A public comment session at last Thursday's Southampton Village Board meeting drew a capacity crowd to the Village Hall. The meeting came a week after Village Mayor Mark Epley proposed using a Village owned property purchased with Southampton Town Community Preservation Funds to build a park which would double as a location for a day laborer shape up site managed by a non profit local group. The mayor has collected signatures on a petition in favor of developing the park (over 60 as of early this month).
The group "Coalition for a Worklink Center" has pledges of foundation support for funding and agreement from Catholic Charities of Long Island to help run the facility.
Representatives from these organizations and from the Hagedorn Foundation, the Long Island Progressive Coalition's South Fork Chapter and OLA (Organizacion Latino Americana of Eastern Long Island) spoke in favor of the Mayor's plan along with several individuals from the Southampton area.
Speaking against the proposal were several individuals from the Village and nearby Southampton Town and a Montauk based representative of "Save Our Society" a newly formed organization.
Here are some of their comments:
Darren Sandow, Port Washington, Horace Hagedorn Foundation:
We are a private family foundation. ... Our misson is to promote and support social equity here on Long Island. One of our program areas is immigration. We are funding our immigration program both at the national level (because nationally our immigration system is broken) and also to deal with tensions in our local communities.
I commend the Mayor's leadership in trying to take a pro-active step to deal with this program...
Nationally (shape-up sites) have been very successful. I currently work with the Village of Freeport in their shape-up site. There are successful shape up sites also in Huntington Station and in the city of Glen Cove founded by Tom Suozzi ....
Right now, Southampton has a shape-up site. It's your main street. You've got a choice. You can either live with the chaos, where outside gropups like the Minutemen come and protest every day and that's the entrance to your community. Or you can take a pro-active step and organize the problem.
We as a private family foundation are willing help you support organzations such as the Worklink Coalition and Catholic Charities to staff and manage this site. No tax dollars have to be spent to run this site.
These men are here for one reason.. it's the same reason that all our ancestors came here and that is to bring a better life for their families. And I hope that Southampton Village will work with them to do this.
Herbert McKay, Montauk, of "Save Our Society":
"We are a group that is in formation now".... "over a hundred people".... "We have attorneys, doctors, business people. We are a broad spectrum of people that have come together for a reason."
"We don't believe it is legal to a take CPF funds and put any structure on it." ...
"We are particularly concerned with putting a building there on the property which would be a hiring hall."
"We are here to caution you and to advise you that we are going to watch what this particular village does."
Mayor Epley (in reply): We are looking into the legality of using the Aldrich Lane site. We have asked Assemblyman Fred Thiele to investigate (the New York law).
UPDATE: Subseqent to the meeting Assemblyman Fred Thiele contacted the Mayor. Mr. Thiele's opinion is that use of the Aldrich Lane site for the shape up site would not be an approved use according to the community preservation fund law.
Sister Margaret Smyth, Co-Chair-Coalition for a Worklink Center and Coordinator of the Hispanic Minstry for the East End of Long Island:
I am here to talk about an immediacy which is upon every one in Southampton Village and
the workers and also we of the Coalition.
... I am out there on the street and I work with the men and the people who talk to me (protesters) all the time ... beause we pride ourselves as being listeners to all sides.
When men come to me and ask "Can you tell people to stop spitting on me?" this is not what the Village of Southampton is about or wants to be.
When people poke signs in (workers) faces, this is not what we want to see in the Village of Southampton. This is not what we want to see at the 'gateway' to Southampton.
The men who gather at the 7-11 want to stand with you and do every thing on their part also to help realize a solution to what is existing.
We are here to talk about a temporary use of a piece of property .. while we look for a more permanent solution.
I look at it from a human side .. and I say every one deserves dignity. Everyone deserves respect. I have been part of towns and villages that missed the mark and will go down in history as having missed the mark. What are we going to be as the Village of Southampton?
Elaine Karl, North Sea. SH town
I find very, very unacceptable behaviour by many people lying on the ground drinking coffee and siting on publicly owned property.... I do not agree with the job site at his particular place... it sounds to me like a health spa. I believe these people deserve to be treated as human beings. I have no doubt about it. But I am here to tell you that the senior citizens are very angered by the great influx at the drop off point....
We have a law on loitering .. from my perspective they are soliciting work so loitering should apply....
These people are renting garages.. we need code enforcement ...
Frank Zakowski, Southampton Village:
Is the park a smoke screen for the hiring site?
People in the Village have a right to vote on this.
Reverend Ronald Richardson, Pastor Queen of the Rosary Cathlic Parish in Bridgehampton.
I am a member of the Coalition and I speak in favor of the enterprise.
I belong to another organizaton for 45 years as a priest. I guess we could also call ourselves 'SOS' and it would be 'Save Our Souls'.
I think of it in terms of Dr. King when he spoke in very passionate terms about America, that we were losing our soul. He spoke from the point of view of what fear leads us to if we accede to it.
I am sorry to say that I am old enought to remember listening with my family to Franklin Roosevelt on the radio. We heard him say "We have nothing to fear but fear itself".
Fear leads us to doing things that we would never conceive of doing.
Sadly in our society we are grappling with enormous fears that lead us to even have to contemplate should torture be applied? ... (whether) it is something we endorse, but it is because of fear - and real fears are present.
Basically what I would say is that the strength and the health of a community emerges when through its leadership and the courageous decisions people make they are able to steer a course that does not accede to fear.