Government

Three Village Civic Association held a forum Sept. 4 during which Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Rich Johannesen, Mary Ann Johnston and Anthony Figliola weighed in on an upcoming referendum in Brookhaven. Photo by Alex Petroski

Brookhaven Town has taken steps to change laws pertaining to terms of office for elected officials, but civically minded citizens are discussing it before jumping on board just yet. The Three Village Civic Association hosted a forum Sept. 4 at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library featuring four experts to discuss the proposal, which will appear on November’s ballot in the form of a referendum to be passed or failed by Brookhaven voters. Audience members came from as far afield as Medford and Patchogue.

The speakers included 1st District Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station); Rich Johannesen, a veteran of local politics considered an expert in governmental workings, who helped lead a citizens initiative to establish council districts in the town more than 15 years ago; MaryAnn Johnston, president of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organizations who also has seen more than her fair share of political races and policy discussions; and Anthony Figliola, former Brookhaven deputy supervisor and vice president of Empire Government Strategies, a company that provides strategic counsel on governmental relations and practices to municipalities.

Brookhaven’s board voted unanimously Aug. 2 to establish a referendum on the ballot Nov. 6 asking town residents to weigh in on changes to terms in office for elected officials, specifically increasing terms from two years, as is currently the law, to four years for councilmembers, the supervisor and highway superintendent, which would put it on par with the other Suffolk townships. The referendum will have a second component as part of the same, single “yea” or “nay” question: limiting officials to three terms in office. That component would impact the above positions, as well as town clerk and receiver of taxes. Both components will appear as part of a single proposition, according to Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto. If passed the law would go into effect for terms beginning Jan. 1, 2020.

In 1993, residents voted to implement a limit of three terms of four years each on elected officials, though that law was no longer applicable following a 2002 public vote to establish council districts since state law dictates councilmembers in towns with council districts serve two-year terms, according to Emily Pines, Romaine’s chief of staff and a former New York State Supreme Court justice, who spoke during the Aug. 2 town hearing.

Some of the speakers at the Sept. 4 civic forum took issue with Brookhaven’s interpretation that the law of the town isn’t already limiting elected officials to serving three terms, calling on politicians to solicit an opinion from the state attorney general. Others pointed to language which could allow sitting board members to start their term clocks afresh, despite having served several terms already on the board, as particularly objectionable. Some suggested the referendum felt rushed saying, waiting a year would ensure full community awareness about the town’s intentions.

Below are some of the comments from the civic association’s invited guests in a session moderated by the civic’s Herb Mones:

Johannesen: “I’m going to be very clear — I oppose four-year terms. The longer we allow elected officials to serve without putting them before us, the more likely it is that they are going to become corrupt. I think if you look at the history of corruption in this town and you look at the history of corruption in this county, one of the reasons why our elected officials have gone south is because there were no checks and balances. There hasn’t really been the kind of political diversity we were hoping for.”

Johnston: “The founders thought it was good enough for our congressmen to be two years; the state constitution provides for our assemblymen and our senators to be two years. And if the problem is raising funds for political campaigns, then the issue isn’t the length of term, because we have no guarantee they’ll ever stop raising funds and do it continually for four years. This is what the voters want: We chose councilmatic districts and the Town of Brookhaven fought us tooth and nail all the way down the line. And now they’re telling us that the 1993 referendum that we enacted was repealed by council districts. That’s not true. We already have term limits. It can’t be repealed by implication.”

Figliola: “To be perfectly candid, whether it’s two years or four years, you can’t legislate human conduct. So, if people are going to be corrupt, they’re going to be corrupt. I think that’s what prosecutors are for. It’s very hard to get elected if you’re a challenger unless it’s an open seat. It’s possible … but it’s difficult. That doesn’t have anything to do with corruption. I believe term limits can help, they can’t completely stop it, but can help because it will open up an opportunity for citizen legislators to be able to run. What this will do is, this will say ‘you have consecutively or nonconsecutively three four-year terms and then you’re out.’”

Cartright: “As you all know, two town board meetings ago, I voted in support of putting this on the ballot for a vote. This has been something that me and my colleagues have been discussing for quite some time — at least four years or so. I think this is an important discussion that needs to be had. Am I advocating one or another? I am not. I understand both sides. My personal opinion is that for good governance, I do think that four years would be better than two years, based on my experiences.”

Scully and Whelan face off in Democratic Primary Sept. 13, but they could meet again in the general election

Theresa Whelan and Tara Scully discuss their Democratic primary race, which takes place Sept. 13, during an exclusive interview at TBR News Media in Setauket Sept. 6. Photos by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr and Alex Petroski

Political races for local judgeships don’t tend to garner much attention, but the 2018 race to preside over Suffolk County’s Surrogate’s Court is breaking the mold.

Judge John Czygier Jr., who currently oversees the county’s Surrogate’s Court, is nearing the mandatory retirement age, leaving a vacancy candidates Tara Scully and Theresa Whelan are competing to fill. The position, which yields a salary in excess of $200,000, carries a 10-year term, and the occupant may serve until age 70. The candidates face off in the Democratic primary Sept. 13 for the party line in the general election.

The situation has drawn criticism far and wide, largely on the practice of cross-party endorsement deals. The candidates sat down Sept. 6 for an exclusive interview with TBR News Media’s editorial staff to set the record straight.

What is Surrogate’s Court?

Surrogate’s Court is responsible for handling all issues involving wills and the estates of people who die. The court also handles guardianship hearings and some adoption cases for children whose parents are deceased. Each of New York state’s 62 counties has one surrogate judge except New York and Kings counties, which have two each. The court’s rulings can involve large amounts of money, making it uniquely susceptible to political patronage.

Scully and Whelan both said they have the utmost respect for Czygier and seek to continue his legacy and practices.

“Surrogate’s Court is there to help families when they can’t really help themselves,” Whelan said. “It has to be fair.”

Scully stressed the importance of having empathy in Surrogate’s Court.

“It’s a sanctuary and it needs to be treated like that,” she said. “People there are dealing with extremely difficult issues.”

Family Court Judge Whelan vies for nod

“I thought that it was important that an actual Democrat represented the Democratic Party in this race.”

— Theresa Whelan

Whelan, 56, a Wading River resident, said she is throwing her hat into the ring for the Democratic nomination because of her qualifications and experience.

“I have the bench experience,” Whelan, a registered Democrat, said. “I thought that it was important that an actual Democrat represented the Democratic Party in this race.”

The nominee took the bench in Suffolk County Family Court in 2008, before becoming the supervising judge in 2016. There, she hears primarily abuse and neglect cases. Her responsibilities include overseeing nine judges and seven support magistrates in two courthouses.

“I have assisted hundreds, if not thousands of children to be successfully reunited with their parents,” Whelan said. “And if that’s not possible, we try to find them another loving option.”

Since 2009, Whelan has led Suffolk County’s Child Welfare Court Improvement Project, an initiative to address court practices when a child is removed from a parent’s care while trying to ensure their safety and well-being.

The nominee said she is an active member of the Suffolk County Bar Association and often lectures for them. She co-chaired Suffolk’s Family Court & Matrimonial Law committee for three years and is a former president of the Suffolk County Women’s Bar Association. Whelan’s husband, Thomas, is also a judge, currently serving as a Suffolk County Supreme Court justice.

Despite current calls for an end to party patronage, Whelan said the position she’s running for is not a tool to fix the political system. She hopes to win on her own merits.

“I have support of statewide judges, the chief judge, the administrative judge, the bar association, etc. [in my roll on the Family Court],” the nominee said. “I stand here as my own candidate.”

Scully cites her experience in elder law

Scully, 41, of Setauket, said she’s seeking the Democratic nomination after calls by Newsday and other elected officials to challenge the patronage system affecting this and other judicial races.

A registered Republican, she pointed to her years working in elder law as part of the experience she can bring to the Surrogate’s bench.

“I do recognize I have an uphill battle,” Scully said. “But I love the Surrogate’s Court, and I believe the sanctity of our courts has to be preserved.”

Scully started her career working in the executive chamber of former New York State Gov. George Pataki (R), before serving as counsel in guardianship proceedings for the state’s Appellate Division’s Mental Hygiene Legal Service. Like Whelan, she also is a former president of the Suffolk County Women’s Bar Association.

Scully began her Port Jefferson-based practice in 2011 focusing on elder law. She said she has extensive experience in estate planning and administration, asset protection and guardianship proceedings, all of which she said would be important knowledge for Surrogate’s Court. Like Whelan, Scully also has political connections in the family as her father, Peter Scully, has name recognition in Suffolk County. He previously served as the regional chief for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and currently works as one of County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) deputies.

Tara Scully said she often provides free legal representation for indigent seniors, veterans and those with disabilities.

“I have a poor business sense in the amount of pro bono work I take on,” Scully said.

In 2015, Scully ran for Brookhaven Town District Court judge where she said she saw firsthand the way party patronage has entwined itself with politics after turning down a cross-endorsement deal. She lost by 173 votes.

“I was so green I didn’t realize at the point that in many circumstances it was business as usual,” Scully said. “I think a lot of people were upset with me that my gut reaction was revulsion.”

Political backstory

“Cross-endorsement deals are dictating who our judicial choices are, and the voter is unaware an individual without political backing, without a political upbringing or allegiance to political parties is never going to take the bench.”

— Tara Scully

Although judges are expected to set aside their personal beliefs, politics has marred the race, though not necessarily thanks to the candidates themselves. Neither Whelan nor Scully were involved in this race as of early summer. Newsday reported earlier this year District Court Judge Marian Rose Tinari, who is married to Conservative Party chairman, Frank Tinari, and is a Conservative herself, had secured the Democratic Party line in the Surrogate’s Court race as a result of a deal with Suffolk Democratic Party chairman, Rich Schaffer, which was one of many similar deals between Suffolk party bosses.

In June, Newsday ran an editorial in the form of a want ad, calling for a candidate “with a backbone to resist pressure from political bosses,” in response to the cross-endorsement of Tinari. Scully said she sprang into action as a result of the editorial to meet a tight deadline, and garnered enough signatures to run as both a Democrat and Republican. With a primary challenger stepping up to the plate, Tinari withdrew. Democrats then selected Whelan, who called herself a lifelong Democrat, as their candidate.

Scully has argued her decision to enter the Democratic primary — despite being a registered Republican — has provided voters with a more transparent choice than if a Conservative had remained on the Democrat line.

“I think the real point is six weeks ago, eight weeks ago, the Democrat candidate was a Conservative, and Democrats would go in and vote and not have any idea that the individual they’re voting for is not in line with their party philosophies,” Scully said. “Cross-endorsement deals are dictating who our judicial choices are, and the voter is unaware an individual without political backing, without a political upbringing or allegiance to political parties is never going to take the bench.”

Whelan argued that voters are equally in the dark with a Republican in a Democratic primary. If she loses Thursday, there will be one name occupying both major party’s lines come November, as Scully has already been penciled onto the ballot by the Republican Party. Whelan joked when voters enter booths Sept. 13 they’ll simply be deciding between two Irish last names with little knowledge of the politics. She also took issue with Scully portraying herself as “standing up for Democratic principles” on her campaign site.

“If I don’t win the primary, voters don’t have a choice, and I think that’s fair to say,” Whelan said. “I’m presenting myself as a Democratic Party member and the experienced judge, so that Tara and I can actually have a real election on Election Day, and I think that’s what she was trying to accomplish in the beginning.”

This post was updated Sept. 11. This post was updated Sept. 12 to clarify a quote from Whelan.

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Poquott residents are protesting the village board trustees approving a 5-year bond for a community dock. File photo

Plans to build a community dock continue to cause waves in the Village of Poquott.

Approximately two dozen Poquott residents rallied Aug. 25 on Route 25A in East Setauket to protest the village trustees’ decision to rescind a resolution for a 10-year bond to pay for construction of a village dock in favor of a five-year bond.

“Hopefully, we are at a point we can actually build the dock.”

— Jeff Koppelson

The protesters have been against the dock’s construction for nearly a decade.

The mayor and trustees called an emergency meeting Aug. 23 after more than 200 residents signed a petition requesting a referendum vote on the dock plans. In July, the board voted for a 10-year bond instead of their original plan for a five-year note after tabling the decision earlier in the year when bids came in higher than predicted. The original plans were estimated to cost $150,000 but did not include Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramps. The new cost of the dock will be approximately $255,000.

In an email to residents after the Aug. 23 vote, Mayor Dee Parrish explained the reasons for the change from a 10-year to a 5-year bond noting the construction of a dock had been “a known work in progress since 2010.” She said residents were first sent a survey in 2010, and the village mailed out two additional surveys in following years. The majority of village residents answered they were in favor of a community dock, according to the mayor, which will be built in California Park at the end of Washington Street and will measure 128 feet by 4 feet. The board of trustees officially began planning efforts in 2015.

“The dock plan was in forward motion since then and the decision we faced was not whether or not to put it to a vote, but rather how to pay for the construction,” Parrish wrote. “The recent petition for referendum was challenged, and the village attorney recommended that the five-year bond would ensure that project move[s] forward as originally planned by the board.”

Trustee Jeff Koppelson said the board had considered a 10-year bond to reduce the annual cost to Poquott residents, but once they became aware of the petition for a referendum, moved forward with the original five-year plan.

John Richardson, a village trustee who ran for mayor this year, said the village attorney informed him the residents would not be able to request a referendum given the five-year bond, and he voted “nay” for the new payment plan. Under New York State law, a request for a referendum would be allowed with a 10-year bond.

“Hopefully, we are at a point we can actually build the dock,” Koppelson said.

“I’m representing what people want. If they’re paying for it, they should have a say in it.”

— John Richardson

Richardson said he is concerned because the bond was not put out for a bid, and he believes residents should be able to vote on whether or not they wanted a dock and how to pay for it. He also said the feedback he has received from residents is that they are worried about maintenance and insurance costs.

“I’m representing what people want,” Richardson said. “If they’re paying for it, they should have a say in it.”

Felicia Chillak, who ran for trustee this year, went door to door with others to collect signatures for the petition requesting a referendum. She said the residents who signed were a mixture of those who wanted a community dock and those who didn’t, but all believe it should be voted on. Chillak said she had 30 days after the July 19 board meeting to turn the signatures into the village clerk, and as of Aug. 16 the petition had 196 names. She was then notified by the state Comptroller’s Office due to Aug. 18 falling on a Saturday, she could submit the paperwork by Aug. 20.

Chillak then presented the village clerk with an amended petition with 207 signatures. She said the petition needed the signatures of more than 20 percent of Poquott voters, and a recent voter registration list from the Suffolk County Board of Election that she obtained lists 802 registered voters reside in the village. However, at the Aug. 23 meeting, Village Attorney Joseph Prokop questioned the validity of some signatures.

Chillak said some people were hesitant to sign the petition or participate in the Aug. 25 rally.

“This is a serious issue in this village,” she said. “Even when we were getting petitions signed, residents were afraid of the mayor seeing their signature in fear of retribution.”

According to Parrish’s email, village officials and residents have organized multiple community events, including the Poquott Community Association’s Lobster Bake, with the intent to raise money for the dock. To date, $20,000 has been raised. The village also acquired three floating docks valued at $16,000 at no cost. Parrish said an average household will see a $123.20 a year increase in their taxes to pay off the five-year bond.

A left-turn arrow will be installed at the intersection of Route 25A and County Road 21 in Rocky Point for safety reasons. Photo by Kyle Barr

The accident-prone intersection of Route 25A and County Road 21 in Rocky Point could be getting a new traffic light that local officials hope will curb injuries and fatalities.

“In response to community interest, the New York State Department of Transportation will update the traffic signal at Route 25A and County Road 21 with a protected left turn indicated by a green arrow phase for vehicles turning left from eastbound Route 25A onto northbound [Hallock Landing Road],” said Stephen Canzoneri, public information officer for the regional DOT office that covers Suffolk County. “This is being done following an extensive review of the intersection and will reflect the traffic pattern for westbound Route 25A.”

Canzoneri said that a new left-turn signal will be installed by the state DOT in September. A protected turning light allows drivers in the turning lane to strictly take a left while other drivers going straight are stopped at a red light. Westbound Route 25A already has a protected turning light.

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said the intersection has a long history of vehicular incidents over the years. The best way to avoid problems there, she said, was to avoid making left turns onto Route 25A or Hallock Landing Road.

“That’s a very busy intersection, and there’s a lot going on there,” Bonner said. “People need to drive defensively and plan their routes so they don’t have to make a left.”

Bonner has been in contact with state DOT officials and they have sent surveyors out since 2017 to analyze the dangers of the intersection, she said.

The intersection at the corner of Route 25A and Rocky Point Yaphank Road, as Route 21 is also known, is a notoriously dangerous intersection with new accidents reported every year, some of which have caused fatalities, such as the death of Rocky Point resident Carol Sardegna in September 2016. One recent crash occurred Aug. 15 at the intersection, according to the Rocky Point Watch Facebook page.

The state DOT said it would not install a left-turn arrow northbound and southbound on County Road 21 because it would reduce time for vehicles on both roads, according to a state DOT letter received by Bonner. The letter also said the state department plans to relocate the east and southbound STOP bar pavement markings and upgrade the County Road 21 crosswalks to be more visible.

Bonner said she believes the turn signal should help reduce accidents at the intersection.

“People by law will only be able to make a left when you can,” Bonner said. “It doesn’t mean people still won’t try to do it, but I feel confident more people obey turning signals than not.”

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini speaks at an event in Huntington Station. File photo by Victoria Espinoza.

Suffolk County now has a new drug program that judges and prosecutors hope will offer nonviolent offenders a means to get clean before they repeat offenses.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) along with several drug court judges announced Aug. 13 the creation of the new Comprehensive Addiction Recovery and Education Program that will allow people charged with low-level drug crimes to instead be sent into a drug treatment program rather than being matriculated through the standard legal system. If the participants finish the program clean, they are promised the charges will be dismissed.

“We consistently heard that in some cases requiring defendants to take a plea prior to accepting treatment is a disincentive [to seek court treatment options],” Sini said at the press conference. “By connecting these individuals to treatment, we will not only be helping to tackle the disease of addiction … we will also be improving public safety by addressing the underlying motivation to commit crimes fueled by drug abuse.”

Those charged with misdemeanor drug crimes can participate in the program without having to enter a guilty plea. Those who sign up for the program work with members of court staff to develop a treatment plan and determine what services will be available. The program lasts for 90 days, but the person involved in the program can ask for a longer term.

“It should result in increased numbers who receive the benefit of treatment given the crisis that we’re facing both locally and nationally,” Suffolk County District Administrative Judge Randall Hinrichs said.

What makes the program remarkable, according to Karen Kerr, the supervising judge of Suffolk County District Court, is that without having to plead guilty more people will be more willing to participate.

“For many people, particularly those people with minimal to no record, it was just too much of a risk for them to take [the plea],” Kerr said. “I felt there was a group of people who really could use the help but who just didn’t want to take the chance.”

The timing for this program comes as the numbers of opioid-related deaths have peaked in the past two years. Suffolk Chief Medical Examiner Michael Caplan said in June the office has data on approximately 360 county deaths from opioid overdoses in 2017. The office is expecting a decline in the number of deaths this year by more than 100, but officials won’t know the results until they compile all data at the end of the year.

The program is open to defendants who have minimal or no criminal record and who have no history of violence or gang involvement. Those charged with misdemeanors of petit larceny, criminal possession of marijuana, criminal possession of a controlled substance, criminal trespass, criminal possession of hypodermic instrument, criminal use of drug paraphernalia, disorderly conduct or loitering are eligible for the program as long as the drug court determines they are addicted to any kind of hard drug.

Kerr said that the district attorney determines whether a person should be screened for a drug problem and then the person is referred to the CARE court date, always held on Tuesdays, and then the court treatment team will ask a number of questions to determine if there is an issue.

Officials said they expect many people to be eligible for the CARE program. District attorney spokeswoman Sheila Kelly said the office noted from April to June of this year approximately 600 people would have fit the criteria to be allowed to enter into the program.

Violations of the program include being arrested on new charges, not participating in the treatment program as recommended or not reporting to scheduled court appearances. Participants are drug tested prior to finishing the program.

Hinrichs said the court and the DA’s office will be monitoring the program to see results and identify its efficacy and inclusiveness.

A view of the southern side of The Shipyard apartment building. File photo by Alex Petroski

Some things in life are priceless, but Port Jefferson Village has settled on what’s an appropriate cost for not providing green space when new developments are built.

The village board passed a resolution Aug. 20 reducing the fee levied on developer Tritec, who constructed The Shipyard at Port Jefferson Harbor, for not including sufficient public green space in the apartment complex. It establishes a new precedent for future developments that private parkland can be used to satisfy village’s green space requirements — at least in some small part — as determined on a case-by-case basis.

As a condition of the site plan approval granted for the 112-apartment complex on West Broadway, Port Jefferson’s Department of Building and Planning had required that Tritec be responsible for paying a parkland fee.

Alison LaPointe, special village attorney for building and planning, said a parkland fee is commonly imposed by municipalities. Town of Brookhaven utilizes a multiplier formula that requires 1,500 square feet of public green space per unit in a housing development or $1,000 fine per unit if that space can’t be provided.

The fee is intended to require real estate developers to consider preserving or creating green and recreational spaces when building large complexes. It has been imposed on other projects in the village, like The Hills at Port Jefferson, built by The Gitto Group, on Texaco Avenue. The Gitto Group, rather than paying a fee or including public parkland on its property, invested in renovations to a nearby, village-owned park on Texaco Avenue to satisfy village code requirements.

The issue has been unresolved pertaining to The Shipyard, according to LaPointe, as village attorney Brian Egan has been corresponding with Tritec Vice President Rob Kent to determine if private recreation areas provided for tenants of The Shipyard could qualify to satisfy some of its requirement. The Shipyard offers a rooftop recreational space and a ground-level plaza area for its tenants, which LaPointe and staff from the town’s building and planning department ruled could satisfy the parkland requirement for about 21 of the complex’s 112 units based on square footage.

“In the past we have utilized the Town of Brookhaven’s [formula] as they have a multiplier — either 1,500 square feet per unit or $1,000 per unit,” she said. “The square footage I don’t really have a problem with. I believe that $1,000 is a relatively antiquated number in this day and age. You can’t really buy 1,500 square feet of anything for $1,000. Our multiplier that was proposed was $1,500, so not a massive increase. And again, our calculations came down to that they provided enough green space for a portion of their 112 units, but still did not have parkland for the remaining 91, which results in a fee of about $136,500 in parkland.”

The Aug. 20 resolution effectively set a $1,500 fee per square foot of green space not provided. Trustee Bruce Miller was the lone village board member opposed to the resolution.

“I am appalled at this,” he said. “We are taking recreational space that every luxury apartment has to provide if they’re going to attract tenants and we’re dedicating that to the specific use of the tenants only and we’re calling that public space or green space. It’s not public space.”

Village Mayor Margot Garant disagreed with Miller.

“I think it’s appropriate to give a credit because you also want to encourage these [developers] to build nice places that have the amenities, that have certain areas that are green space, that are attributable to the living area,” she said.

A spokesperson for Tritec did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Brookhaven unveiled new electric vehicle charging stations at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai Aug. 21. Photo by Alex Petroski

Brookhaven Town is hoping to inspire residents to ditch the gas pump for a greener alternative.

The town unveiled two new electric vehicle charging stations at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai Aug. 21, paid for through a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and rebates from Long Island Power Authority. The stations cost $22,000 each, and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) pledged that the town will install additional charging stations at various, strategically located town facilities during the next year, either through grants or using town funds. Members of the public with electric or hybrid vehicles are permitted to utilize the stations for a minimal charge, according to Romaine, just to cover the cost of the electricity.  The two stations can combine to give juice to four cars at a time.

“There’s a societal benefit in that these cars don’t produce smog, or pollution or hydrocarbons,” Romaine said. “The air quality on Long Island has consistently been rated as very poor. This is an opportunity for us to try to convince people who are thinking about electric to go electric.”

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner, Supervisor Ed Romaine, and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright unveil new electric vehicle charging stations at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai Aug. 21. Photo by Alex Petroski

Romaine said the town currently owns one fully electric vehicle and about five hybrids in its fleet, and added the plan is to replace “aged out” high mileage cars with more hybrids and full electric vehicles during the coming year.

“I can’t tell you how excited and proud I am that these charging stations are in my council district in Mount Sinai at the Heritage Park,” Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said. “Very often, in deciding to make that move in that direction you have to think in your mind, ‘Well where can I charge my car?’ If these are centrally located in convenient places, it’s a win for the consumer and it’s a win for the environment and the residents that live here.”

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), who represents the neighboring 1st District, said she was proud to join her colleagues in the unveiling Tuesday.

“This is clearly a step in the right direction for the Town of Brookhaven as we move to reduce our emissions here in the town,” she said.

Similar stations to the ones placed at Heritage Park already exist at Moriches Bay Recreation Center and the town Parks Administration building in Centereach. The installs are part of a five-year capital plan spearheaded by Romaine called the Energy Efficiency and Sustainability Initiative, aimed to achieve a 50 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the town by 2020.

“We want to encourage the use of hybrids and electric vehicles,” the supervisor said.

The New York State Armory is slated to become the James D. Conte Community Center. File photo

Town of Huntington officials went back to the drawing board by hiring a new architect to take over designing what promises to be a future Huntington Station landmark.

Huntington town board unanimously approved a resolution to hire Patchogue-based BBS Architects, Landscape Architects and Engineers, P.C. to take over the engineering and design of the James D. Conte Community Center in attempts to keep the project’s budget under control.

In December 2016, the town selected DCAK-MSA Architectural and Engineering P.C. out of 14 proposed bids received to create plans to renovate the former New York State National Guard Armory on East 5th Avenue into a community center. The costs of the firm’s engineering services were not to exceed $603,000 over the length of the four-year contract.

On May 22, 2018, DCAK-MSA submitted a supplemental fee request asking for an additional $850,000 to raise their total design fee to $1.453 million, more than double the initial price agreed upon, according to the town.

We do expect to receive a modified plan from BBS after contracts are signed, scaling construction costs back down within the $9 million range.”

— Chad Lupinacci

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) also indicated there were issues with the conceptual plans that were unveiled in November 2017 as the renderings included features that brought the project’s total cost up to $14.2 million, far exceeding the anticipated budget of $10 million.

“We do expect to receive a modified plan from BBS after contracts are signed, scaling construction costs back down within the $9 million range,” Lupinacci said. “Their experience provides knowledge and skills necessary as we move into the important cost management and design phase.”

BBS has completed more than $3 billion of municipal and school construction projects, according to the town, and is familiar with municipal bidding costs and industry trends. Its contractual costs with the town are not to exceed $711,000 over a four-year span. 

The town first acquired the former armory from New York State in 2013 in the hopes of creating a space that could be used for community-based public programs in education, fitness, health and wellness and veterans’ activities.

The center will be named after James Conte, a former state assemblyman who represented the 10th district including Huntington Station for 24 years and played an instrumental role in getting the state to transfer ownership of the decommissioned building over to the town. Conte died in October 2012 of T-cell lymphoma.

The initial conceptual plans for rehabilitating the 22,500-square-foot building unveiled in November 2017 suggest space could be repurposed for such uses as arts and crafts, a computer lab, a recording studio, an all-purpose gymnasium, a strength training facility, CrossFit center, rock climbing arena, a community meeting space, a multipurpose room, classrooms, office space and an elevated indoor running and walking track. The town has also promised the American Legion Greenlawn Post 1244 a designated area to run as a veterans canteen.

“A couple of months ago my mother and I went down to Town Hall to view the plans that are going to be on display today, and we were just blown away,” said Conte’s daughter Sarah at the time of the unveiling. “This is exaI amctly what my father would have wanted for this community. Myself and my family are so honored to be here and to have this named after him. We know he would be honored as well.”

The first set of architects had suggested possible outdoor uses for the 3.6-acre site could include an amphitheater, meditation gardens, a spiritual walkway and bench seating.

It’s unclear which of these features may be eliminated or reduced in an effort to keep the project costs within its remaining $9 million budget, but BBS is expected to present its revised plans to the town board in the future.

Huntington Town Hall. File photo by Rohma Abbas

The Town of Huntington’s new administration made a second wave of staffing changes at its Aug. 7 meeting, reinstating some positions, while abolishing others.

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) sponsored a resolution last week that reinstated nine job titles with a total annual salary of $284,921 while also creating 14 new positions for a total of $272,413. The bill also cut nine staffing positions, which is estimated to save more than $268,000 annually.

We look at the different departments, I’ve been in office seven months now to see what has been working and what isn’t working.”

– Chad Lupinacci

“We look at the different departments, I’ve been in office seven months now to see what has been working and what isn’t working,” Lupinacci said.

A second bill put forth by the supervisor appointed nine individuals to the newly created positions, many of which are exempt from taking civil service tests. Both pieces of legislation passed by a narrow 3-2 vote, split on party lines with Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) and Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) voting against. They accused the board’s hiring process for these position of lacking in transparency and reeking of political nepotism.

We are seeing chapter two of the Republican patronage playbook at work,” Cuthbertson said, denouncing the legislation. “A slew of positions are being created that require no civil service test. These are patronage jobs — plain and simple.”

The councilman reported he and Cergol weren’t included in the hiring process, stating he had seen only one candidate’s résumé prior to the town board meeting and questioned if those appointments had proper qualifications.

We are seeing chapter two of the Republican patronage playbook at work.”

— Mark Cuthbertson

Councilman Gene Cook (R) voiced support for Lupinacci’s appointments, stating the changes were needed in order for town government to run efficiently.

“In the past month or two, I’ve had nothing but complaints against the people in the building department,” he said. “I’ve had the same thing with the planning department. There’s been a number of issues and people deserve better.”

As part of the staffing changes, Joseph Cline, who has served as Huntington’s director of engineering services, was demoted to deputy while maintaining his $138,375 salary. Cline will be replaced by Daniel Martin, who will make more than $146,500 a year. He was appointed to serve as a Suffolk County Supreme Court judge since 2010 before becoming a deputy town attorney.

Lupinacci said he stood by the newly hired and appointed employees based on their skills and merit. Of the nine appointments made Aug. 7, five are new hires and four individuals were already employed by the town but are taking on new roles for which they will receive an additional stipend.

There’s been a number of issues and people deserve better.

— Gene Cook

Cuthbertson previously criticized Lupinacci’s February appointments for going to “11 white Republican males” many of whom had previously campaigned on the party line for various government positions. The councilman argued this second wave of appointments will also have a negative fiscal impact on the town.

“This is gravely wrong from a fiscal and budget standpoint,” Cuthbertson said.

He estimated many of the newly created positions would cost the town approximately $40,000 a year in benefits including health care insurance and retirement benefits.

The town will pull roughly $265,000 from its contingency funds in order to fill the new positions.

“Where is the transparency you promised?”

— Joan Cergol

Cergol voted against the move, calling it a “dizzying array of personnel maneuvers that mystify even those of us used to looking at these resolutions, let alone the public.” She also questioned the hiring process used.

“Where is the transparency you promised?” Cergol said.

She said the resolution Lupinacci presented to board members on the Friday before their meeting had dramatically changed by Tuesday afternoon without explanation.

Among those who will be leaving Town Hall include: John Coraor, director of cultural affairs; Rob Reichert, deputy director of planning; and Jake Turner, the deputy director of engineering services.

The town will be looking to fill three openings that have resulted due to these promotions or being newly created, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo, including an entry-level auto mechanic, an audio-visual production specialist and a plumbing inspector position by civil service candidates.

Town of Huntington, Northport-East Northport and Port Jeff school districts lose third-party lawsuits

Port Jefferson Superintendent Paul Casciano and Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer. The two districts had legal challenges shot down by a judge Aug. 16 pertaining to property tax assessment claims made by LIPA. File photos

By Sara-Megan Walsh & Alex Petroski

A New York State Supreme Court judge has ruled Long Island Power Authority “made no promises” to the Town of Huntington, Northport-East Northport school district and Port Jefferson School District not to challenge the taxes levied on its power stations.

Judge Elizabeth Emerson dismissed the lawsuits brought forth by the Town of Huntington and the two school districts Aug. 16 which alleged LIPA broke a promise by seeking to reduce the power plant’s taxes by 90 percent.

“The court’s decision affirms our customers’ right to pay reasonable taxes on the power plants,” LIPA said in a statement from spokesman Sid Nathan. “We remain committed to reaching a fair settlement for both the local communities and our 1.1 million customers to put an unsustainable situation back on a sustainable path.”

Port Jefferson Power Station. File photo by Alex Petroski

The judge’s ruling is a big victory for LIPA as it allows tax certiorari cases to continue to trial, rather than being dismissed, and could have a widespread impact across Long Island for other municipalities with similar disputes against the utility.

“Obviously, we disagree with this decision and plan to appeal,” Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer wrote in a letter to district residents. “Please understand that Justice Emerson’s decision is not the end of our fight in this case.”

Port Jeff school district also responded to the development.

“While this decision is not the outcome the district was hoping for, we vow to continue to explore our options as we work to protect our school district’s financial future and the needs of our community,” the district said in part in a statement. “The district will work to keep the community apprised of any updates on the matter.”

In her 24-page decision, Emerson denied any notion that chapter 21, section 16 of the 1997 Power Supply Agreement signed by LIPA when it took over Long Island Lighting Company — which has been referred to as the 1997 Promise – was intended to benefit the school districts by preventing LIPA from challenging the tax-assessed value of its power plants.

Rather, she found it was to ensure other parties, including LILCO and GENCO, which owned the plants at the time, could not start initiating tax claims during the takeover process.

She also dismisses all claims that town governments or school districts were intended third-party beneficiaries of the contract.

“The Power Supply Agreement is clear and unambiguous and that it does not bestow any enforceable third-party-beneficiary rights on the plaintiff,” Emerson wrote.

The judge pointed to the PSA saying it “does not expressly name” either the town or school districts as a third-party beneficiaries.

“She applied contract law, not third-party beneficiary law,” said John Gross, the attorney representing Northport-East Northport school district. “That’s what we think she the mistake on.”

Gross said New York State law allows entities, like the school districts, to be recognized as third-party beneficiaries based on third-party conversations, letters, and promises. The school districts have filed thousands of pages of documents with the courts, according to Gross, that include official correspondence and records of conversations former LIPA chairman Richard Kessel had with school administrators and Huntington Town officials allegedly promising not to challenge the tax assessment of its power plants.

The judge ruled these “extra-contractual promises” made largely by Kessel “were gratuitious promises for which there was no consideration.” As such, the former chairman’s words “did not contractually bind LIPA.”

Gross said the school’s status as a third-party beneficiary “was wrongly decided.”

This recent decision could have large and profound impact not only on Huntington, Northport-East Northport and Port Jeff schools, but for all other municipal government and school districts that are LIPA’s power plants.

On Page 18 of her decision, Emerson wrote not only did the PSA contract not protect the Town of Huntington, Northport or Port Jeff school district taxpayers but “other similar situated school districts and municipalities.”

“This result was to a very large extent expected by the village, and that’s why the mayor and the board of trustees very early, initiated and drove settlement discussions with LIPA to resolve the issue,” Port Jefferson Village Attorney Brian Egan said.

The village board of trustees and Mayor Margot Garant in April passed a resolution approving “settlement concepts,” and the two sides are exchanging details of terms, expected to reach conclusion “at any time,” Egan said.

“When we’re a taxing jurisdiction and we’re going to subject ourselves to the back taxes on a longshot, that is not what we do with taxpayer dollars,” Garant said. “We have an obligation to not gamble, so to speak.”

“Please understand that Justice Emerson’s decision is not the end of our fight in this case.”

— Robert Banzer

Huntington town attorney Nick Ciappetta said the town plans to file an appeal of the judge’s decision.

“We believe there’s only one logical and legal way to interpret that provision,” he said. “That provision was there for the benefit of the taxpayers of Huntington.”

The town, Northport and Port Jefferson school districts will have 30 days to file an appeal once the decision is officially entered into court records, according to Ciappetta. He estimated an appeal of the decision could take 18 to 24 months.

“The decision does not affect the pending tax certiorari case between the Town of Huntington and LIPA scheduled for trial in December, nor do we expect it will impact the parties’ willingness to proceed with mediation,” Banzer wrote to the community.

Gross confirmed that Northport school district is still looking forward to sitting down for the first mediation session with the Town of Huntington, LIPA, National Grid  and third-party neutral attorney Marty Scheinman slated for Sept. 26.

Officials in Brookhaven’s Town Attorney’s office could not be immediately reached for comment, though the town has also said it is nearing a settlement in its case. Egan speculated settlements for municipalities attempting to resolve cases out of court might be held up by mediation in Northport and Huntington Town’s case.

This post was updated Aug. 17 to include a statement from Port Jefferson School District, and to attribute LIPA’s statement to Sid Nathan.

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