Times of Smithtown

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A historic look at Smithtown’s first LIRR trestle. Photo from the Smithtown Historical Society

By Marianne Howard

It wasn’t until the arrival of the Long Island Rail Road and a few transportation innovations that Smithtown began to flourish as a place to live.

Prior to the LIRR arriving in 1872, Smithtown was solely connected to New York City through the Long Island Sound transport and dirt roadways. With the railroad, travelers from New York City were free to access areas like St. James and Kings Park as day trips, which previously would have never been considered.

As more and more people began coming into town, economic and business development around town boomed. Local farmers could now load wagons full of produce onto flatbed railroad cars headed for New York City. Travelers who initially came east for fresh air eventually concluded that there were residential possibilities in Smithtown and settled into the area.  However, the horse and buggy was the most accessible way to travel on the area’s dirt roads.

Old Hauppauge Road in 1910. Photo from the Smithtown Historical Society

Country sleighing was a favored pastime by early residents, according to “Images of America: Smithtown” written by Bradley Harris, Kiernan Lannon and Joshua Ruff. The book cites Alma Blydenbyrgh’s 1833 diary entry for Jan. 17 , in which she wrote, “Mr. Floyd been to the river and took Em and myself for a sleigh ride. Good sleighing!”

Getting to and from Smithtown remained difficult for years to come. The main obstacle to Smithtown’s connection to the northern spur of the LIRR was the Nissequogue River. To accomplish fully connecting the LIRR, engineers crafted a trestle to span the river valley, the largest iron structure of its kind on Long Island. When completed, it stood over 50 feet high and spanned a distance of 490 feet.

In the 1890s, bicycles first became a popular fad in the area. Bicyclists were urging the town and the county to construct dedicated bicycle paths to improve riders’ safety. Millionare Richard Handley personally funded a bike path from his estate in Hauppauge out to Smithtown. Eventually, Suffolk County constructed a path along Jericho Turnpike. 

Bicycling quickly became a nuisance to town officials. In 1911, Smithtown’s town board issued a motion banning bicyclists from riding on town sidewalks. Any rider caught violating the order could be fined up to $5.

Thirty years after the railroad came to town, automobiles began appearing. By the 1920s, the automobile was replacing the horse and buggy. Town officials were eventually forced to pave the roadways, and by the 1930s, the town was primed for a boom in both population and land development.

Marianne Howard is the executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society. For more information on the society, its events or programs or on becoming a member, visit www.smithtownhistorical.org or call 631-265-6768.

Smithtown United Civic Association published the above master plan aimed at revitalizing Main Street and the downtown area on its Facebook page Oct. 6. Photo from Smithtown United Civic Association

A small group of Smithtown citizens have come together to draft and present a plan they hope may lead to big changes for Main Street.

The Smithtown United Civic Association unveiled a detailed conceptual plan for downtown revitalization Oct. 6 on its Facebook page. The group is asking residents to review the proposal and provide feedback via social media before they present it to town officials.

Timothy Small, president of Smithtown United, said the organization’s goal is to give local residents a voice in the future of their town. It was formed when Smithtown residents came together earlier this year after two events: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) allocated $20 million for sewers in Smithtown and the proposed sale of Smithtown school district administration headquarters on New York Avenue to the town for a sewer treatment plant to support a condominium development. Small said the two events set in motion real opportunity for revitalization of the town.

“If you look at the downtown areas of Smithtown, Kings Park and St. James, they are tired looking,” he said. “There’s a lot of vacant shops and properties. We live in a wonderful town. The schools are wonderful, we love our homes, but it’s our downtown business districts that are deeply suffering.”

Small, a retired engineer who held an executive position at a utility company, said for approximately six months the group assessed the community needs and drew inspiration from surrounding towns including Huntington, Patchogue, Sayville, Bay Shore, Farmingdale and Babylon for changes they’d like to see in Smithtown.

Smithtown United’s plan for the western downtown area focuses on several key points including consolidation of the town offices into the New York Avenue school building and retaining the sports field behind it for public use.

“It’s the last green space that remains in all of downtown,” Small said. “I would consider that an anchor for the western edge of redevelopment. It would be tragic to see that property lost to dense development.”

The civic supports the town’s acquisition of the property in exchange for selling off its other buildings scattered across the business district, but discussions of the deal have been tabled by the Smithtown school officials. The plan also proposes several existing downtown storefronts be made into two-story, mixed-use buildings with retail on the first floor and apartments above. These housing options, according to Small, would be attractive to young adults and senior citizens. Behind the existing New York Avenue school district property, the plan calls for construction of a new sports and community center.

“We need a place for our kids to go in the evening,” Small said. “There needs to be a community space for our residents and young adults.”

The conceptual design also calls for several changes to Smithtown’s existing roadways, including a rotary at the intersection of Main Street and New York Avenue and rerouting Edgewater Avenue to run parallel to Main Street. This would cause Edgewater Avenue to empty onto Maple Avenue, and there would be a new set of village townhouses built on the southwest corner of the new intersection.

To further increase available housing, the proposed plan suggests the construction of three-story, transit-oriented housing near the Long Island Rail Road train station and municipal parking lots.

Initial feedback on the plan from residents on the civic’s Facebook page has been a mix of positive and negative, along with offers to help refine it. Supporters have praised the organization for taking action, while critics expressed traffic concerns.

“Main Street is already undersized for what it is used for,” said John McCormick, 29, of Smithtown. “[The] parking does not look to be sufficient for customers of the first-floor shops and people renting out upstairs apartments.”

McCormick, a young homeowner, feared adding townhouses and apartments would change the character of the local community and the plan’s possible impact on the school district.

Smithtown resident Michael Tarquinio, 20, said the plan was a step in the right direction but needed to be more innovative.

“They need to stop thinking with a Robert Moses mind-set,” Tarquinio said, who is studying environmental science at the University of Maine. “I’m all for it, but you can’t wipe out your heritage and start fresh. You need to know where you came from to know where you are going.”

He said he believes successful downtown revitalization will require the civic to work with town, county and state officials to improve roadways and mass transportation options to reduce traffic.

Small said he agreed the proposed overhaul of both the business and residential space in downtown Smithtown required cooperation at several levels of government. It would only be possible if sewers can be brought to the downtown area.

“Anyone who is going to invest money into redevelopment won’t unless there is adequate sanitary sewer conditions,” Small said. “It’s essential.”

The civic group has tentative plans to present its proposal to Smithtown officials at the Oct. 26 town board meeting at 7 p.m. at town hall.

Commack sophomore Christian Berbert has appealed to Section XI to be allowed to compete on the girls varsity gymnastics team this season. Photo from the Berbert family

As young as 7, Christian Berbert knew what he wanted to do with his life. After his parents set up a trampoline in the backyard, Christian wasted no time in putting it to good use. The natural-born athlete approached the trampoline less as a fun accessory and more as a mini training facility.

“He was like a dolphin to water,” Wayne Berbert said of his son’s first foray into gymnastics. “He just started jumping and flipping within days of having it. This has always been his sport — nothing compares to this.”

But Christian, a Commack High School sophomore and member of Artistic Gymnastics in Hauppauge, is now being forced to defend his dream in front of a panel of county officials.

Christian, 15, has been repeatedly denied the opportunity to join the high school’s girls varsity gymnastics team this season despite three appeals before Section XI, the governing body of athletics in Suffolk County, since the start of the 2017 school year. Because there aren’t any varsity boys gymnastics team in New York State, competing with the girls is Christian’s only shot to pursue his passion in a school setting.

The sophomore has the overwhelming support from members of the girls gymnastics team, his school’s adminstrator and athletic director.

“We will continue to advocate to provide an opportunity for this young man to compete alongside the girls as we feel it would be in the best interests of our student to participate on the Commack team,” read a statement on the school district’s home page Oct. 10, the day of the most recent appeal.

However, the Section XI panel, headed by Executive Director Thomas Combs, has blocked each request, saying Christian carries too much of a competitive advantage over the girls because he actively trains as a gymnast. There is also a concern among the board that his placement on the team will take a spot away from a girl.

But their arguments don’t hold water, according to Christian’s parents, who have appeared in his defense during the appeals process. Berbert said it’s unfair to claim his son has a competitive advantage since he’s never actually competed against the girls “so there’s no way to determine that.”

He also added that just because Christian’s a boy, it’s wrong to assume he is physically stronger than the girls.

“In gymnastics, strength is not really a determining factor,” Berbert said. “And the girls team doesn’t cut anybody from the team so everyone would be able to participate.”

“It’s deplorable how people in public education can do this to a child,” Christian’s father said. “They should be doing everything in their power to include kids, not exclude them. He’s being told ‘you can’t do the thing you love to do’ and for a 15-year-old kid, that’s tough.”

Christian’s mother, Karen Berbert, said while she agrees with the notion that girls should have equal opportunities, “you can’t diminish the boys and take away from them.”

“The same thing that the board is arguing, that the girls should have every opportunity, and they should, but so should the boys,” said his mother, who fears her son’s inability to compete in high school could affect his chances at receiving scholarships for college. “He wants to be part of the school. He wants to be involved. Gymnastics is his right arm.”

In September, the girls on the team wrote personal letters to Section XI members in support of Christian’s appeal to compete.

Alexandra Lewis, a sophomore gymnast, said the team “will develop more teamwork, school spirit, and positivity by having [him].” Sophomore Stella Rentzeperis wrote it was unfair to deny Christian a chance to compete because “our gymnastics program does not say girls or boys … both genders are allowed.”

Lilli Ferro, a sophomore on the team, said Christian comes to every practice and meet.

“We all really like him and he really wants to be on the team,” Lilli said. “I don’t believe it would hurt us if he was on the team. He would help us.”

Christian’s situation coincides with that of Liam Summers, a 15-year-old sophomore and gymnast at Connetquot High School, who is currently being denied to join his school’s girls team by
Section XI. He was able to be on the team last season because he had never competed in school or in a private club. Now, with more experience, he’s looked at as having a competitive advantage.

Christian, who trains four days a week and three hours each day, said the Section XI board is not
doing the right thing.

“What they’re doing to me and all the other kids trying to do what I’m trying to do is all wrong and completely unfair,” Christian said. “I think I can do real well on the team and give them support and help and just make the team stronger and better. But they don’t see that and, instead, think I’m going to ruin the girls’ chances. They’re completely

Alex Bertolini and Michael Locissano star in SPAC’s Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast JR’.
A tale as old as time opens at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts

By Heidi Sutton

The French fairy tale, “Beauty and the Beast,” was written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740 and then revised and popularized by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1756. Translated into many different languages over the years, it has become a tale as old as time. Most children, however, are familiar with the Disney film versions — the 1991 award-winning animated musical and the live-action musical starring Emma Watson released earlier this year.

Now the beloved fairy tale comes to life on the grand stage of the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts as Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast JR” and does not disappoint.

Gaston (Zak Ketcham) and his admirers

Expecting a shortened version of the story to appease the young children in the audience, many who came dressed as Belle, imagine my surprise and certainly others in the theater when the curtain goes up last Saturday afternoon and for the next 2 hours and 20 minutes, the audience is transported to a small provincial town in France in what feels like a full-blown Broadway production with an amazing set, incredible costumes, wonderful singing, stupendous dancing and terrific acting — all followed by a well-deserved standing ovation.

If that isn’t enough, you’ll get to experience all the wonderful songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman again including “Belle,” “Gaston,” “Be Our Guest,” “The Mob Song,” and everyone’s favorite, “Beauty and the Beast” sung by Mrs. Potts.

The classic story of love and sacrifice, a girl by the name of Belle searches to find her place among the townspeople in her village, all while dodging the advances of a self-loving brute named Gaston. When her father is taken prisoner by a monstrous beast in an enchanted castle, Belle chooses to take his place. The Beast is really a young selfish prince who is cursed to live forever as a hideous creature unless he can learn to love and in return find someone who will love him before all the petals on an enchanted rose wither. But time is running out. If the Beast does not learn his lesson soon, he and his staff will be doomed for all eternity. Will Belle be the one to break the spell?

Jordan Hue skillfully directs a cast of 33 talented teens, who all seem to be having the time of their life. Alex Bertolini is perfectly cast as the beautiful Belle. With her sweet voice and mannerisms, she instantly steals the audience’s hearts. Michael Locissano gives a magnificent performance as the Beast, switching effortlessly from losing his temper to a sad and broken man. Zak Ketcham takes the juicy role of the arrogant Gaston, pompadour and all, and runs with it; and Kyle Westgate-Addessi, as Gaston’s dim-witted sidekick, Lefou, is equally impressive.

Lumiere (Luke Ferrari) and Babette (Brooke Miranda)

Although the entire supporting cast is superb, special mention should be made of the castle staff (humans who have been magically transformed into household objects under the curse) — the enchanted candelabra Lumiere (Luke Ferrari), Cogsworth the talking clock (Logan O’Leary), Mrs. Potts the teapot (Aubrey Alvino), Babette the feather duster (Brooke Miranda) and Mme. De La Grand Bouche the wardrobe (Nikki Sponaugle). And last, but certainly not least, the sweet and adorable teacup Chip (played by Raquel Sciacca during last Saturday’s performance).

Costumes by Ronald Green III are rich and colorful and look as if they stepped straight out of the Disney film, especially during “Be Our Guest,” where the stage is consumed with dancing flatware, napkins, plates and a floor rug. The Beast’s costume has both the royal appearance of a prince and the ragged edges of a cursed monster, and Belle’s dinner gown in signature yellow is breathtaking. However, without giving too much away, it is the castle staff costumes that take it over the top. M.E. Jung’s choreography, highlighted during the musical numbers “Gaston” and “Be Our Guest,” pulls it all together brilliantly.

Light-up roses may be purchased before the show and children can meet Belle and the Prince in the lobby after the show for photos. Costumes are encouraged and booster seats are available.

The main cast of Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast JR’

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown will present Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast JR” through Oct. 29. All seats are $15. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

All photos by Courtney Braun

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Kings Park girls soccer team upperclassmen celebrate senior day with their families. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Kings Park was spreading the wealth on senior night — something that especially pleased senior Jessica Hoyt.

Senior Jessica Hoyt powers past a defender. Photo by Bill Landon

“I’ve been playing with these girls since the seventh grade and not all the seniors play that much,” she said. “So it was great to see them get playing time and a bunch of them scored, who usually don’t, so it was just a really nice day.”

Four girls, two seniors, found the back of the net in the Kingsmens’ 5-0 shutout of East Hampton Oct. 16. The win was especially sweet for those upperclassmen playing in their last home game of the regular season.

“To win on senior night was amazing — I don’t get a lot of playing time, but to win tonight, our season just got even better,” senior defender Zoe Dougherty said.

The game against Hampton Bays though was not what she or any of her teammates expected. Even though the Bonackers are 0-13 on the season, they brought their A game.

“They were not what I expected,” Dougherty said. “Being in last place without a win they pressed us in the first half, holding us to just one goal.”

Kings Park scored in the 28th minute, when Hoyt drilled a Sam Hogan cross pass into the netting to break the ice.

Senior Mary Tuorto heads the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

Hogan, a junior, beat out a defender for an open look at the goal two minutes into the second have, and sent her shot into the upper left corner. She scored a solo shot later in the half for a 3-0 advantage.

“We played them once before, so we knew they’d be tough — they don’t ever give up; they swarm to the ball and they play really hard,” Kings Park head coach Bryan LoPalo said. “They played better than their record indicates. [This is] an extremely tough league.”

With senior bench players swapped in for starters, junior Amelia Galdorisi and senior Mary Tuorto also found their way to the scoreboard. Kings Park ends the regular season at 11-3-2 overall with an 11-2-1 mark in League V. The girls soccer playoffs begin with outbracket games Saturday Oct. 21. The first round starts Tuesday Oct. 23.

“That was unexpected, [it was] a little different game they played, but absolutely they challenged us,” Tuorto said comparing the two matchups between the teams. “I was shocked at how our seniors came together. We don’t normally all play together on the field. Tonight it was so important to win this game.”

Stony Brook resident Rocco Pesola has been reported missing after leaving a family member's house in St. James Oct. 15. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department
UPDATE: Rocco Pesola has been found unharmed
The original Silver Alert issued for Rocco Pesola:
The Suffolk County Police Department has issued a Silver Alert for a missing Stony Brook man who suffers from dementia.
Rocco Pesola, 89, of 39 Knolls Drive, was last seen leaving a family member’s home in St. James to return to his residence Oct. 15 at approximately 1 p.m. Pesola is white, 5 feet, 9 inches tall, approximately 180 pounds with brown eyes, an olive complexion and white hair. He was driving a 2015 Nissan Rogue with New York license plate BVY 6910. He was wearing a blue vest over a flannel shirt with khaki pants and sneakers.
Detectives are asking anyone with information on Pesola’s location to call 911 or the sixth squad at 631-854-8652.
 

Students take samples from Nissequogue River to analyze. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Hundreds of students from Smithtown to Northport got wet and dirty as they looked at what lurks beneath the surface of the Nissequogue River.

More than 400 students from 11 schools participated in “A Day in the Life” of the Nissequogue River Oct. 6, performing hands-on citizens scientific research and exploring the waterway’s health and ecosystem. The event was coordinated by Brookhaven National Laboratory, Central Pine Barrens Commission, Suffolk County Water Authority and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Northport High School students analyze soil taken from the bottom of Nissequogue River. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“’A Day in the Life’ helps students develop an appreciation for and knowledge of Long Island’s ecosystems and collect useful scientific data,” program coordinator Melissa Parrott said. “It connects students to their natural world to become stewards of water quality and Long Island’s diverse ecosystems.”

More than 50 students from Northport High School chemically analyzed the water conditions, marked tidal flow, and tracked aquatic species found near the headwaters of the Nissequogue in Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown. Teens were excited to find and record various species of tadpoles and fish found using seine net, a fishing net that hangs vertically and is weighted to drag along the riverbed.

“It’s an outdoor educational setting that puts forth a tangible opportunity for students to experience science firsthand,” David Storch, chairman of science and technology education at Northport High School, said. “Here they learn how to sample, how to classify, how to organize, and how to develop experimental procedures in an open, inquiry-based environment. It’s the best education we can hope for.”

Kimberly Collins, co-director of the science research program at Northport High School, taught students how to use Oreo cookies and honey to bait ants for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Barcode Long Island. The project invites students to capture invertebrates, learn how to extract the insects’ DNA then have it sequenced to document and map diversity of different species.

Children from Harbor Country Day School examine a water sample. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Further down river, Harbor Country Day School students explored the riverbed at Landing Avenue Park in Smithtown. Science teacher Kevin Hughes said the day was one of discovery for his fourth- to eighth-grade students.

“It’s all about letting them see and experience the Nissequogue River,” Hughes said. “At first, they’ll be a little hesitant to get their hands dirty, but by the end you’ll see they are completely engrossed and rolling around in it.”

The middle schoolers worked with Eric Young, program director at Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown, to analyze water samples. All the data collected will be used in the classroom to teach students about topics such as salinity and water pollution. Then, it will be sent to BNL as part of a citizens’ research project, measuring the river’s health and water ecosystems.

Smithtown East seniors Aaron Min and Shrey Thaker have participated in this annual scientific study of the Nissequogue River at Short Beach in Smithtown for last three years. Carrying cameras around their necks, they photographed and documented their classmates findings.

“We see a lot of changes from year to year, from different types of animals and critters we get to see, or wildlife and plants,” Thaker said. “It’s really interesting to see how it changes over time and see what stays consistent over time as well. It’s also exciting to see our peers really get into it.”

Maria Zeitlin, a science research and college chemistry teacher at Smithtown High School East, divided students into four groups to test water oxygenation levels, document aquatic life forms, measure air temperature and wind speed, and compile an extensive physical description of wildlife and plants in the area.

Smithtown High School East students take a water and soil sample at Short Beach. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The collected data will be brought back to the classroom and compared against previous years.

In this way, Zeitlin said the hands-on study of Nissequogue River serves as a lesson in live data collection. Students must learn to repeat procedures multiple times and use various scientific instruments to support their findings.

“Troubleshooting data collection is vital as a scientist that they can take into any area,” she said. “Data has to be reliable. So when someone says there’s climate change, someone can’t turn around and say it’s not true.”

The Smithtown East teacher highlighted that while scientific research can be conducted anywhere, there’s a second life lesson she hopes that her students and all others will take away  from their studies of the Nissequogue River.

“This site is their backyard; they live here,” Zeitlin said. “Instead of just coming to the beach, from this point forward they will never see the beach the same again. It’s not just a recreational site, but its teeming with life and science.”

Smithtown Library officials renamed the playground at the Kings Park branch after Otis Thornhill, who died in December 2016. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

The work of a former Smithtown Library trustee will forever be remembered by the laughter of children playing.

The Smithtown Library rededicated the playground outside its Kings Park branch Oct. 7 to the late Otis Thornhill. A former library trustee he also served as president of The Friends of the Smithtown
Library for seven years.

“He saw the value of the library and the need for us to continue to improve the buildings; he worked tirelessly toward that end,” Anthony Monteleone, representing The Friends of the Smithtown Library, said. “Otis was a true person of the community. It’s people like him that make Smithtown what it is today.”

Thornhill and his family first moved to Commack in 2001. That same year the library playground was constructed as a joint effort between Kings Park Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Smithtown, according to chamber president Tony Tanzi, in an attempt to draw residents to spend more time in the downtown area and shops.

“Come down here any day in the summer and you’ll see just that,” Tanzi said. “Moms and dads, and their kids, sitting downtown in Kings Park. That’s what it is all about.”

Smithtown Library officials renamed the playground at the Kings Park branch after Otis Thornhill, who died in December 2016. Photo from Facebook

In 2011, Thornhill was encouraged to run for a library trustee seat by Monteleone. He served until his death in December 2016.

“As a library trustee, he offered his support and guidance to make sure the library served the reading and educational needs of this community,” Robert Lusak, library director, said. “If I could say it to him, I would say I sorely, sorely miss the safe advice and guidance he provided to me as the director of The Smithtown Library. I will miss him very much.”

Thornhill and his wife, Elaine, were familiar faces around the community as they often worked together to sell 50/50 raffle tickets to raise funds for The Friends of the Smithtown Library during the summer concerts.

In addition to his service to the library, Smithtown Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) remembered Thornhill as a member of the Rotary Club of Smithtown Sunrise, which regularly meets at the Millennium Diner in Smithtown. Wehrheim said his fellow Rotarian focused his efforts on his community, improving education and veterans. Thornhill served in the U.S. military reserves.

“I know that Otis is here looking down on us, looking down at his playground and his sign, and seeing those three things — education, veterans representation and a wonderful playground for the community,” Wehrheim said.

Dawn Bent, owner of Signarama in Huntington Station, made a memorial sign declaring the playground as The Otis M. Thornhill Memorial Playground. The sign also bears the names of those individuals and business who gave donations to offset the sign’s cost.

Eric Thornhill, Otis’ son, spoke on behalf of the family who said they were deeply touched by the tribute.

“It was a comfort to [Otis] to have this connection to you as he was progressing through his life,” he said of his father. “It meant everything. It kept him strong to the very end, and that meant everything to him. We are so appreciative that you also thought something of him.”

New York voters will decide whether or not to open up the New York Constitution on Election Day. Stock image

By Donna Newman

As amended in 1846, the New York State Constitution includes a mandatory requirement that every 20 years state voters be offered the opportunity via a ballot proposal to convene a constitutional convention — called “Con Con” by those familiar with state politics — to review and revise the existing document. If a majority votes “yes,” delegates are elected to serve at a convention held in Albany.

A recent meeting of the Three Village Civic Association was devoted to informing the public about the proposal to be presented to New York State voters on Election Day with the debate titled “Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?”

Two guest speakers were invited to present opposing views of Proposal 1, the first of three proposals that will appear on the reverse side of the ballot listing the candidates for office Nov. 7. The civic association’s Vice President George Hoffman moderated the debate at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket.

The ballot question was last posed in 1997, when a majority of those voting said “no.” The last Con Con was held in 1967 and the voters later rejected all of the proposed changes. If a majority votes “yes” this time around, three delegates from each state senatorial district and 15 at-large statewide delegates will be elected in November 2018, according to the State Board of Elections website, www.elections.ny.gov.

“The delegates will convene at the Capitol in April 2019,” according to the website. “Amendments adopted by a majority of the delegates will be submitted to the voters for approval or rejection in a statewide referendum to be held at least six weeks after the Convention adjourns. The delegates will determine whether to submit proposed amendments as separate questions. Any amendments that the voters approve will go into effect on the January 1 following their approval.”

Anyone may run to be a delegate.

Anthony Figliola, vice president of Empire Government Strategies of Uniondale, a governmental consulting firm representing a variety of clients seeking liaisons in Albany, New York City or local municipalities, recommended a No vote.

Figliola’s primary argument is that a constitutional convention is an extremely expensive and risky way to affect change, especially when the document itself provides an alternative.

Anthony Figliola and Al Benninghoff participate in a debate about the constitutional convention at a recent Three Village Civic Association meeting. Photo from Jonathan Kornreich

“The referendum process has been more successful as compared to Con Con,” he said. “There have been 600 amendments passed by the voters in our history. This year there will be a question on the ballot as to whether pensions should be taken away from any state legislator convicted of a felony. In 2013 there were six constitutional amendments proposed. Five of them were approved. The good government groups are coming from a good place. They are [working] to enact change and they are trying to move the legislature and get the public at large involved in the process.”

He also spoke about the last Con Con, held in 1967, calling it “an utter failure.”

“Of the delegates elected 80 percent were politically connected,” he said. “And 45 percent were either sitting [or retired] elected officials … collecting — or in the pension system. This allowed them to take two salaries, as there is no prohibition against it in the constitution. In addition to doubling their income, pension credits accrued by doing this raised their pension payouts.”

In the end, all of the proposed amendments to the constitution were submitted for voter approval in one package — which the voters rejected.

Al Benninghoff is a campaign manager for the Committee for a Constitutional Convention and also with New York People’s Convention. A longtime political strategist and reform advocate, he recommended a Yes vote.

Benninghoff’s case can be summed up in two words: It’s time.

The last time a Con Con question was proposed to voters in 1997, the New York City Bar Association called for a “no” vote and suggested: “Let’s give the legislature a chance to reform itself. We gave it 20 years and nothing has happened,” he said.

“Frankly, enough is enough,” Benninghoff said. “The legislature holds all the power. If the legislature doesn’t want to find it within itself to give us the opportunity to vote on an amendment to the constitution, then they can absolutely withhold it. And they have done that a lot.”

He went on to list things he believes should have already been addressed.

“There have been no ethics reforms; independent redistricting in name only, not in actuality; no term limits; and no campaign finance reform,” he said. “There’s still a tremendous loophole with LLCs [limited liability companies]. If a person running for state legislative office wants to take campaign donations from an infinite number of LLCs created by one person, or one company, they can do so. That’s a campaign finance loophole big enough to drive a truck through. What it does is empower the political status quo. It takes all the power away from the people — and that is exactly what a New York State Constitutional Convention changes.”

In New York State history there have been nine constitutional conventions. The longest gap between conventions has been since the last one in 1967. It’s been 50 years. The last one did not produce any changes, arguably because all the proposals were lumped together in a single vote.

As moderator of this informational session and the Q&A period that followed it, Hoffman remained clearly impartial. But in supplying additional data after the event he said he formed an opinion.

“I take the question to hold a constitutional convention very seriously and I am leaning to supporting it,” Hoffman said. “I see it as a solemn responsibility to periodically review our state constitution. I think it’s clear to most that many things need to change in Albany and a constitutional convention might be the only way to bring that change. I would seriously consider running for delegate if the constitutional convention is approved.”

For more information on the New York State Constitutional Convention, visit www.rockinst.org/nys_concon2017.

The Smithtown Library’s approved 2018 budget made by Director Robert Lusak has funds for building upgrades. File photo

By Sara-Megan Walsh

The Smithtown Library patrons have given their seal of approval to the proposed 2018 plans of library officials while electing a new face to the board.

Voters approved the $14.6 million 2018 Smithtown Library budget, by 798-241 votes, in the Oct. 10 election. Board trustees Louis Frontario and William Zimmerman were re-elected, but newcomer Brianna Baker-Stines edged out incumbent Rudy Zientarksi to take a seat.

“The Smithtown Library thanks the residents of Smithtown who came out in support of their library and we look forward to continuing to serve the reading, informational, cultural and entertainment needs of the community,” Robert Lusak, library director, said.

New trustee Baker-Stines, of Smithtown, works as an accounting assistant and has a master’s degree in business from Stony Brook University, according to her candidate profile on the library’s website. She previously worked as a reference clerk for the Hauppauge Public Library from 2012 to 2017.

Prior to being elected, Baker-Stines stated her goals were to promote and maintain the brand of the library, increase residents’ usage of the library and improve funding through advocacy.

Smithtown Library Director Robert Lusak. File photo from Dave Berner

“Libraries are currently changing in their meaning to communities,” she wrote in her candidate profile. “Instead of just being houses full of books, they are places to meet people and create things.”

The library’s 2018 budget has funding set aside to increase the number of hours at its four branches, increase programming, and maintain and improve its current facilities, according to Lusak.

More than $10.7 million of the library’s annual budget is set aside to cover employees’ salaries and benefits, with the approved budget containing a $150,000 increase over 2017.

Additional staffing will be required next year if a new pilot program offering extended hours on Friday nights continues to be successful, according to Lusak. Since Labor Day, the Smithtown branch has stayed open an additional three hours on Fridays, pushing back its closing time from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m.

Based on patrons’ response, Lusak said he is leaning toward making a recommendation to library board trustees that all the other three branches — Commack, Kings Park and Nesconset — should stay open Friday nights starting in 2018.

The approved budget includes an additional $68,000 funding increase, for a total of $344,000, toward equipment and capital outlays. The funds will go toward ensuring updated computers and technological equipment is available at the library, according to treasurer Joanne Grove.

To better serve guests, Lusak said the 2018 budget contains funds for upgraded lighting and improved parking at the library’s four branches. The district also hopes to purchase a new generator as part of its emergency response plan.

The 2018 budget will result in a $6.40 increase, or $313.47 per year, for a homeowner with an assessed property value of $5,500. Residents looking to calculate library taxes on their home should divide their assessed value by $1,000, take the resulting number and multiply it by 56.994. Further video instructions can be found on the library district’s website at www.smithlib.org.

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