Smithtown councilman appointment creates dissent, raises questions

Smithtown councilman appointment creates dissent, raises questions

Smithtown resident Tom Lohmann takes the oath of office after accepting appointment to Smithtown Town Board. Photo by Kevin Redding

To the surprise of some residents at a Smithtown board meeting last week, Tom Lohmann was sworn in to the town council position he ran unsuccessfully for in November.

Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R), whose campaign team included Lohmann and Nesconset resident Robert Doyle, said in a statement that after “vetting multiple candidates” and sifting through four resumes, Lohmann emerged the clear winner based on his credentials.

Lohmann, a Smithtown resident, is a former member of the New York City Police Department and current investigator for the county district attorney’s  insurance crime bureau. Wehrheim said the new counilman has shown an ability to maintain confidential information, a knowledge of town laws and codes, and a deep understanding of what the residents want.

“I did not feel there was a rush to appoint anybody.”

— Lynn Nowick

“Ultimately, the deciding factor was in choosing an individual who would work the most cohesively together with the entire town council,” the supervisor said.

But not everyone agrees with the town board on this decision, including one of its own.

Councilwoman Lynn Nowick (R) abstained from voting on the appointment Jan. 9, saying she felt as though there should have been a more thorough vetting process. The councilwoman said she felt there should have been open interviews conducted with all interested candidates during one of the board’s work sessions.

In fact, Nowick said “there was no process” or any townwide notification that the council was accepting resumes for the position. She also said she wanted to hear community input before a decision was made.

“I did not feel there was a rush to appoint anybody,” Nowick said. “It was only Jan. 9. I’m certain we could’ve survived for a few weeks … I would like to have met as a group and interviewed [prospective candidates].”

Among those who spoke out against Lohmann’s appointment was Robert Souto, of Nesconset. Souto said he felt the position should have gone to Democrat Amy Fortunato instead as she placed third in the general election, behind the two incumbents, receiving 17.6 percent of the votes. He asked board members “what was going on” with their decision to appoint Lohmann.

“This is out in public now and it just doesn’t look good,” Souto said. “It seems to be tainted. It’s not a good way to start out.”

Ed Maher, chairman of the Smithtown Democratic Committee, said to the best of his knowledge, there was no official request by the town for applications to fill the position and he was never contacted about a vetting process.

He said Fortunato sent her resume in for consideration, but did so unsolicited, separate from the Democratic committee. Fortunato said she didn’t receive any response from Wehrheim or the town after submitting her resume.

“I think that the Republicans in town made the decision that Tom Lohmann was going to be appointed and they went and did it,” Maher said. “I don’t want to see the town return to where the town’s Republican Committee seems to be making the decisions of who gets to be in town government.”

“This is out in public now and it just doesn’t look good. It seems to be tainted. It’s not a good way to start out.”

— Robert Souto

The party chair said he is hopeful that the Democratic party will be represented on the town board after the town council elections this November.

Joseph Saggese, a St. James resident and Certified Public Accountant, also submitted an application for the open town board seat. Saggese has served on the Smithtown Central School District’s board of education for seven years and has been on the Smithtown Board of Ethics for six years. A registered Republican, Saggese said he was encouraged by other Smithtown Republicans to apply.

“I spoke with Ed Wehrheim and he told me he was going with Lohmann,” Saggese said. “He has a loyalty to the guy that ran with him. I understand loyalty, but there are other ways to repay loyalty. I wish him and everyone else luck though.”

Nicole Garguilo, town spokeswoman, said Lohmann was appointed because he brought a much-needed law enforcement background to the table. She said it was felt he will be an asset when it comes to interacting with the 4th Precinct, emergency medical services and tackling the opioid problem.

Lohmann has been appointed to serve through Dec. 31,  and will have to run a campaign for re-election this November if he wishes to serve the remaining year of Wehrheim’s council seat from Jan.. 1 to Dec. 31, 2019.

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