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May 14, 2019 1:42 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

At First Public Hearing On Monday, Petition To Incorporate East Quogue Comes Under Fire

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman at the public hearing to discuss the efficiency of the petition to incorporate East Quogue. VALEIRE GORDON
May 15, 2019 10:55 AM

Several dozen East Quogue residents made their way to the hamlet’s elementary school on Monday evening to argue either in favor of or against a petition to incorporate East Quogue into a village.

The petition, signed by 780 residents—more than the required 20 percent of the proposed village’s residents—was criticized by several community members, including one, Steven Brash, who said that his name appeared on the petition, but he had not, in fact, signed it.

He submitted written testimony in support of his claim to Southampton Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer, urging Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, who is ultimately charged with validating the petition, to compare his signature to the one shown on the petition. Mr. Brash said that they would not match. “I did not sign this,” he said at the hearing.

Under New York State Village Incorporation Law, Mr. Schneiderman is solely responsible for determining whether the petition, circulated by a community organization known as the East Quogue Village Exploratory Committee, is sufficient, before putting the incorporation effort to a public vote. That includes verifying each of the 780 signatures that appear on it.

State law requires that such a petition include the signatures of at least 20 percent of registered voters of a proposed village—or 692 of the 3,428 East Quogue residents listed in Suffolk County voter registration data.

The 15-member committee, which is co-chaired by East Quogue residents David Celi and Karen Kooi, filed the petition with the town clerk’s office on April 3. If deemed sufficient by Mr. Schneiderman, the hamlet’s residents would then be asked to vote on whether to incorporate as a village.

However, according to East Quogue resident William Kearns, who spoke on behalf of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, as well as the Southampton Water Protection Alliance, more than 58 of the signatures on the petition appeared to be invalid.

According to documents submitted to the supervisor on Monday, and prepared by Shoreham-based attorney Jennifer Juengst of Gordon and Juengst, Mr. Kearns argued that the petition included signatures from 16 people who are not registered to vote with the Suffolk County Board of Elections, as well as 19 signees who are registered at an address other than what was listed on the petition.

Additionally, in order to apply for incorporation, according to village law, the committee must submit a separate document listing the hamlet's regular inhabitants, according to Long Island Pine Barrens Society Deputy Director Katie Muether Brown.

That list included 35 dead people, at least 55 people who no longer reside in East Quogue, as well as many instances where several generations appear to be living in one home.

Bruce Tria, a proponent of the incorporation, spoke to the last point, noting that due to the rising cost of living on the East End, it’s fairly common for multiple generations to live in a single household. “I live in one of those,” he said.

He encouraged Mr. Schneiderman to accept the petition and put the matter to a vote.

“People who signed that petition knowingly signed it with the idea that they would vote either yea or nay. So, those who are against it are always welcome to go out and vote no. They will, of course, be outvoted, but they are welcome to do that.”

Hamlet resident Elizabeth Jackson shared Mr. Kearns’s concerns. She explained at Monday night’s public hearing that there were at least 13 people whose names appeared on the petition who had been personal friends of hers but had died years prior to the petition’s circulation.

Mr. Kearns pointed to an attempt in 2003 to incorporate the proposed Village of Dunehampton in southeastern Southampton Town, which was deemed invalid for similar reasons, including an “inaccurate list of regular inhabitants … and people who were deceased.”

Additionally, the Dunehampton petition included signatures from adult children and grandchildren who no longer lived at the listed residences.

Former Southampton Town Supervisor Patrick “Skip” Heaney—an East Quogue resident who is now a member of the East Quogue Village Exploratory Committee—had blocked the Dunehampton petition at the time based on the inaccuracies. That decision that was upheld by an appellate court in 2005.

In regard to the petition to incorporate East Quogue, Mr. Kearns also argued that East Quogue resident Cynthia McNamara, who is a notary, notarized her own signature, as well as a family member’s signature. Ms. McNamara also is a member of the East Quogue Village Exploratory Committee.

Mr. Kearns argued that under New York State Public Notary Law, that might be considered “a disqualifying interest.” Documents prepared by Ms. Juengst claimed that Ms. McNamara was in violation of that law, a claim she said is supported by case law.

In 2018, an appellate court ruled in Armstrong v. Combs that “a notary public should not take an acknowledgment to a legal instrument to which the notary is a party in interest.”

“This puts the entire petition in jeopardy,” Mr. Kearns said of Ms. McNamara’s notary conflict. “It is suspected that if each name were carefully inspected, many other errors would be found.”

On Tuesday, Ms. McNamara argued that she did not notarize her own signature, but, rather, notarized the signatures of the Exploratory Committee members, as well as a few select people, whose names appear on the petition.

She explained that the committee members are required to sign a witness statement that proves that they were present when the petitions were signed.

“The notary is not notarizing the names on that petition—the notary is only notarizing the witness statement,” she said. “Everything was done in accordance to notary law.”

According to Ms. Kooi, who spoke at the public hearing on Monday, the signatures were reviewed by the committee’s attorney and verified against the most recent voter registration data provided by the Suffolk County Board of Elections.

She also argued that the number of East Quogue residents was derived directly from the Southampton Town Tax Map. She said that the committee “easily surpassed” the required number of signatures.

Peter Bee of Mineola-based Bee Ready Fishbein Hatter & Donovan confirmed Ms. Kooi’s testimony at Monday night’s meeting.

Mr. Kearns, however, furthered his argument, noting that at least two people who signed the petition—Jessica Insalaco and Catherine Seeliger, both of whom are also members of the Exploratory Committee—had vested interests in a proposal to build the Discovery Land golf course resort in East Quogue.

Mr. Kearns’s submitted testimony argued that Ms. Insalaco is a paid employee of Discovery Land Company, the developer behind the golf course proposal, and also that Ms. Seeliger’s husband was the superintendent of Discovery Land’s prior Dune Deck Beach Club project in Westhampton Beach.

In an email on Tuesday, Ms. Seeliger argued, however, that her husband was not the superintendent of the project, but rather that he works for RLW4 Builders LLC., a local Southampton builder, "who was one of many local businesses working on the project."

The Arizona-based developer has been working for several years to build an 18-hole luxury golf course resort off Spinney Road in the hamlet—a proposal that has been met with strong opposition.

In fact, in previous interviews, committee member Greg Celi has explained that the Exploratory Committee was created after the Southampton Town Board denied Discovery Land a necessary change of zone, known as a planned development district, or PDD.

A revised version of the developer’s plans, which largely mirrors the original proposal, is currently in front of the Southampton Town Planning Board to determine if a new environmental study is necessary to move forward with the application.

Mr. Kearns called the committee’s efforts to incorporate a means to make the developer’s plans a reality. “We believe that this is just another way for Discovery Land to have their project,” he said.

However, according to the committee’s website, the village’s incorporation is about gaining control over several issues plaguing the hamlet, including water quality.

If East Quogue incorporates, Mr. Celi has explained that the committee would construct a localized government that would largely mirror Sagaponack Village, which cut the cord with Southampton Town in 2005. It would include the creation of a non-partisan, unpaid village government, including a mayor, four trustees, a village clerk and treasurer.

Those elected officials would then be in charge of bringing East Quogue’s issues to the forefront, including the East Quogue Damascus Road landfill that was found to be contaminated by two chemicals—perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA—last year.

“We have no legal standing as a hamlet,” according to the committee’s mission, outlined on its website. “The Town of Southampton can make whatever decisions they want and we have no say. We want to protect and serve the residents of East Quogue. And a village is the only way we can do that.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Mr. Bee requested that Mr. Schneiderman provide the committee with copies of the testimony submitted, as well as give the committee ample time to review it and respond if necessary.

Southampton Assistant Town Attorney Kathleen Murray explained that the supervisor has until May 31 to keep the public hearing open in order to allow people to come forward with any additional objections or for proponents to respond to those objections.

The next public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. on May 20 at the East Quogue Elementary School.

Under state law, Mr. Schneiderman is required to close the public hearing no later than May 31, according to Ms. Murray. She added that 10 days from that date, the supervisor is required by law to provide a written decision on the sufficiency of the petition.

“Ultimately, the decision will be mine,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “I’m going to do my best to review everything as factually as possible.”

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Jay stirring the pot. We keep loosing people, the town will look like a village. H Bays, shinnecock hills,north sea, noyac, tuckahoe, watermill and sagaponack next???
Jay keep going....
By knitter (1684), Southampton on May 14, 19 4:23 PM
Even if this obvious ploy by the Discovery Land Company to co-opt a few EQ residents into incorporating for their own benefit works there is still good new for the majority of East Quoguers who have no interest in DLC

If EQ becomes a village, just do not vote anyone from the exploratory group or even cursory ties to DLC into office.

It's amazing that this company has gotten so far with this charade, has duped so many local people.
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (660), southampton on May 14, 19 4:58 PM
2 members liked this comment
It's amazing that people in East quad think they're going to start a village and side track the discovery land group. They have a constitutional right to build that golf course and develop their land if they think they're going to take rights away that village will be sued to the end of time . Not to mention the taxes will go up yet again to pay for all the krapp this new village will want to have. Very stupid idea
By chief1 (2694), southampton on May 14, 19 5:19 PM
How can one check to see whether or not their name was signed without permission? That is the most alarming piece of the entire story. Is there a consequence for that?
By zappy (53), east quogue on May 14, 19 6:36 PM
Not sure, but this seems like a set-up by this person to make the petition look bad ................ amazingly, someone just comes along and says, "oh there's my name but that's not my signature" - just doesn't sound right.

East Quogue I wish you the best, but successfully incorporating in this day and age will be almost impossible, too many forces against you. Especially politicians an legal bills!
By HamptonDad (210), Hampton Bays on May 14, 19 7:16 PM
So let me get this straight, if East Quogue incorporates as a village, then only East Quogue residents have a say in whether or not the Hills is developed as intended by Discovery Land? Is it assumed that if this is the case, that the majority of East Quogue Residents will vote in favor of developing the Hills?
By Enviro Guy (28), Southampton on May 15, 19 8:15 AM
W O W. This is disgusting but not surprising. Forging signatures! And Cyndi knows better than notarizing her own as well relative's signatures! Love to see how they spin this in their FB group. Who do these people think they are?!
By 2329702 (35), East Quogue on May 15, 19 8:25 AM
1 member liked this comment
2329702 - I would say they think they will be the Village administration as I have heard it AND they say they will not draw a salary, until they decide they will. So benevolent.
By zappy (53), east quogue on May 15, 19 8:47 AM
1 member liked this comment
That list included 35 dead people ??????????????
By themarlinspike (304), Northern Hemisphere on May 15, 19 9:05 AM
3 members liked this comment
they are claiming that all deceased signers died after signing now. I guess that could be true, but did 35 EQ residents actually die within the last year (or however long the signature gathering took place) - still seems a bit odd.
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (660), southampton on May 15, 19 10:03 PM
1 member liked this comment
Committee can't see they are being manipulated or they ARE the manipulators seeking personal gains at the expense of their neighbors. SAD either way. They are in way over their heads. BTW, who is funding them, paying lawyers etc...: Anonymous donors? Give me a break.
By Taz (614), East Quogue on May 15, 19 10:00 AM
Once again, even if this village happens, and even if it approves Discovery’s golf resort, it won’t be over, not by a long stretch. The wide impact of this project means that the town, county, state, and federal governments will be in it, as well as the Pine Barrens Commission, which just yesterday asserted jurisdiction in a welcome victory for common sense.

Discovery knows this, and they aren’t banking on an incorporated village to clinch it for them, but they’re ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1940), Quiogue on May 16, 19 10:09 AM
The entire application, including the printed and signed names on the petition, can be found on the Southampton Town website.
By Duckbornandraised (182), Eastport on May 18, 19 2:22 AM