Politics

Mayor Dolores ‘Dee’ Parrish will serve another two-year term in Poquott. File photo

Incumbent Mayor Dolores “Dee” Parrish defeated challenger Barbara Donovan in her bid for a second term at the helm of Poquott Village on Election Day Tuesday.

Parrish did not appear on the ballot after a state Supreme Court judge ruled in favor of a lawsuit, brought about in part by Donovan, that claimed there were errors in her nominating petition, yet she received 239 write-in votes. Donovan received 190 votes. The race was a rematch of the 2014 election, which saw Parrish unseat Donovan, who was a 12-year incumbent.

Fifteen-year village resident Michael Schaefer and member of Poquott’s planning board captured one of the trustee seats up for election, while small business owner and lifelong Three Village resident John Mastauskas grabbed the other. Schaefer campaigned with Donovan and former Village Clerk Joan Hubbard as a member of the Party of Unity and Respect. Mastauskas, like Parrish and trustee candidates Gary Garofano and Sandra Nicoletti, was forced to pursue election as a write-in candidate.

Schaefer and Mastauskas received 205 and 198 votes, respectively. Hubbard finished third with 187 votes. Nicoletti’s name was written in 149 times, and Garofano’s 82.

None of the seven candidates could be reached for comment by press time Wednesday.

Lawsuits, allegations, closed-door meetings and hard feelings highlighted the campaign in the buildup to Tuesday’s vote. Parrish reached out to voters on the eve of the election Monday night in a nearly 2,000-word email.

“I will continue to improve the beaches and parks, and I will continue to run quality community events for all ages,” Parrish said. “My thoughts are that if beaches and parks are beautiful, safe and remain pet-friendly, people will come out to enjoy them. Physically bringing people together is the first step toward quenching the fires sparked by the few at the expense of the many.”

The Incorporated Village of Poquott. File photo

There will only be one name on the ballot when residents head out to vote for a mayor in the small North Shore Village of Poquott on June 21, though the race has been anything but uncontested. The same can be said for the two available trustee seats, even though only two names will be on the ballot for those positions.

The plot has seemed at times like it came straight from the popular Netflix series “House of Cards,” which offers what is portrayed as a look behind the curtain of the inner workings of national government and politics. In Poquott the stakes are obviously lower, but after a lawsuit over petitions, closed-door meetings, burned bridges between former best friends and a race between the last two mayors of the village, the tension seems analogous to a presidential election.

Mayoral candidates
Dee Parrish defeated Barbara Donovan to become mayor of the village in 2014. Prior to that Donovan served six two-year terms from 2002 to 2014. Despite being the incumbent mayor and having no desire to step aside, Parrish will not appear on the ballot after a state Supreme Court judge ruled in favor of a lawsuit brought about by Donovan and her running mates. The group calls itself the Party of Unity and Respect, and the lawsuit stemmed from questions about the validity of Parrish’s and three trustee candidate’s petitions. Parrish is still very much a candidate for another term even though residents will have to write-in her name in order to win.

Parrish noted many accomplishments during an interview at Village Hall on Monday, but she said she was most proud of saving the village about $16,000 in her first year and lowering property taxes in her second year.

“That’s enough for me to say I did the best I could,” Parrish said. “I’ve done so many good things that to just stop right now would be a shame, but if that’s what the residents want, I’m okay with it.”

The Poquott resident of 16 years said her focus has always been doing what is best for the village, and win or lose she said she’d like to sit down with Donovan and hash things out.

If Parrish loses, she said she’d offer Donovan a benefit not given to her during her first term two years ago: a transitional meeting. Parrish said Donovan did nothing to make her transition into the position easier when she took over, but that won’t be the case if the roles are reversed.

Parrish studied accounting at Long Island University, where she earned a degree in 1990. She’s worked for her husband Richard’s environmental company in various capacities in recent years, mostly in human relations, she said. She decided to run for mayor in 2014 because she thought the previous administration got “stale” during Donovan’s 12-year run in the position.

In 12 years as mayor Donovan also accumulated a long list of accomplishments of which she’s proud.

In a phone interview on Tuesday she said she helped to bring the village into the 21st century with a website, computers in Village Hall and internal emails for villagers.

“I really feel very strongly about Poquott,” she said. Donovan said her desire to run this time around is similar to what inspired her 14 years ago. “The administration at that time, I didn’t agree with things they were doing. I believe in open communication and transparency. I believe you have to communicate with residents.”

Donovan worked for 30 years in marketing and public relations, and she said those skills made her a natural fit as mayor.

She has also served in the Setauket Fire Department for 28 years.

Donovan said she’s not sure how this campaign cycle became so heated, but she would be willing to a sit down with Parrish at some point to settle their differences and do what’s best for the village.

Trustee race
Sandra Nicoletti is the only incumbent trustee seeking re-election on June 21, though like Parrish, questions about her petition will leave her off the ballot. None of the candidates probed in the suit wished to comment about their petitions.

Nicoletti was best friends with the former mayor, she said.

The retired St. Charles nurse was a trustee during Donovan’s stint in charge, but the two haven’t spoken since Nicoletti decided to run again after Donovan was defeated.

She has lived in the village since 1964 and said the only thing that matters is what’s best for the community.

Nicoletti will need to win as a write-in candidate, which puts her in the same boat as Gary Garofano and John Mastauskas.

Mastauskas is a lifelong Three Village resident and a 1988 graduate from the high school.

The small business owner and father of two who called himself a family man in an emailed statement is running in the hopes of unifying the village.

Mike Schaefer and Joan Hubbard will appear on the ballot and are members of Donovan’s Party of Unity and Respect.

Hubbard has been a permanent resident in Poquott since 2012, though her family has visited for getaways since the 1950s.

She has worked as a village clerk in various North Shore communities, most recently under Donovan in Poquott.

Schaefer has lived in Poquott for 15 years. He worked for Suffolk County in various capacities for 30 years, which he said gives him an advantage as a public servant.

Polls will be open at Village Hall on June 21 from noon until 9 p.m.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone pitches the proposal. Photo from Steve Bellone

Suffolk County is delaying a bold proposal that would have charged residents a minimal fee to enhance water quality protection efforts.

In April, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) staged a press conference in the company of environmentalists and lawmakers to announce his plan to address nitrogen pollution in drinking and surface water across the region by charging an additional $1 per 1,000 gallons of water. It needed the state legislature’s blessing in order to go before Suffolk County residents in a referendum vote in November, and this month, Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said in reports that the county would be holding off on the plan to allow more time before putting it on the ballot.

The proposal would have kicked in in 2018 and established what Bellone called a “water quality protection fee,” which would fund the conversion of homes from outdated septic systems to active treatment systems, the county executive said. He estimated the $1 surcharge would have generated roughly $75 million in revenue each year to be solely dedicated to reducing nitrogen pollution — and still keep Suffolk County’s water rates nearly 40 percent lower than the national average.

Peter Scully, deputy county executive and head of the water quality initiative, said in an interview that some state lawmakers showed no interest in advancing the proposal, forcing the county’s hand before putting it to a referendum.

He said that Bellone preferred this kind of surcharge be decided by residents via referendum.

“We received kind of a sobering indication from the state Senate that there was not enough support for the proposal to let the people of Suffolk County vote,” he said. “We decided that this appears to be more of a timing issue.”

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, endorsed the initial county proposal but said he was “mad as hell” over the decision to halt the plan for another year. In an interview with TBR News Media, Amper said the administration was handcuffed by state lawmakers who did not want to see Bellone’s plan come to fruition.

“If I had children, and they pulled something like this, I’d send them to their room,” Amper said. “The Bellone administration felt the Senate had made this decision for them. It was killed — not withdrawn.”

Amper said state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) expressed little interest in allowing Bellone’s proposal to come to a vote this November and accused him of playing political games with the environment.

“This is something they can’t not do something about,” Amper said. “It’s the biggest environmental and economic crisis this island ever faced.”

A spokesman for Flanagan issued the following statement: “Our office has always considered the merits of any legislative proposal advanced by Suffolk County’s elected officials, and we will continue to do so in the future.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) — a known environmental activist — said the measure would have done wonders for the state’s water supply.

“We’re really looking at an opportunity to correct some deficiencies that could, if left uncorrected, unhinge our economy, which is based upon people bathing and recreating in our coastal waters, fishing and otherwise enjoying our waters,” he said when it was announced. “For the first time, we are pulling a program together that integrates both our fresh water and saltwater in one protection initiative, and that is very significant.”

Some lawmakers, including county legislators Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) and Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) staged a press conference following Bellone’s proposal to express opposition, calling it unwelcomed taxation.

George Hoffman, of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, also stood behind Bellone’s proposal when it was announced and said it would benefit Suffolk County for decades to come. He said it was “one of the most far-reaching and important public policy issues in decades,” and said it was important to proceed slowly and “get it right” moving forward.

“I worked with the supervisor of Brookhaven in 2003 when the town put forward a $100 million dollar open space fund referendum that received over 70 percent voter approval — but we spent many months going out to the various communities and explaining why it was needed,” he said. “You can’t cut corners on big policy issues and when you need the voters to approve new funding sources like the proposed water surcharge.”

Roughly 90 percent of the population in Nassau County operates under an active wastewater treatment system through connections to sewage plants. But in Suffolk County, there are more than 360,000 individual cesspools and septic systems — representing more unsewered homes than in the entire state of New Jersey — that are more likely to release nitrogen into the ground and surface water.

Scully said the county would be workshopping the proposal with civics and business and other stakeholders across Suffolk in order to perfect the proposition before putting it to a vote.

“If there are folks who are opposed to our proposal and don’t have one of their own, that means they’re not concerned about solving the problem,” he said. “We’re hoping we can get productive discussions.”

Jon Kaiman (right) receives an endorsement from Jon Cooper (left) for his candidacy as the Democratic nominee in the race for the 3rd Congressional District seat. Photo by Alex Petroski

With the race for outgoing U.S. Rep. Steve Israel’s seat heating up, a new contender from Nassau County has thrown his hat into the race.

Jon Kaiman (D-Great Neck) is one of five candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for the 3rd Congressional District seat, which spans from Northeast Queens, Huntington and Smithtown. Israel (D-Huntington), who has publicly endorsed Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) for the job, has held the seat for the last 15 years but opted not to run for re-election.

At a press event last Thursday at Munday’s restaurant in Huntington, Kaiman said he’s felt some frustration with federal politics from his would-be constituents, but he’s confident his background and experience will help repair the relationship.

Kaiman previously served as North Hempstead’s town supervisor from 2004 to 2013. During that time he said he earned a reputation as a progressive Democrat willing to fight for social justice. He has also served as an advisor to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on his Superstorm Sandy Disaster Relief Program that helped homeowners and businesses recover after the storm.

“Part of this role that we play when we present ourselves as leaders is to define ourselves in a way that other people can have confidence that they know who we are and where we can go,” Kaiman said. “I think I’ve done that throughout my own history.”

People can look through his record, he said, as it includes programs that brought improvements to the lives of those he served.

One program he created, Project Independence, provided more than 50,000 senior citizens with services, such as transportation to supermarkets and medical appointments and access to nursing services and more, in an effort to help seniors continue living safely in their own homes.

Kaiman also mentioned high interest rates that students are paying on loans as an example of the disconnect between government and people. Though he doesn’t agree with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders that college should be free, Kaiman said he appreciates the light Sanders is shining on the issue because something needs to change. His campaign website he says he stands with Planned Parenthood, supports gun control measures and wants to combat climate change.

He received an endorsement from the former Democratic majority leader of the Suffolk County Legislature, Jon Cooper. Cooper joins former Queens Congressman Gary Ackerman as some of the higher-profile endorsements Kaiman has received on the campaign trail.

“Jon is a lifelong progressive Democrat who stands by his core values,” Cooper said of Kaiman during last Thursday’s press event. “He’s not afraid to take a position that may not be popular. If you hold your finger up to the wind and just see which way the wind is blowing and follow the polls, that may be the safest and easiest thing to do politically, but a leader should be willing to lead. That’s one reason why I decided not to endorse the other candidates and why I’m endorsing this gentleman.”

Apart from Stern, Kaiman faces Tom Suozzi, former Nassau County Executive; Anna Kaplan, North Hempstead Town Board member; and attorney Jonathan Clarke.

Kaiman’s history of fighting for social justice and his ability to work across the aisle were some of his more attractive qualities as a candidate, according to Cooper, who likened the congressional hopeful to Vice President Joe Biden in that regard.

Kaiman lives in Great Neck with his wife and three children.

The congressional Democratic primary day for New York is June 28. The winner will face Republican nominee New York State Sen. Jack Martins.

Bill Glass is a newly appointed village justice in Port Jefferson. Photo from Glass

By Elana Glowatz

Justice will be served during the Port Jefferson government election later this month, with three people vying to be a village judge.

Bill Glass is a newly appointed village justice in Port Jefferson. Photo from Glass
Bill Glass is a newly appointed village justice in Port Jefferson. Photo from Glass

There are three years remaining on the term of former Village Justice Peter Graham, a judge of more than 30 years who died in office late last year, just months after being re-elected to his position on the bench. Bill Glass, the man appointed to fill in until the next election, is running to be returned to the seat and faces challenges from residents Tara Higgins and Scott Zamek.

Glass, 61, decided to run “because I really enjoy the job and I’d like to keep doing it.”

The lifelong resident, who also has volunteered with the Port Jefferson Fire Department for more than four decades, has a private law practice in the village through which he represents fire and emergency medical service groups throughout Suffolk County.

He graduated from Fordham Law School and once filled the roles of village prosecutor, village attorney and village trustee. He was also previously an assistant district attorney in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, where he worked under village Trustee Larry LaPointe in the Rackets Bureau.

Glass tried to win a village justice seat in 2011, but voters re-elected Graham.

People should vote for the married father of three this time because “I feel like I know the village inside and out,” he said. He has vast experience in criminal procedure law, which is a “key ingredient” in the village court. “I think that I’m … uniquely qualified for the position.”

Tara Higgins is running for village justice. Photo from the candidate
Tara Higgins is running for village justice. Photo from the candidate

Higgins grew up in East Setauket and moved to Port Jefferson 18 years ago, when she got married. The 50-year-old, who graduated from Seton Hall University School of Law, said she spent time in defense litigation for an insurance company before moving on to Islandia-based Lewis Johs Avallone Aviles LLP. She does municipal defense work and civil defense litigation for that firm.

“I just thought that it was a natural progression in my career,” she said about running for village justice. “I’ve tried cases, I’ve written appellate briefs and I thought, ‘Why not?’”

Voters should choose her because she is experienced in the courtroom, she said.

“I’ve spent my entire career in the courthouse,” Higgins said. “There are plenty of lawyers who never see the inside of a courtroom.”

The married mother of two high school kids, whose father named the Tara Inn pub in uptown Port Jefferson after her, said, “I’m hardworking, honest, fair and think I’ve got a good temperament for the position.”

Zamek grew up in the village, graduating from the local high school, and returned with his wife to raise his three daughters in Port Jefferson.

Scott Zamek is running for village justice. Photo from the candidate
Scott Zamek is running for village justice. Photo from the candidate

The 55-year-old graduated from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and has a private practice in Hauppauge where he focuses on transactional real estate. He explained that he represents landlords and developers with buying, selling and borrowing transactions.

He decided to run for justice because he’s always wanted to be a judge and has always been involved with the community, including working summer jobs for the highway department, volunteering with youth sports, helping out with the Port Jefferson arts council and, for the last two decades, serving with the Royal Educational Foundation.

“I think it’s time for me to step up a little bit,” Zamek said. He wants to give back to the village because “I feel that’s something everybody should do. … I want to do what I can to make it as good of a place as possible.”

Voting is at the Port Jefferson Village Center on June 21, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Also on the ballot will be two trustee seats, for which the incumbents are running unopposed for re-election. Bruce Miller is running for his second term on the board and Bruce D’Abramo is running for his fourth.

The Incorporated Village of Poquott. File photo

It is now known whose names will appear on the ballot for Village of Poquott residents when they head to the polls to elect a mayor and two board trustees on June 21.

State Supreme Court Justice W. Gerard Asher ruled Wednesday on the challenge filed by mayoral candidate Barbara Donovan and her running mates Michael Schaefer and Joan Hubbard of the validity of petitions submitted by incumbent mayor Dee Parrish and trustee hopefuls Gary Garofano, Sandy Nicoletti and John Mastauskas.

Justice Asher found in favor of Donovan and her party, according to the state Supreme Court office. Parrish, Garofano, Nicoletti and Mastauskas will not appear on the ballot.

Donovan, Schaefer and Hubbard, known as the party of “Unity and Respect,” filed the challenge to the petitions because they believed the petitions contained errors, and names and signatures submitted may have been photocopied, Donovan told Newsday in May.

Since the challenges were filed, tension has spread within the tiny community that falls within the Town of Brookhaven. On June 1, Parrish and the rest of the current board, which includes Nicoletti, called an emergency meeting to discuss what action they would take in response to the challenge filed by Donovan and her party. Donovan served as the village’s mayor for years until Parrish defeated her in the 2014 election.

At the beginning of the meeting, the board immediately moved into executive session behind closed doors, leaving community members frustrated and searching for clarity.

When they returned, the board briefly discussed their options regarding the challenge, before voting to allow for additional expenses incurred as a result of the suit against the village and Village Clerk Joe Newfield regarding the petitions to be covered. The meeting was adjourned and no public comment was allowed. Parrish and Village Attorney Joe Prokop declined to comment about the situation after the meeting.

Parrish commented on the legal battle on June 2 via email.

“It is unfortunate that a group that has based their platform on respect and unity has managed to disrespect the residents in the Village of Poquott through the filing of this suit,” she said.

Parrish sited a possible chilling effect that the suit could have on potential candidates in the future as a harmful precedent for the village to set.

Village resident John Hahm, unsatisfied with the outcome of the June 1 meeting submitted a letter to the Village Times Herald on June 2.

“Challenging petitions is not a political strategy, it is a demand for accountability when a person deliberately disregards the law,” Hahm said. “Two of the petitioners happen to be current board members who promised open and transparent government. Surely they could have produced their petitions before acknowledging that the challenges were detrimental to the spirit of an election.”

Robert Lifson, attorney for Parrish and her running mates said Wednesday in a phone interview he was “disappointed” by the ruling. He wouldn’t specify his clients’ plan of action going forward, but suggested an appeal was possible. Lifson also said it’s not beyond the realm of possibilities to win a village election without being on the ballot. He said he advised his clients to drop their defense prior to the ruling because the costs to fight the suit would be too great.

Olivia Santoro of the Long Island Progressive Coalition speaks beside Susan Lerner of Common Cause/NY outside state Sen. John Flanagan's office in Smithtown on Tuesday. The group advocated for the passage of legislation that would close a loophole allowing limited liability companies to funnel large sums of money to political campaigns. Photo by Phil Corso

Time is running out for the state Legislature to change the way it allows money to influence politics, and Long Island activists took to the Senate majority leader’s Smithtown office on Tuesday to make some noise.

A loophole in the state’s campaign finance laws has become a political talking point for the better part of the past year, allowing limited liability companies to contribute large sums of cash to political campaigns and committees in amounts far greater than the average corporation can. On Tuesday, groups including Common Cause/NY and Moveon.org took to state Sen. John Flanagan’s (R-East Northport) office to draw attention to legislation that was written to change that, with hopes of swaying a vote on the Senate floor before session ends June 16.

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY said her group, which investigates public officials and political contributions, found the state Senate Republican Campaign Committee was one of the largest benefactors of what has been dubbed the LLC loophole, bringing in about $5.6 million in campaign contributions from LLCs over the past 10 years — with 68 percent of which coming from the real estate industry. The Senate Housekeeping Committee also netted more than $11 million over the past 10 years in the same fashion.

Lerner argued that as long as elected leaders are receiving such lump sums of money from politically motivated groups, they will never allow for legislation to come to a full vote enacting any kind of change.

“It’s time for the Senate Republicans to stop blocking the necessary reforms,” she said. “The LLC loophole has a warping affect on public policy.”

Flanagan, who the Long Island advocates singled out on Tuesday as one of the benefactors of LLC contributions to the tune of $159,000 over the past 10 years, referred to the legislation as a “red herring that fails to fundamentally address the root cause” of the campaign finance flaws. He said the state needed to be more aggressive in beefing up money laundering laws and targeting straw donors to keep groups from contributing in the shadows.

“If we are going to achieve real campaign finance reform and target corruption, you can’t close one loophole and declare the job done. In fact, one needs to look no further than New York City for evidence of multiple campaign finance transgressions that must be addressed,” Flanagan said. “We need to take additional steps to prevent the funneling of big money through county organizations and directing where that money will be spent, which is already illegal under state law.”

Senate bill S60B has been sitting in the Senate’s Codes Committee since May 9. The bill, which state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D- Brooklyn) introduced, saw success in the Democrat-controlled Assembly in the past before previous versions died in the Senate. In the legislation, Squadron argued that the Legislature must avoid such loopholes that allow “unlimited sums of anonymous dollars to undermine the entire political process.”

Lisa Oldendorp, of Moveon.org’s Long Island chapter, said the political loophole was a threat to democracy in the United States.

“We are sick and tired of the role that money plays in campaigns,” she said. “It’s way beyond time to pass this law. We want the voice of the people to be heard.”

Alejandra Sorta, organizer of the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, which works with working class communities of color to turn the tide of anti-immigrant and anti-worker politics, said the timing was right for such legislation to pass, citing various corruption scandals sprouting up across various local and state governments, which has taken down some major political players.

“In light of persistent corruption charges, indictments and/or convictions stemming from unethical and illegal activity at the hands of some of our most powerful and influential leaders in Albany, communities of color are raising their voices and speaking out against big money in politics,” she said. “We demand concrete electoral reforms that will assure transparency and accountability at every level of government.”

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta goes over legislation to suspend the camera program. Photo by Phil Corso

The Legislature may not be behind them, but Suffolk County residents are still calling the red light camera program a money grab and a safety hazard.

People cried out in support of county Legislator Rob Trotta’s (R-Fort Salonga) bill to suspend the county’s program during a Public Safety Committee meeting on May 26, but the Suffolk legislative committee stopped it from coming to fruition. The vote was 5 to 3 against a motion to move the bill to the full county Legislature for voting after nearly 20 residents spoke up against the use of the cameras.

Stephen Ruth Jr., pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on June 3 to 17 counts of criminal mischief after allegedly tampering with 16 red light cameras at intersections along Route 25 in Coram. He also spoke at the Legislature meeting late last month.

“Red light cameras are a detriment to Suffolk County,” he said. “The risks and damages to the well-being of Suffolk County residents far outweigh the benefits. We all know now that red lights cameras are a systematic form of extortion and nothing more. … Traffic signals were manipulated for revenue and it was only made possible by Suffolk County’s reckless willingness to do anything for money.”

Stephen Ruth mugshot from SCPD
Stephen Ruth mugshot from SCPD

Residents cited statistics to try to back up their issues with the program, using a 42 percent increase in rear-end collisions in 2014 as evidence of the program’s shortcomings, and said nearly half of the locations where cameras were installed showed an increase in personal injury.

“You’re not here working for the middle class people, you’re actually hurting them,” Hector Gavilla said. “The program is not working at all. We were promised that these red light cameras would stop these incidents.”

But overall, crashes have decreased by 3.1 percent, while T-bone crashes have decreased by 21.6 percent. The data also reflects an overall decrease in crashes involved injury by 4.2 percent, based upon data from the New York State Department of Transportation’s most current data available as of December 2014.

Rachel Lugo, who has worked in highway safety for over 20 years, was the only person to speak in support of the cameras. She said that although crashes have increased, she believes it’s not because of the cameras, but as a result of more new drivers on the road, and “increasingly dangerous” issues like texting and being distracted while driving, drinking while driving and being under the influence of drugs.

“You can’t say that these crashes are increasing because of red light cameras,” she said. “What about stop signs? Let’s take them away also. Why won’t we just take away traffic lights? Red light cameras are not the problem. Teaching the motorists to change their behavior behind the wheel is where we need to start. If everyone stopped at the red lights we wouldn’t have to worry about what’s going on with fines and who is making money.”

There are statistics to back her up.

Paul Margiotta, executive director of Suffolk County’s Traffic and Parking Violations Agency, said that between 2012 and 2013, the county saw a 34,000 increase is licensed drivers, where prior to 2012 the average was trending down. He said citations for texting and driving and distracted driving doubled since 2011, which tends to cause rear-end crashes.

Legislature William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) joined Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) in voting to pass the bill.

Spencer asked to put the program under a microscope.

“We have to do something,” he said. “It’s hard for me to discount the public outcry. There’s a lot of smoke here. I want to make sure I’m doing my oversight job to make sure I have looked at this with a very detailed eyed.”

A county report says Indian Head Road and Jericho Turnpike in Commack saw crashes increase since a red light camera was installed in 2014. Photo by Phil Corso
A county report says Indian Head Road and Jericho Turnpike in Commack saw crashes increase since a red light camera was installed in 2014. Photo by Phil Corso

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) agreed, although she stated that there was always an expectation that there would be an increase in rear-end crashes.

“Many things we deal with here are not black and white,” she said. “The policy decision was to institute an enforcement mechanism that will decrease the right-angle crashes which cause the more serious injuries and death, with the chance of and the expectation that there will be some uptick in rear-end crashes.”

She said she would like to see a report done on the intersections where there were a large number of rear-end crashes, to see if a majority of them were a result of the cameras, or other things like texting and driving.

According to William Hillman, Suffolk’s chief engineer, that investigation is ongoing. The county is in the process of reviewing crash data at the 42 intersections it controls. The state controls the other 58 intersections with cameras.

“These intersections where there’s been that high uptick, all-due haste is needed in reviewing what is going on so that we have a real answer,” Hahn said. “There’s a huge increase in crashes just in general because of distracted driving. This is happening more and more and red light cameras are not going to stop that. What red light cameras were designed to do was for the folks who were choosing to put their foot on the gas when the light turns yellow, to rethink that. They will actually stop at a red light, and that will save lives when people know that there could be consequences for running a red light. And that probably already has, because we’ve seen a decrease in T-bone crashes, which are more serious and life-threatening, and that is the purpose of the program.”

Bruce Miller is running for re-election. Photo by Elana Glowatz

By Elana Glowatz

Two village trustees are unopposed for re-election this month, each with his own goals for improving Port Jefferson.

Bruce D’Abramo and Bruce Miller are seeking a fourth term and a second term on the village board of trustees, respectively.

Bruce Miller is running for re-election. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Bruce Miller is running for re-election. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Miller wants to keep up his work to get the Port Jefferson power plant upgraded, known as repowering. The aging power plant runs on outdated technology and many residents and officials fear the loss of its significant property tax revenue if it were to shut down without being rebuilt.

“It’s something that I’ve been doing for about 20 years,” he explained, between his work on the Port Jefferson school board and with the local group Grassroots Committee to Repower Port Jefferson. “I want to try to see this thing through. I think it’s very important to the community. I have other interests but I have I think significant expertise in this area and think that I can benefit the people of the village.”

Miller is also interested in environmental issues, and said he has been working with the village’s conservation committee on making the village more energy-efficient and on strengthening the power grid in Port Jefferson to better withstand storms. He is helping put together a proposal to receive grant funding for a microgrid, which would be independent of the regional grid and rely on its own power-generating resources — and thus keep the community, which includes two hospitals, going during power outages.

For those who may vote for him, Miller said he strives to “keep in mind [the idea of] a small maritime New England village.”

Bruce D’Abramo is running for re-election. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Bruce D’Abramo is running for re-election. Photo by Elana Glowatz

The other candidate, D’Abramo, is running for two more years because “I love what I’m doing in Port Jefferson and I love the difference that we’re making.”

He said his top priority in the past and in a new term is to “turn uptown port Jefferson around into a community that we can all be proud of.”

One thing he is particularly proud of accomplishing in his third term, however, is in the downtown area: the beautification of Old Mill Creek.

The polluted creek winds through the west side of lower Port, including under Barnum Avenue and behind Village Hall, before flowing into the harbor. In addition to being contaminated by chemicals that had been dumped at an industrial site in Port Jefferson Station and had traveled through the groundwater, it was plagued by invasive plant species. But in the last year, the village put a plan into action to clean up the creek, improve its flow and remove the invasive species and replace them with native ones.

Another project he is proud of is using money left over in last year’s budget to pave additional streets in the part of the village referred to as the “poets section,” which includes Emerson Street, Longfellow Lane, Hawthorne Street and others.

“Every time we can put some money into the infrastructure, we’re doing something that’s going to last for a while; that’s going to make a difference,” D’Abramo said.

To the voters going to the polls later this month, the trustee said, “If they’re interested in seeing upper Port Jefferson change, then consider voting for me.”

Voting is at the Port Jefferson Village Center on June 21, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. There is also a village judge seat on the ballot, to complete the three years remaining on the term of Justice Peter Graham, who died in office in October, a few months after being re-elected. Graham, who was known for his colorful personality, had served the village for more than 30 years.

Bill Glass was appointed to replace him in the interim, and the lawyer is running for election to stay in that role. He faces challenges from Tara Higgins and Scott Zamek.

File photo by Elana Glowatz

Both sides of a disagreement over public records have dug in their heels, insisting over the last few days that the fault lies with the other.

Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant originally expressed regret over a report from nonprofit group Reclaim New York — which focuses on government transparency and finances, employment and the economy — that said both her village and the Commack School District had failed to properly respond to requests for public records through the state’s Freedom of Information Law. But shortly afterward, her office sent a letter to TBR News Media responding to Reclaim New York’s claim that its appeals for spending information were ignored, saying, “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The Reclaim New York office has since confirmed receiving more than 1,200 pages of documents on Tuesday morning from the village, fulfilling that public information request.

New York State’s Freedom of Information Law requires governments and school districts to respond to records requests, commonly known as FOIL requests, within five business days, whether with the information requested, a denial or an acknowledgement of the request that includes an estimated date when one of the former two will occur. Denials can be appealed, and agencies are not allowed to deny a request “on the basis that the request is voluminous or that locating or reviewing the requested records or providing the requested copies is burdensome because the agency lacks sufficient staffing.”

As part of a project it dubbed the New York Transparency Project, Reclaim New York sent 253 Freedom of Information requests to school districts and municipalities on Long Island. It reported on its findings, saying that while many entities complied with state guidelines on processing such public records requests, on Suffolk County’s North Shore both Port Jefferson Village and the Commack district did not.

Entities that it said complied included Suffolk County; Brookhaven, Smithtown and Huntington towns; Belle Terre and Lake Grove villages; and the Port Jefferson, Kings Park, Huntington, Smithtown, Mount Sinai, Miller Place and Rocky Point school districts, among others.

Reclaim New York spokesperson Doug Kellogg also said Commack denied part of the FOIL request, “making big chunks essentially useless,” and that Port Jefferson Village at first was “underprepared” to properly respond to its request for 2014 information on vendors, including what the village made purchase orders for and who it made checks out to.

“Port Jeff never worked with us from there, they just ignored the appeals and our phone calls,” Kellogg wrote in an email last week.

Village Clerk Bob Juliano challenged that claim last week, noting that the same day his office received the FOIL request via email, on March 7, he acknowledged receipt. He said the treasurer was working on compiling the information, estimating it would be done by the end of May.

Commack School District spokesperson Brenda Lentsch also responded on May 20 saying that the district answered a first FOIL request, then received a second that required private information be redacted and would have come at a cost of $0.25 per page, which the district communicated to Reclaim New York.

Garant’s initial email response to the TBR News Media story was that she was “beyond disappointed” that she did not know about the FOIL request to the village.

“I would have made sure the clerk provided everything necessary in order to prevent such a bad blemish on the integrity of my administration to be pronounced in my own local paper,” she said. “I have now demanded that the clerk and the treasurer work nonstop to provide the necessary documents ASAP.”

She followed up with a letter that called Reclaim New York’s request “a blatant transparency test” that asked for extensive information: “Several village employees have had to spend significant time away from their duties serving the village in order to gather these records. So far, approximately 4,500 pages of documents have been identified and are in electronic format and the work goes on.”

The mayor said Treasurer Dave Smollett worked with the nonprofit on two occasions “to help them tailor a more focused request which would better meet their needs,” but the group “never attempted to work with the treasurer to fine-tune the request” or followed up to check its status.

“Is our village to be punished because it strives to provide comprehensive responses to records requests?” she wrote in her letter. “Would it have been better to provide a quicker response with fewer records and missing documents just to be able to say we responded?”

Reclaim New York noted an appeal email sent to the mayor’s office on April 11 that said the group had not heard back on its FOIL request, and Executive Director Brandon Muir challenged the mayor’s contention that his group attacked the village in a statement this week.

“Reclaim New York’s Transparency Project treats every municipality the same,” he said. “It’s designed to create more open government for the people of our state.”

He said he hoped the village would work with Reclaim New York to provide the spending information it requested.

“People deserve to see how their local government spends their money,” Muir said. “It’s an important step toward holding officials accountable, and giving people more confidence in government. We don’t see how anyone could argue with that.”

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