Times of Smithtown

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A Chicane, or S-shaped traffic calming measure, installed on Montclair Avenue in St. James. Photo by Kyle Barr

While new car owners in St. James are excitedly revving their engines, local residents are closing their windows and shaking their heads.

Several residents in the area of Montclair Avenue and Rutherford Street said they are tired of traffic by people test driving cars from the considerable number of dealerships on Middle Country Road. Some are asking Town of Smithtown officials to close off Montclair Avenue before the residential end of the road or create speed bumps on Rutherford Street.

he regular amount of traffic is just crazy for a residential section. When we first moved here it was nothing like this.”

— Patti McGovern

“There are more dealerships now that are taking their people and directing them to use Montclair [Avenue],” Patti McGovern, a 30-year resident on St. James Avenue South said. “The regular amount of traffic is just crazy for a residential section. When we first moved here it was nothing like this.”

The area is home to a number of dead-end residential roads north of Route 25/Middle Country Road along Rutherford Street, which is connected to Middle Country Road through Montclair Avenue and Arlington Avenue. McGovern said that many people use these roads as a shortcut due to Smithtown High School East being located to the north. Other people test driving from local dealerships push their new cars close to 50 mph on the residential road, well above the local speed limit.

The Town of Smithtown’s Traffic Safety Department conducted a traffic study through the month of May that determined average weekday traffic was approximately 500 vehicles traveling westbound and 630 eastbound between Montclair Avenue and Jackson Avenue. The study showed 85 percent of cars had an average speed between 31 and 35 mph. The survey concluded that the number of cars was normal for a road like Rutherford, and there wasn’t a speeding issue on roads north of Montclair Avenue.

A sign posted on Montclair Avenue in St. James. Photo by Kyle Barr

Despite the study results, McGovern said even a few speeding cars could be a real hazard.

“That 15 percent, stipulated with 1,200 vehicles, means there are [approximately] 180 vehicle trips coming here in speeds excess of 40 and above,” McGovern said. “That’s more than any neighborhood should bear.”

Residents have been making noise about these traffic issues for close to four years, according to McGovern. In 2015, the town agreed to build a chicane, a S-shaped traffic-slowing and road-narrowing measure, on Montclair. McGovern said that even with the road being narrowed to hinder large trucks, the chicane has not done enough to slow traffic.

“The chicane had to be built so that it had access for emergency vehicles, so any kind of truck can get through, even if they get up on the curbs of the chicane,” McGovern said.

Rutherford Street resident David Friedman said it has become a huge problem to see people test driving their cars down local residential streets — and in their haste, often running the stop sign at the intersection at Rutherford Street and Montclair Avenue. Friedman said there is a school bus stop near that same corner, and he often fears for children’s safety.

“It’s customer preference whether they want to be on the main road or the back road, but I think a lot of the traffic in this area has to do with there being multiple dealerships.”

— David Toomey

“It’s constant, and some of them are just very discourteous,” he said. “Some of them are using it to test their engine — making a lot of noise.”

Middle Country Road is home to more than 10 car dealerships all within a few miles radius of each other. Friedman said that he has seen cars from the Smithtown Nissan and Competition BMW of Smithtown driving on their roads, but the worst, he said, has come from the Competition Subaru of Smithtown located at the corner of MontclairAvenue and Middle Country Road.

David Toomey, the general manager for the Subaru dealership, said he does not specifically emphasize people test drive on Montclair; but, if they do, he said he advises them to maintain the speed limit.

“We’re trying to minimize traffic in the back [residential] areas,” Toomey said. “It’s customer preference whether they want to be on the main road or the back road, but I think a lot of the traffic in this area has to do with there being multiple dealerships.”

In terms of the number of Subaru test vehicles driving on the residential neighborhoods, he said most of the traffic is from dealership employees driving to their new dealership located at 601 Middle Country Road. He said there should be little to no Subaru cars on local roadways once the company finishes relocating in early September.

Indian Hills Country Club. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The real estate developer for a controversial Fort Salonga development has handed over his proposed plans for a mandated environmental impact study for public consumption. 

The Hauppauge-based Northwind Group, founded by developer Jim Tsunis, submitted a 16-page report Aug. 14 outlining how potential impacts of The Preserve at Indian Hills will be evaluated prior to construction of the community. Residents have until Sept. 17 to give feedback and voice any concerns. 

Town of Huntington Planning Board voted Aug. 8 to issue a positive declaration that the submitted plans to construct 98 townhouses and a clubhouse on the existing Indian Hills Country Club golf course will have a significant environmental impact. In accordance with state law, the Northwind Group must undertake, with a detailed environmental impact study that looks at how the development may impact water quality of the
watershed, the area’s steep slopes and coastal erosion zone, added traffic and other issues. 

“The 99-lot yield is supported by a yield map prepared to town specifications and approved by the planning board for yield purposes and is less than what would be permitted as right-of-way under current zoning if each property were developed independently,” reads page 3 of the developer’s draft report. 

The Fort Salonga Property Owners Association has previously asked town officials to place a moratorium on new developments in the Crab Meadow Watershed area, which includes Indian Hills. The group has voiced fears, despite the developer’s revised plans that scales 108 units originally requested down to 98, the development will have a devastating impact on the local roadways and
surrounding wetlands.

“There is no doubt that this latest plan is completely unacceptable to the neighborhood,” John Hayes, president of the property owners association, said. “Like its predecessors, it does not fully address many of the environmental and social concerns that have been raised.” 

Hayes admitted he and others were still going over the 16-page report but said he is likely to suggest additional intersections be added to the traffic study. Those intersections already cited for inclusion by the developer include: Route 25A at Makamah Road, Route 25A at Fresh Pond Road, Makamah and Breeze Hill roads, Fresh Pond Road and Breeze Hill Road and Fresh Pond Road at Claymore Road.

“The roads are not designed for this sort of development,” Hayes said, citing numerous fatal accidents at Makamah Road and Route 25A. 

The draft environmental study outline also clearly stated the 18-hole golf course will be modified, but maintain 18-holes calling it “an important part of the visual character of the site and area.” 

The draft scope of the environmental study can be viewed on the Town of Huntington’s website, www.huntingtonny.gov, under the Planning & Environment Department page, under Site Specific Plans, Reports and Studies. 

Comments may be submitted through Sept. 17 via email to planning@huntingtonny.gov or mailed to Huntington Town Hall, Department of Planning & Environment (Room 212), Attn: Preserve at Indian Hills Draft Scope, 100 Main St., Huntington, NY 11743. 

Leg. Rob Trotta will host a blood drive at the Church of St. Joseph, 59 Church St., Kings Park on Thursday, Aug. 23 from 1:30 to 7:30 p.m. Your donation can help to save up to three lives. Please share this lifesaving gift. All donors will receive a voucher for a free pair of Mets tickets. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call Susan at 631-854-3900.

Dean Fotis Sotiropoulos, SBU president Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., state Sen. Ken LaValle and state Sen. John Flanagan in front of the current engineering building at the university. Photo from Stony Brook University

Two state senators are doing their part to engineer a better future for Stony Brook University and Long Island.

New York state Sens. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) joined SBU President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. Aug. 16 to announce the award of $25 million in state funding to the university for the initial phase of developing a new engineering building on campus — one that is estimated to cost $100 million in total. The 100,000 square-foot facility will include industrial-quality labs, active-learning classrooms and prototyping/manufacturing space.

“We have the opportunity to provide funding, sometimes discretionary, and this is a very strong investment.”

— John Flanagan

The official announcement was made at the university’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences building with representatives of local engineering companies in attendance, including VJ Technologies, Inc., Cameron Engineering & Associates, LLP, and H2M Architects & Engineers.

“We have the opportunity to provide funding, sometimes discretionary, and this is a very strong investment,” Flanagan said.

He thanked the owners and board members of the local engineering companies who traveled to Albany a few months ago to discuss the needs of engineering companies as well as the importance of recruiting talent and retaining students on Long Island.

LaValle, chairman of the Senate’s higher education committee, said he believed the new building will attract preeminent students to SBU, and thanked Flanagan for helping to secure the funds during a time when spare money isn’t plentiful

“I think it will go a long way in ensuring that we enhance where we are today in terms of providing students and faculty with an optimum state-of-the-art facility,” LaValle said.

Stanley recognized the senators as visionaries for acknowledging how critical the university is when it comes to building the technology that Long Island needs.

“I think it will go a long way in ensuring that we enhance where we are today in terms of providing students and faculty with an optimum state-of-the-art facility.”

— Ken LaValle

“The demand is tremendous,” Stanley said. “So, we really need to grow this school. We’re turning away qualified applicants from the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences because we don’t have enough space and because we need more faculty to teach.”

Fotis Sotiropoulos, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said the number of students applying to SBU has grown 60 percent since 2012, and the university has become more selective due to the lack of space. Currently, engineering students need to score at least 1400 on the SATs and to be in the 95th percentile in their class.

The dean said the research conducted at the school, in addition to impacting the economic development on Long Island, also affects the state and nation. The university focuses on engineering-driven medicine, artificial intelligence discoveries and energy systems for sustainability.

“This is where we are going to develop the medicine of the future,” Sotiropoulos said, adding SBU wants to be the hub for the state in artificial intelligence research.

Sotiropoulos said as the university develops the new facility the curriculum will be reconstructed to build learning around projects that start early in a student’s college years and continue all the way to incubating start-up companies. He said one of the goals is to keep students local after graduation.

“We want to grow the size of the engineering workforce for Long Island and the state, but we also want to educate the new kind of engineers,” Sotiropoulos said.

Downtown Kings Park. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Town of Smithtown officials are one concrete step closer to paving the way for municipal parking in Kings Park’s downtown business district.

The town board voted unanimously Aug. 14 to enter a contract of sale to purchase two vacant lots off Pulaski Road for a price of $280,0000. If all goes smoothly, the purchase may fulfill the five-year wish of area residents who petitioned the town to buy the property in November 2013.

“We’re very pleased, we are going into contract,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “It will be a huge advantage to the business community there.”

Originally, the town had scheduled a public hearing for Aug. 14 on whether it should pursue the process of eminent domain to take ownership of the two lots owned by Queens residents Matthew and Marguerite Lupoli.

It will be a huge advantage to the business community there.”

— Ed Wehrheim

“It was a little bit of a tussle with the property owner who resides in Queens, but he’s willing to sell it,” the supervisor said.

A June 4 real estate appraisal of the two adjacent wooded lots determined the fair market price to be approximately $270,000 for the roughly 12,800 square feet, according to town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo. The town’s first purchase offer on the property was rejected by the owners, according to Wehrheim, but the second offer of $280,000 was accepted.

The supervisor said he is hopeful that the funds necessary to purchase the land will come from Suffolk County’s coffers, citing lengthy conversations with Suffolk  County Executive Steve Bellone (D). The measure will have to be  approved by the county Legislature.

“It looks positive,” Wehrheim said.

Smithtown town officials have been eyeing these wooded lots for municipal parking dating back to 2013.

A petition started by Park Bake Shop owners, Lucy and Gabe Shtanko, in 2013 received more than 600 signatures from Kings Park residents asking town officials to purchase the lot for municipal parking. Wehrheim said a 2014 appraisal determined its fair market price at $230,000, but Matthew Lupoli wasn’t interested in selling at that time.

It was a little bit of a tussle with the property owner who resides in Queens, but he’s willing to sell it.”

– Ed Wehrheim

There is a town municipal parking lot across the street from the Kings Park Fire Department on Main Street, next to the Kings Park branch of The Smithtown Public Library.

The western portion of Main Street — dubbed Restaurant Row — is the one area that could possibly use more municipal parking, according to the results of a 2018 market analysis study of downtown Kings Park presented by Larisa Ortiz, urban planner and principal of Larisa Ortiz Associates, to the town board Jan. 25.

“The municipal lots are inconvenient for restaurants,” reads the 62-page report.

The Restaurant Row area, which includes several eateries such as Cafe Red and Relish, averages 4.7 parking spots per 1,000 square feet of retail space. This is less than the two other areas of Main Street — known as the “civic heart,” near the Kings Park library and Long Island Rail Road station, and “car-centric retail,” which is centered around Tanzi Plaza and the Kings Park Plaza shopping center.

Ortiz’s other suggestions for improving the current parking situation in the Kings Park downtown area included restriping several existing lots — such as Relish’s — to accommodate more spaces and increase their efficiency.

In addition to Kings Park, Wehrheim said the town board has received a real estate appraisal of the Irish Viking pub in St. James and remains interested in purchasing it to create off-street parking for the Lake Avenue business district.

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Screenshot of the Town of Smithtown's mobile app. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Town of Smithtown is bringing its municipal services to the mobile generation.

Town officials launched an app Aug. 14 that allows residents to more easily access government functions such as town department websites and even emergency alerts from public safety. The app, designed by members of the Department of Public Safety, has been available for download since July through iPhone App Store for Apple devices or through Google Play Store on Android phones.

The more people that are on it the better. It has all this town information right at your fingertips.” 

— John Gonzalez

“We’re in a mobile generation, everyone is on the go,” said John Gonzalez, 43, a communications technician in the Department of Public Safety who developed the app. “They can go to Facebook and look it up there, but to have it all at your fingertips is where everybody’s going now.”

The Town of Smithtown Mobile App contains a menu of options that include a mobile-friendly version of the town’s website, links to all town departments in addition to the villages of Head of the Harbor, Village of the Branch and Nissequogue. Other tabs include social media posts from both the town itself and the Smithtown Animal Shelter relating to animal adoptions. It is designed to automatically update if any changes occur to town websites.

The app also contains links to an up-to-date weather forecast in Smithtown, by-the-minute information on power outages from PSEG Long Island’s website and announcements regarding road closures and delays through the Notices tab.

This is a tremendous step in the transparency process …”

— Ed Wehrheim

“This is a tremendous step in the transparency process and we’re so lucky to have the talent in house to develop an app that would normally be a very costly process to design,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “I am extremely grateful for our public safety communications department for taking the initiative and I am excited to hear from the residents after using this app.”

Gonzalez said the original idea had been kicked around the public safety office, but department Chief John Valentine finally set him to the task of sitting down to work on it in March. Gonzalez thought it would take five to six months to develop, but he finished the project in only three.

“I am so impressed with the finished product and I just hope the community feels the same way,” Valentine said.

It did not cost the town money to release the app on Google Play Store. Town spokesperson
Nicole Garguilo said that the town did not have to pay the usual fees for uploading an app because it was done as a government entity. Apple also made uploading an app free for government entities and nonprofits earlier this year.

I am so impressed with the finished product and I just hope the community feels the same way.”

— John Valentine

Gonzalez said he started coding at a young age and created his first program by age 9. After working at the video game company Acclaim Entertainment, which became defunct in 2004, he has kept up to date on current programming languages. He said that this type of app is great for residents who wish to stay updated while moving about the town.

“If there are any emergency announcements, it is another tool for residents to use,” he said. “The more people that are on it the better. It has all this town information right at your fingertips.”

Gonzalez said the public safety department has plans to continue updating the app. First on the list is allowing users to click on public safety notifications to bring them straight to the original location. Gonzalez expects to add more features in the future based on community feedback.

A conceptual rendering of the approved site plans for TDG Commack on Jericho Turnpike. Photo courtesy of Smithtown Planning Department

Town of Smithtown officials gave their seal of approval to two developers to construct a total of 160 new apartments between two complexes. 

The town board voted unanimously Aug. 14 to approve site plans for two housing projects: a mixed-use development featuring 62 units at The Lofts at Maple & Main in Smithtown and a 92-unit complex by TDG Commack, LLC to be built on Jericho Turnpike. 

Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said he hopes the two projects will help provide much needed housing in the township. 

The Lofts at Maple & Main by East Hampton-based developer VEA 181st Realty Corp. will consist of four buildings on the site of the former Nassau Suffolk Lumber & Supply Company in Smithtown. A mixed-use, three-story building will be constructed facing Main Street consisting of approximately 9,400 square feet of retail space on the ground level divided into two storefronts. The second and third floors will each contain 13 residential units consisting of six one-bedroom apartments and seven two-bedroom apartments per floor. Set back behind the Main Street building, three additional three-story apartment buildings will have 12 apartments each, primarily two-bedroom units. 

“This will be the first opportunity for a young person, a young professional coming out of college that cannot afford to buy a single-family home on a half acre of property, to have an avenue to live in the business district,” Wehrheim said. “It puts them in walkable distance to restaurants, a railroad station and everything they really require.” 

The development will have six affordable workforce housing units constructed and rented out for below-market price, according to town planner Liam Trotta. 

The supervisor said he hopes the apartment complex will help push downtown revitalization.“It will have a positive effect on the local business community as well,” he said. “The people that go into those 62 units will frequent the businesses that are along Main Street.” 

The town board expressed it was “pleased” with the agreements struck with the developer during planning, such as agreeing to permit three-story buildings instead of the four stories initially requested. 

The developer, Salvatore DiCarlo, of VEA 181st could not be reached for comment by press time. Wehrheim said that DiCarlo still needs approval from Suffolk County’s Health Department for the on-site sewer treatment, which may take a few weeks, but construction will begin immediately afterward. 

The second garden apartment complex designed by TDG Commack was approved as  a seven-building apartment complex along Jericho Turnpike, taking over the site of the Courtesy Inn. Each building will have two stories and, when completed, offer a mix of 48 one-bedroom and 44 two-bedroom units. There will be a
community pool for residents. 

Similar to The Lofts at Maple & Main, the Commack housing development has proposed to build a sewer treatment plant into the site to handle all wastewater at the location. However, Trotta said as the developer did not exceed the maximum density for the site, it will not be required to designate units as affordable workplace housing.

Bi-County Auto Shop in Smithtown. Photo from Facebook

A Smithtown auto body shop has been ordered to pay $185,000 in back wages to its employees plus damages for violating federal labor laws regarding overtime pay.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced Aug. 14 that it obtained a judgment against Paul Joseph Dill and Paul Jeremy Dill, the two owners of Bi-County Auto Body, ordering them to pay $185,000 in back wages plus an equal amount in damages to 49 employees, plus $30,000 in civil penalties, for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.

“The employer engaged in an unlawful practice to deny employees the overtime wages they had legally earned and to conceal their failure to pay for those hours,” said Irv Miljoner, Long Island director of U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hours Division. “The resolution of this case demonstrates our commitment to those workers, and to leveling the playing field for employees who play by the rules.

From July 2014 to April 2016, the Smithtown employers violated labor laws by paying its employees in cash for any overtime beyond the 40-hour workweek and paying straight time, according to U.S. Department of Labor. Federal standards mandate that employees be paid one and one-half times their normal rate of pay when working overtime.

In addition, federal investigators said the employers also deducted one hour of pay from employees’ daily hours for a meal break, even though workers often were unable to take an uninterrupted break. Bi-County Auto Shop failed to keep track of time its employees worked beyond 40 per week in an attempt to conceal overtime, according to U.S. Department of Labor, resulting in recordkeeping violations.

“This case shows that the U.S. Department of Labor will take appropriate steps to ensure compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act and to rectify wage violations, so employees are not denied their justly earned pay,” said Jeffrey Rogoff, the department’s regional solicitor of labor.

Under the terms of the court judgment, Bi-County Auto and its owners are prohibited from accepting the return of back wages from its employees and discrimination from any employees who step forward to exercise their rights under federal labor law.

A manager at Bi-County Auto Shop stated that the company has no comment on the judgment issued Tuesday.

Any worker who believes that their employer may be violating minimum wage or overtime laws may report them through U.S. Department of Labor’s PAID program. More information on federal labor laws can be found at www.dol.gov/whd.

'Gamecock Cottage Stony Brook' by Linda Ann Catucci

By Heidi Sutton

‘Off Duty’ by Robert Roehrig

The lazy days of summer are finally upon us, a perfect time to drop by the Smithtown Township Arts Council’s Mills Pond Gallery to check out its annual juried summer exhibition, Capturing the Spirit of Long Island.

“So many Long Island painters find creative inspiration from the local landscape,” explained  STAC’s Executive Director Allison Cruz in a recent email. “Each brings an individual style and vision to their work so each exhibit is unique. Our Island provides endless possibilities for artistic compositions. I always look forward to seeing what hidden treasures the artists uncover!”

According to Cruz, artists were invited to share their artistic vision of any of Long Island’s four seasons and submit art depicting the characteristics of its landscape, weather, wildlife or activities associated with winter, spring, summer or fall. A total of 49 works by 32 artists were accepted into the show and feature a variety of media including watercolor, gouache, oil acrylic, pastel and colored pencil.

‘Cupsogue Coast’ by Adriann Valiquette

The beautiful exhibit fills four gallery rooms and the center hall gallery on the first floor of the historic 1838 Greek Revival mansion.

“I am always amazed by the unique work received for our Long Island exhibits and I have never been disappointed. And what is so wonderful is that each year we have new artists as well. Each show gives us an opportunity to see some new local talent and each year local artists step up with new work,” said Cruz. “We never exhibit the same piece more than once here at the gallery anyway,” she added.

Exhibiting artists include Ross Barbera (Ronkonkoma), Melanie Berardicelli (West Islip), Renee Blank (Holbrook), Renee Caine (Holtsville), Linda Ann Catucci (St. James), Donna Corvi (Flushing), Julie Doczi (Port Jefferson Station), Liz Fusco (Kings Park), Maureen Ginipro (Smithtown), David Jaycox Jr. (Northport), Anne Katz (Stony Brook), Kathee Shaff Kelson (Stony Brook), Jim Kelson (Stony Brook), Lynn Kinsella (Brookhaven), Mary Lor (New York), Joan Rockwell (Stony Brook), Robert Roehrig (East Setauket), Lori Scarlatos (St. James), Gisela Skoglund (Kings Park), Irene Tetrault (Westbury), Adriann Valiquette (Ridge), Mary Ann Vetter (St. James), Nancy Weeks (East Setauket) and Patty Yantz (Setauket).

‘Two Artists Intense Focus’ by David Jaycox Jr.

The executive director is excited to show off this new exhibit. “This is an opportunity to discover or maybe rediscover Long Island,” she said, adding, “viewers will see so much beauty and variety of our island … and sometimes seeing it through someone else’s eye can put you in touch with new places or new ideas you will be inspired to explore.”

The community is invited to an opening reception on Saturday, Aug. 11 at 2 p.m. to meet the artists and view their work. The winners will be announced at that time. 

The Mills Pond Gallery, located at 660 Route 25A, St. James, will present the Smithtown Township Arts Council’s juried summer exhibition through Sept. 9. The gallery is open Wednesdays to Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call 631-862-6575 or visit www.millspondgallery.org. 

School district releases 80-page report alleging disclosure of confidential information, inappropriate actions

Commack School District's board of education at the start of the 2017-18 school year. Photo from Facebook

A Commack schoolboard  trustee has resigned her seat after the district launched a four-month investigation into her actions.

Pamela Verity submitted a letter of resignation to Commack School District effective July 31, which was unanimously accepted at an Aug. 1 special board of education meeting. She had been the subject of a special investigation for allegedly disclosing confidential information privy to her as a board trustee and removing school district property from Marion Carll Farm.

As members of the board of education, we essentially trade in confidential information…”

— Jarrett Behar

“As members of the board of education, we essentially trade in confidential information:  confidential information about our children, confidential information about our employees,”  Jarrett Behar, vice president of Commack’s school board, said. “We cannot get to a point where we decide that the ends justify the means. There are rules in place that need to be followed and we have a duty to follow them.”

On April 24, Commack’s board voted 3-to-2 to hire attorney Jeffery Smith to undertake an independent investigation of Verity based on accusations she had disclosed confidential information on multiple occasions and taken actions that were an inappropriate use of her authority.

The school district released Smith’s 80-page report Aug. 2, following Verity’s resignation, that details his interviews with 10 individuals — all board of education members, Superintendent Donald James and four school employees — between May 2 and 18.

“This investigation was spurred by posting of confidential information on Facebook,” reads page 3 of the report.

“I made mistakes, I definitely made mistakes.”

— Pamela Verity

In his investigation, Smith said it was alleged that Verity disclosed details of a confidential personnel matter regarding harassment in the workplace on social media. The investigator said the content indicated the board member had been emailing about, texting about it and expressed her opinion in violation of both state law and district policies.

Verity said she admitted to having inadvertently made a public Facebook post on the subject while multitasking but denied it contained detailed information such as specific names.

“I made mistakes, I definitely made mistakes,” she said, but denied her actions were intentional or as malicious in intent as she felt was implied.

The report also critically examined conversations Verity had with district employees where alleged confidential information was disclosed or where her actions were considered inappropriate conduct of a trustee, according to the district.

“I wear my board hat all the time, I don’t have any First Amendment rights anymore?” she said. “If it was up to them I would not be allowed to post [on social media], I would not be allowed to support people.”

If some of these actions were genuine mistakes, they would have merited an apology and a commitment that they would not be repeated and that hasn’t happened.”

— Page 19 of investigative report

Verity said as an educational advocate with the Opt Out movement prior to joining the board, she consulted with other school trustees and lawyers for advice on handling situations and how to handle confidential matters. The Commack district, she asserted, has a much stricter definition of what qualifies as confidential information than state law requires or surrounding districts’ policies. 

Commack school officials also said Verity removed documents from Marion Carll Farm without permission. The former board member said she did pack up and take home documents while working on a fundraiser for the site for safekeeping. All were returned to the district, according to Verity. The district admitted to receiving a box of paperwork but says it did not receive a full inventory list of all items removed from the farmhouse as per its request.

“If some of these actions were genuine mistakes, they would have merited an apology and a commitment that they would not be repeated and that hasn’t happened,” Smith wrote on page 19 of the report.

Verity said she doesn’t want to spend her time and energy defending herself from accusations but would rather move forward.

“I thought at first maybe if I speak my truth, this will turn around. It didn’t,” she said. “[The report] doesn’t reflect both sides at all, not at all.”

Community members at the Aug. 1 special meeting questioned how much the four-month investigation had cost the district given the independent investigator was hired at $150 an hour. The total bill was not yet available, according to Behar.

[The report] doesn’t reflect both sides at all, not at all.”

— Pamela Verity

“This procedure and process obviously did come at a cost and we do not take any endeavor where we spend taxpayer money lightly,” he said.

The district has three legal options when it comes to addressing Verity’s seat on the board of education, according to school district attorney Eugene Barnosky. The board’s choices include holding a special election to fill the vacancy within 90 days, appointing an individual to serve or leaving the seat unfilled. Verity was in her second year of a three-year term, due up for re-election in May 2019.

Behar said no decision had been made yet on how best to proceed.

“What happened today is very new,” he said. “We will make a decision, whatever decision we make will be made public. The community is always welcome to give its input.”

Verity said she hopes to continue lobbying for curriculum changes as part of the Opt Out movement against increased state testing and the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

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