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Peconic Institute, East End Think Tank, Could Be on the Horizon

Local leaders to reconvene next spring after three working groups meet separately and focus their objectives and ideas.

After a lawsuit over uprooting the sustainability program from and moving it to the main Stony Brook campus was  this past summer, more than 170 individuals representing 50 organizations met last week to start brainstorming toward using the university's grounds for an institute aimed at fostering "research, education, leadership development, policy development, and dispute resolution on the major policy issues confronting the future of the Peconic Region."

Appropriately dubbed the "Peconic Institute," the regional effort stands in its infancy and will reconvene next spring after three different working groups sharpen the institute's focus and obtain a better hold of what else needs to be done moving forward.

"We'll be meeting over the next month or two," said , I-Sag Harbor. "We still have a lot of work to do after that. But at least we'll have things off the ground."

A State Supreme Court judge that a decision by the university to shutter the undergraduate dorms at the Southampton campus and move the sustainability program was illegal, as the school's advisory board never gave approval. However, the ruling didn't require reinstating the program at the 82-acre campus.

The Peconic Institute would recapture the intellectual debate accompanied by an academic setting, though obtaining a degree and affecting public policy considerably differ. Thiele likened Stony Brook Southampton's potential future use to a "think-tank for sustainability," going on to mention activities close to the region such as farming and fishing, in addition to sustainable energy.

"It is clear that there is widespread support on the East End for the creation of a regional think-tank where community leaders can work together to reach consensus on regional policies for a prosperous future," he said. "I was encouraged by the widespread participation of representatives of virtually every aspect of East End civic life."

Thiele will serve as the co-chair of the working group focused on the institute's organization and governance. He said in a Monday interview that while three options are on the table for forming the Peconic Institute — a private nonprofit, working it into an existing organization, or creating it under the jurisdiction of the state university system — consensus seemed to lean toward creating a nonprofit with a board of directors. This would allow for tax-exempt donations, and Thiele said he foresees private donations playing an integral role to the organization's funding.

He gave a rough figure that with the help of state Sen. Ken LaValle, R-Port Jefferson - the chair of the state's Higher Education Committee - the two may be able to secure $50,000 to $100,000 in state dollars to help it get off the ground, though those funds would have to be privately matched. Another $30,000 could be available through the East End Supervisors and Mayors Association.

Besides the organization and governance working group, Kevin McDonald of the Nature Conservancy will co-chair the group in charge of honing the institute's mission statement, along with Ken Komoski, founder of the Educational Products Information Exchange.

The finance committee will be co-chaired by Vito Minei, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County; Robert Ross, vice president of community and government relations at and John Botos, a former graduate student who was part of the original campaign to keep the school open.

The three groups will hone their recommendations over the next six weeks and present them to a 16-person steering committee. A final report is expected to be presented next March, and leaders are hoping for the Peconic Institute's formation within six months.

Kieran Brew December 06, 2011 at 05:15 PM
"a regional think-tank where community leaders can work together to reach consensus on regional policies for a prosperous future". Then what? And do they really think they're going to reach a consensus? And would anyone be surprised if the findings of this "think tank" support the needs of those that fund it? And isn't this what local, county, state and federal governments are supposed to be doing every day? And don't we already have every manner of committees, coalitions, organizations, federations, associations and other interest groups already spending enough time and money doing this? And does anyone really think that $300K would provide for much more than lawn mowing, utilities and maintenance for the place? This has "bad idea" written all over it in so many ways that I'd bet the house it'll come to pass....
Jerry Can December 06, 2011 at 09:07 PM
I don't understand how this group has anything to do with the university other than it would like to be part of the university. Hopefully the government won't be putting any money into this institute. They want to sit around in circle and contemplate the future of the area that's up to them. But Thiele makes it sound like the Trilateral commission for the Peconic Region. A bit grandiose and pompous in my opinion. No matter how you want to dress it up, this still Eastern Suffolk county in the State of New York.
Preliator December 07, 2011 at 02:18 PM
Oh great, another excuse to form another group of community elites to sit around and pontificate and tell everyone else how to do things. This is just another colossal waste of time and tax payer money; we don't need more committees, groups, boards or what ever to further pollute and muddy the waters. Who decides who is in this 'think tank', who sets the agenda, who decides how money will be spent, who is accountable for the crap they'll spout? This is just more stupidity from Thiele who is just pandering and trying to stay relevant. Waste of time and resources...again.
Marianne Klepacki December 11, 2011 at 01:36 AM
Sounds like the format discussed at the SAVE meeting on September 17th to restore the undergraduate, degree granting, residential college, at Southampton, is now being used to create a non-degree granting entity. Thiele was present at the meeting on September 17th.
Sue VanDerzee December 13, 2011 at 10:22 PM
A think tank on a college campus--fine. A free-standing think tank? See above.

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