- Impassioned citizens called upon the Southampton Town Board Tuesday to solve the on-going problem created by the gathering of day laborers on a street corner near Aldrich Lane in the Village of Southampton.
The residents cited a recent New York State Supreme Court ruling noting a Village owned park nearby could not be used as an "open air hiring hall" or gathering place for the day laborers, who are still very much in evidence on the street corner and besieged the town to help find a solution.
Citing the ruling handed down by New York State Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Arlen Spinner in a lawsuit brought against the Village of Southampton by Aldrich Lane residents who live across the street from the village owned park, residents demanded action.
One outspoken critic suggested Southampton Mayor Mark Epley
was in contempt of court, because the day laborers are still congregating in the park, and on the corner near the village owned Aldrich Lane Park, despite the court ruling noting the public park could not be used as an open air hiring hall as the mayor had suggested last year in an effort to try to solve the problem.
"Mayor Epley is in contempt of court," Ron Landowski charged in his impassioned remarks to the Board, before Supervisor Linda Kabot
enforced a speaking limit of three minutes set for all town hearings. Landowski went to the podium during the public comment portion to address the board. "They shut me down," Landowski commented as he took his seat after Kabot informed told him he had already exceeded the speaking time limit.
Southampton resident Elaine Carl also addressed the board on this issue. "I am here," Carl said, "because I really sincerely care. I'd like to be part of the conversation. This is one of the gateways to the Village," Carl asserted, referring to the location just south of County Road 39 that funnels traffic into downtown Southampton.
The convenient location has made the corner of Aldrich Lane a preferred pick-up and drop-off point for day laborers who gather on the corner in front of the local 7-11 and McDonalds's while they wait for employers to pick them up. According to eyewitness accounts there are frequently dozens of workers gathered on the side of the road in the early morning hours.
"There were at least a dozen guys there this morning after 8 a.m." Landowski said, "which means there were probably more guys out there earlier in the morning."
The day laborers hired primarily by local landscapers, contractors and homeowners do odd jobs, yard work and carpentry.
Tried To Help
In an effort to solve the problem, and create a safe and less visible gathering point, Mayor Epley suggested the use of the Village owned Aldrich Lane Park last year and dispatched village work crews to the site to plant shrubs concealing the park from the road. The Mayor also had crews install a bluestone turn-around driveway in the park designed to facilitate traffic flow at the site.
Soon thereafter, Aldrich Lane residents, who live across the street from the park, filed a lawsuit against both the Town of Southampton and the Village contending the park, originally purchased by the Town with Community Preservation Funds, could not be disenfranchised by setting aside a portion of the public park during certain hours of the day for a specific purpose as an open air hiring hall.
The town, initially named in the lawsuit against the village, joined forces with the Aldrich Lane residents after the lawsuit was filed maintaining the formerly town-owned park could not be used as an "open air hiring hall".
The town and the village have been trying to find alternative locations for the day laborers with little success since the ruling was handed down earlier this year.
"We have to find a better way of controlling our town, and having safety in our streets," Carl said. "What are we going to do to clean up that area?"
The town board sat quietly as the speakers voiced their concerns. "How many people where out there this morning," Dan Russo, the newly appointed councilman asked.
Russo registered his objections to the use of town money to fund the creation of hiring halls when he was a candidate seeking election to the town board in November 2007. Russo lost in the election, running a close second to the successful Democratic candidate Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst
, but was appointed to the board earlier this month to fill the seat vacated by Supervisor Kabot when she assumed the town's top job in January.
Village officials noted this week that they are at an impasse and have not been able to find any acceptable alternative locations where the day laborers can safely congregate without spilling over into the Aldrich Lane Park and surrounding streets in the neighborhood.