By Shoshanna McCollum
With the Great South Bay frozen for nearly a month, Fire Island has been on ice much of this winter, yet chatter is bubbling to the surface as the Ocean Beach Board ponders an auxiliary village hall somewhere on greater Long Island. Village officials will not confirm or deny if these rumors are true.
“Can’t really discuss till it’s been vetted by the board and added to the agenda for public comment,” messaged OB Mayor James Mallott earlier this week.
At the time this article went live there was no agenda available on the Ocean Beach Village website, nor any hard copies available one the front counter at the Village Office earlier that afternoon. However it seems some discussion has already taken place.
“I spoke with Mayor Mallott and several of the Trustee’s and was told that the commute in the off-season was terrible,” writes Ocean Beach Post Master, and longtime resident Dale Wycoff. “They have been unsuccessful in finding qualified applicants due to the commute, and they would be able to hire qualified people at a lower salary if they were to work on the mainland. Frankly, based upon their reasons for establishing the office on the mainland, I believe that is the beginning of the end of the Village Office as we know it and in the end the current Village Office become the ‘Satellite Office’ for the Village with minimal staffing and functionality.”
Ms. Wycoff’s email continues to dispute the Mayor’s logic. She mentions that Fire Island School, less than a mile away, has no problem attracting talented staff willing to make the daily commute to Fire Island. She also asks that in the world of Long Island work commutes, peppered with congested parkways and the LIRR delays, is the beachside travel on Fire Island really so bad? Furthermore, she also points out that employee ferry travel, parking, and in some instances vehicles bestowed for personal use are all covered at taxpayer expense.
“I think it is critically important to have a year round presence on Fire Island, and I would hate to see that compromised,” said Maria Silsdorf, President of the Ocean Beach Association, as she too voiced concerns in a recent telephone interview. “If there is going to be a satellite office, how much is it going to cost? The village is already heavily taxed. What services are going to be remoted, and what will be the level of accessibility?”
Silsdorf went on to raise other interesting points. Ocean Beach already has made considerable investment in the renovation of the present village office, the Windswept building which they also own, as well the ferry terminal – all in part under the premise of providing extra space for municipal functions among their justifications.
“Why not consider telecommuting as an option if certain services can be done off site?” she asks. “New York State also has a shared services initiative. Has this been explored?”
We approached New York Department of State’s Committee of Open Government to gain some perspective on this emotionally charged subject.
“It is important to determine whether the Village has the authority to create a satellite office and if so, are there any limitations in that regard,” said Kristin O’Neill, Assistant Director. “Ultimately, it is our view that meetings of a public body optimally should take place in locations at which there is little or no impediment to the members of a public body’s attendance, or the public’s ability to attend. In many instances, distance alone creates an impediment.”
The Ocean Beach Village Board attempted hold off-season public meetings on greater Long Island as a matter of regular policy back in the autumn of 2015. The idea was largely opposed by their constituency, and ultimately abandoned. But this is a different paradigm. The Open Meetings Law does not apply to where the daily business functions to operate a local government are physically performed. In addition, New York State Archives actually suggests annex sites as one method to protect vital records when the municipality exists in a perilous location, and the fragile barrier island that is Fire Island certainly applies.
With that said, this proposed idea has raised many questions, and the people of Ocean Beach are waiting for answers.
An upcoming Ocean Beach Board of Trustees meeting is scheduled to take place on Saturday, January 27, with General Session expected to begin at 11:15 a.m. Due to recent winter weather conditions, the meeting will be held at Islip Fire Department, the 2nd floor of 28 Monell Ave. in downtown Islip.