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May 29, 2008 2:52 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

First Hampton Party candidates decline invitation to debate in Westhampton Beach

May 29, 2008 2:52 PM

Despite its efforts to organize a debate prior to the Westhampton Beach Village election on June 20, the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons will not be holding the event due to candidates’ scheduling conflicts.

Anne Marshall, the voter services chair and former president of the League of Women Voters, explained this week that her organization was unable to reach an agreeable date and venue for a debate featuring the five candidates who are seeking office.

“We only got as far as trying to get dates firmed up,” Ms. Marshall said.

She added that it’s “important to have a debate because it gives the public a chance to hear at the same time what candidates think on an issue.”

The Press and former Deputy Mayor Tim Laube, who is challenging Mayor Conrad Teller in his bid for reelection this year, contacted Ms. Marshall last month to inquire whether or not the League would be interested in hosting the debate. Mr. Laube noted that two years ago, Mayor Teller said he would participate in a debate held by an “independent organization.” The League of Women Voters is a politically neutral group.

The last debate among Westhampton Beach candidates was held three years ago at the Westhampton Free Library and co-sponsored by The Press and the Greater Westhampton/Dune Road Civic Association. Afterward, Mayor Teller alleged that then-outgoing Mayor Robert Strebel reviewed questions asked in the debate, making the event biased. The allegation was refuted by The Press and the civic association. In every village election since then, the candidates have not been able to settle on arrangements for a debate.

Mayor Teller, who is running with current Trustee Toni-Jo Birk and Deputy Mayor Jim Kametler under the First Hampton Party banner, confirmed that, due to time limitations, he would not be able to participate in a debate.

“I have other things to do. I’ve got doors to knock on and everything else,” Mayor Teller said. “I do a door-to-door campaign and get my views out to the public by knocking on doors.”

Mr. Laube said he finds Mayor Teller’s response “extremely disappointing,” adding that the mayor and his running mates do not want to discuss a number of issues in a public forum.

“Westhampton Beach residents should be able to take notice and see what leaders have to say about the issues,” Mr. Laube said.

Among the issues, he said, are the health and dental care benefits for the village trustees, who work on a part-time basis, and the status of the former National’s building located next to Waldbaum’s on Sunset Avenue, which has been vacant for the last several years.

Mr. Laube also noted that Deputy Mayor Jim Kametler and his wife, Carol Meyer, recently came under fire for advertising their home on Oak Street on at least two different bed-and-breakfast websites. Mr. Kametler and Ms. Meyer do not have permits to run such a business, according to village officials.

Mr. Kametler has not returned numerous calls left for him over the past month regarding the bed-and-breakfast. He also has not returned calls seeking an explanation as to why he would not be able to participate in a debate.

John Roland, a trustee candidate running on the Anchor Party, also said he “would’ve debated this year, and would meet [his opponents] any time, any place, anywhere.

“It’s sad, the voters lose. They have a right to hear from the candidates,” Mr. Roland said. “They didn’t debate in the last election, they came up with tired, empty, old excuses,”

Ms. Birk said she was “very indifferent” to participating in a debate, noting that she has talked to people in the village during her reelection campaign.

“People know right now who they’re going to vote for,” she said. “If they have any issues to address, they’d do it face to face.”

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