,” said Ms. Mulcahy, a former corporate executive. “We must be more responsive to our residents. We have to work with our neighboring villages and towns, and we need to come together as a community to decide what Sag Harbor can and will look like five years, 10 years and even 20 years from now.”

She called for a “strong comprehensive plan” for the village, noting she “did strategic planning at companies like PepsiCo and Verizon” for most of her career.

She called for the hiring of a village administrator, “who can act as a project manager,” and promised “to start an environmental commission, our task force, in my first week to spearhead solutions for the bay, the aquifer, the septic systems and the beaches.” She also promised “open communications, open office hours, meetings at more convenient times.”

When Ms. Menu asked what can be done about “overdevelopment” despite the adoption of a gross-floor-area limit in 2016, Ms. Mulcahy said “really that is the A-number-one issue I think that got me into this to start with.”

“I do think immediately we need to really, as part of the [comprehensive] plan but also even before the plan is finished, to find out what it means to live in Sag Harbor. Really communicate what it means to live in an historic village, that not everybody needs a pool, not everyone needs an in-laws apartment.”

On the same topic, Ms. Schroeder said, “I do not know what the solution to this is because we tried, as everyone knows, to put laws into effect that is going to control the size and the structure and the nature of our village.” After talking about the six lawsuits the village has lost, she concluded, “So I agree with everything that’s said, but I’ve had people complain to us also, ‘My real estate agent said we can do this’ … the real estate people also need to be honest with the people they’re selling to, because I don’t believe that’s always the case.”

Other Questions

Both candidates, in response to Ms. Menu’s first question, said they favored developing a new comprehensive plan, with Ms. Mulcahy calling for sessions with “all the stakeholders.”

“I pretty much agree with everything Kathleen said but I do think we could start researching other comprehensive plans for what it’s worth in other places,” Mayor Schroeder said. She also suggested breaking the process into “different parts of the plan at different times so it’s doable.”

Asked if they favored creation of a Parks Department, the mayor disclosed one is already in the works. “Well, nice to hear that,” Ms. Mulcahy said. “I do think that given Steinbeck Park and Marine Park and then I think maybe even things like Havens Beach could be part of the parks department … even Long Wharf if we decide to do a bigger Long Wharf [that’s] more recreational. So I think that’s a good idea; it does create another tax and it will need, again, a manager and a commission and a board to run it.”

On Steinbeck Park, the mayor disclosed the role of people from the Peconic Estuary Program in seeking grants for buffer landscaping and said landscape architect and village resident Ed Hollander “has spearheaded this project with us.” She said “he has all sorts of things already set aside at one of our village properties for a, like, walkways and things such as that. We’ve been collecting stuff for it and if it has to be done in stages I think it would be best because we could have the walkway that’s proposed around Long Wharf to go under the bridge and matching through the park.”

“I would like to see lots of use of rain gardens, natural plants and things that are indigenous to the area because that’s what we want to have,” Ms. Mulcahy said. She said the “village needs to see” Mr. Hollander’s plans, which she called “magnificent,” because “we need to think about if that’s what we want or, do we want a more natural, relaxed park. I don’t know.”

The health of Havens Beach will be a focus of the environmental commission she plans to launch, Ms. Mulcahy said. “So Havens Beach is A-number-one; the drain, the dreen is a problem. It needs fixing but it needs a budget to fix that and right now I don’t believe we have the budget plan …” Extending the sewer district to protect the Havens Beach waters from runoff is “something that would be worth looking at more closely. That’s really, it is a key priority, but I don’t have the answer yet, but I want to do the research on it, make sure it stays a key priority.”

Mayor Schroeder said the village has a $125,000 grant “to work on repairing and changing the drain” and disclosed the project will be explained at the upcoming Harbor Committee session.

Asked how the village can work with the Sag Harbor Hills, Azurest and Ninevah (SANS) neighborhoods to protect their character, Mayor Schroeder said, “I think we have to come up with a specific inventory and have it adopted. I don’t know the legal way to do this. I’m not going to pretend I do.”

“I believe they do have a lot of that work already done,” said Ms. Mulcahy, “and we can start putting that into books, but it’s really what I believe my conversations with people” from SANS have shown “what they’re looking for is to keep the scale, the community feel up there … Whether it’s down to historic buildings or not, or just that feel, so even immediately just making sure that our planning boards or zoning boards are more in line with what that scale and community feel is and that they don’t approve things that are way out of whack.”

Ms. Mulcahy called the lack of affordable housing “at a crisis level” and admitted, “I don’t know how to solve that.” She suggested having developers of big projects “pony up for some affordable housing as well.” The mayor noted “we have that in the law” and that the village has received payments. She added that she had no objection to accessory apartments being created in single-family homes as long as the owner is in residence and the property meets all safety requirements.

The mayor noted that the village is hiring two paid EMTs for the ambulance corps. “We do not have the volunteers anymore and it’s going to be a mess and it’s going to cost money and there’s no way around it…”

Ms. Mulcahy agreed “we are going to have to figure out budget-wise how we’re going to start having salaried fire and ambulance and emergency personnel, there is just no doubt about it,” but wondered “if we can expand and work together with some of the other villages around us that may be the answer for some of the things but not all certainly…”

Both candidates favored helping Bay Street Theater stay in the village as it looks for room to expand. Ms. Mulcahy said, “There is a lot of parking in the village; we just don’t always go out of our way to find it,” and suggested better lighting and “flatter sidewalks.” The mayor said the village perhaps should try again to run shuttles in summer to unused school district parking facilities but publicize it better. “I don’t know what any other solution is other than a garage with layers of cars … There’s no place else to put parking.”

“I love this village,” Ms. Mulcahy said in her closing remarks. “I would be honored to be the mayor of this town. It is a charming and historic village, as I said earlier, and I would like to work with the trustees and the committees to continue to write the next page of that history.”

“It used to be we all, everybody in the village, knew each other. Everybody,” said Mayor Schroeder, a lifelong resident. “When I was little, it would have been a fish bowl. We’ve lost some of that and I’d like it back. Because” as a community “we’re stronger together than being, you know, I’m from here, you’re from there, that type of idea.”

“I’ve had the most enjoyment just helping people,” the mayor concluded, “ … I have helped so many people and I am hoping to have the honor for another term of office by serving you all again.”