Tempers flared at Monday night’s Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association meeting after more than two dozen people learned that their membership applications—submitted over the past two weeks, mainly by those opposed to a proposed residential garbage district that has been endorsed by leaders of the group—had not yet been processed.
The lack of action by the board prohibited the new members from voting in FRNCA’s annual election on Monday night. As a result, all five incumbents—President Vince Taldone, Vice President Steven Schreiber, Treasurer Larry Carnevale, Secretary Patty Hopkins and Executive Board member Lonaway Muldrow—ran unopposed and were unanimously reelected to one-year terms.
Even though nearly 100 people crammed into the David W. Crohan Center in Flanders, only a little more than a dozen registered members of the organization were allowed to cast ballots in the election for the five executive board seats.
Just prior to the vote, and immediately after learning that they would not be permitted to cast ballots, many of those in audience—including those standing near the exits to the rear of the room—began shouting: “But we sent in our dues!” “We are members!” and “You cashed our checks!”
Mr. Taldone called the police. Several minutes later, a Southampton Town Police officer arrived and informed those who had parked in the fire lane outside the venue that they would have to move their vehicles. Most of those in attendance stayed for the remainder of the meeting, which lasted more than two and a half hours, and focused mainly on the proposed garbage district.
“We’re here to stay,” said Ron Fisher, a Flanders resident and one of the two dozen people who did not have their memberships approved by the board, after Mr. Taldone threatened to close the meeting to all non-members. “You wanted public participation—and that’s what you’re getting.”
Mr. Fisher noted that he was unaware that the group’s annual elections were scheduled for Monday evening; still, he said that he and the others who were also waiting to have their memberships approved should have been allowed to cast ballots.
Both Mr. Fisher and his brother, Frank, who also lives in Flanders and owns Go-Green Sanitation on County Road 39 in Southampton, have been rallying members of the community to join FRNCA’s ranks in recent weeks, because they do not think the group’s leaders are fairly representing the wishes and needs of the community.
The two have also started a petition and joined a Facebook group, called “Flanders Homeowners Against Town Garbage Pickup,” to stop the proposal for the residential garbage district before it receives approval from the Town Board. Even if the board signs off on the plan, registered voters in the hamlets of Flanders, Riverside and Northampton must still sign off on the proposal, which is expected to be voted on by the public this fall.
In addition to the garbage district situation, the Fisher brothers both said they want to join FRNCA to add their voices to the organization. Frank Fisher’s membership application also was not approved in time for Monday’s meeting.
“As we were talking to people, everyone had an opinion about what they think would be a good thing in Flanders,” Ron Fisher said. “Garbage got the conversation started, but everyone had an idea about how to improve this community.”
Mr. Taldone tried to explain to those in attendance Monday that the group, which has grown from 87 to 96 members in the past few months, received an additional 30 to 40 applications on the same day—Monday, April 6—and simply did not have enough time to vet the applications in a week. All were hand-delivered by Ron Fisher to Ms. Hopkins.
On Tuesday, Mr. Taldone further clarified the FRNCA application process, noting that all applications are reviewed by both himself and Mr. Carnevale. He said measures are taken to ensure that every applicant rents or owns a home or business in the tri-hamlet area, and is not someone who is “acting against the entity” but, rather, is an individual “who wants to work with us to make the community better.”
“I am going to review them, and I suspect most of them won’t be a problem,” Mr. Taldone continued. “But it’s my job to check.”
Annual FRNCA memberships cost $20 for individuals, $30 per family and $75 per business.
Mr. Taldone noted that membership has gone up once the garbage district proposal started to gain traction at Town Hall.
Ron Fisher confirmed that he hand-delivered the stack of applications to Ms. Hopkins, adding that she advised him that she would present them to Mr. Taldone and Mr. Carnevale later in the week. Mr. Fisher also presumed they would have been approved prior to Monday’s meeting.
But Mr. Taldone said they did not have ample time to go through all of the applications, adding that he expects to have all the requests addressed within the next few weeks.
“I’m a volunteer—I have a day job,” Mr. Taldone said. “It’s a simple review, but we have no obligation to process applications in a certain time frame.”
Additionally, Mr. Taldone said while he is happy to see membership grow, he’s suspicious of the motivation behind the sudden filing of so many applications.
“If they came in one by one, I’d be less skeptical,” he said. “I want to believe that everyone is going to be involved after the discussion about the garbage district, but I just don’t know.”
Ron Fisher said he plans to remain an active member once his application is approved. “That is my intention,” he said, noting that many of the neighbors he solicited to join the organization have offered ideas on how to improve their community.
“I think people do care and want to participate,” he continued, “but we’re up against people who don’t want us to, in my opinion. And the intimidation tactic of trying to clear a room full of people who want to participate? I think that was wrong on so many levels.”