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Code Enforcement

Port Jefferson code Chief Wally Tomaszewski. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By Alex Petroski

A Port Jefferson Village fixture for more than 35 years is saying goodbye to his role in the community.

Code Enforcement Chief Wally Tomaszewski is retiring, according to an announcement by Mayor Margot Garant during a public Village Board meeting June 4.

“Chief Tomaszewski came in and he signed a retirement letter today with us,” Garant said. “He is going to be retiring, receiving his compensation for the month of June, and we will be searching for a new chief of the bureau. There’s a lot of change in the department in terms of technology, things that have to happen, and chief, we wish him well. We want to recognize him and retire him in this community for the public service he has provided for us for 35 years. And we mean that sincerely.”

Garant made the announcement when asked by a resident what was going on, as rumors had begun swirling on social media over the weekend about Tomaszewski’s job status and the story behind the departure.

Tomaszewski did not respond to a request for comment.

Community members packed Village Hall for the June meeting to discuss a host of issues, but the larger than normal turnout was likely largely a reflection on rumors about the chief.

“We spoke about this Friday, we shook hands, he came in today and signed his letter,” Garant said.

Several attendees spoke in support of Tomaszewski and asked the board to reconsider accepting the letter.

“I moved here about 50 years ago, and the reason we did was because this was a personal village,” resident Naomi Solo said. “It was a special village, and I think the person that really epitomizes this, besides yourself, was Wally. The loss of Wally is devastating.”

The chief was known for being on call for residents, be it to address noise complaints in the middle of the night or assist the Suffolk County Police Department in certain cases.

“I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find a replacement that’s equivalent to him,” resident Marge McCuen said.

Deputy Code Chief Fred Leute will serve as the acting chief, according to Garant.

Ivan Albert, owner of Sweet ‘n’ Savory and Ralph’s Italian Ices & Ice Cream on Main Street in Port Jeff, says a group of unsupervised teenagers are disrupting business. Photo by Kevin Redding

Port Jefferson is a walkable, waterfront village that attracts members of its own community and neighboring ones regularly, especially when the weather improves and schools are closed. In theory it should be an optimal environment for business owners thirsty for more foot traffic on Main Street, but at least one is not enjoying the influx of customers.

Ivan Albert, owner of Sweet ‘n’ Savory and Ralph’s Italian Ices & Ice Cream on Main Street in Port Jeff, says a group of unsupervised teenagers are disrupting business. Photo by Kevin Redding

Ivan Albert is the owner of two shops on Main Street in Port Jefferson Village: Ralph’s Italian Ices & Ice Cream, and Sweet ‘n’ Savory, a café that specializes in gourmet crepes. He said throughout the course of the last year an ongoing situation has developed in the two stores involving a group of about 60 teenagers — Albert speculated in an interview at Ralph’s that most of the offenders are 14 or 15 years old — who use profanity, enter and exit the store repeatedly in large groups, are rude to employees and other customers, smoke from vaporizers within the stores, and even occasionally steal items or damage property.

“This year it has gotten really bad,” Albert, a Mount Sinai resident, said. “It just seems like the thing to do is for parents to just pull up and drop their kids off in Port Jeff and say ‘I’ll pick you up at 11 at night or midnight, have fun with your friends.’”

Albert said he has tried to approach the group nicely to convey his message that he believes their behavior is bad for business, but it hasn’t worked.

“They’re having fun with their friends, and I’m good with that, I was once young and having fun with your friends is great,” he said. “When a family comes in with young kids, or any family, looking to have a nice time, they don’t want to hear cursing. And then there’s fighting and throwing stuff and breaking stuff — it’s horrible.”

Albert said he repeatedly has called village code enforcement and the Suffolk County Police Department to complain and report issues. He said he believes the constables in the village “have their hands tied” and aren’t able to make any meaningful changes, and county police often take too long to respond to calls about teenagers causing a nuisance for businesses.

“Out of control — and business people can’t cope with rudeness, vulgarity and profanity,” Port Jefferson Village code chief Wally Tomaszewski said in a text message of the unsupervised teenagers walking the streets most nights that aren’t followed by school days. “My officers do all they can at night to try and control them.”

The SCPD did not respond to a request for comment in time for print.

“It deters people from coming. I feed my family with these businesses.”

— Ivan Albert

An employee at Sweet ‘n’ Savory, a 20-year-old Port Jefferson resident who asked to be identified only as Chris, said he doesn’t feel the kids present a tangible threat, but their presence is bad for business.

“They’re not really dangerous or a threat just because they are so young, they’re just obnoxious,” Chris said. “They light firecrackers outside of the doors, they harass the people that walk by them. It’s annoying for the business because customers don’t like it. They don’t want to be bothered, so some people are just like, ‘Well if this is how it is I’m not coming back here.’”

Albert said he’s gotten complaints from the parents of his employees, who tend to be in the 17- to 25-year-old range, about the environment their kids are forced to work in. He said his wife tried to spread the message to parents in the area by posting on Facebook about the problem last week, while many of the local schools were on spring break.

“I would just like to reach out as a mom above and before being anything else,” the post said. “There is an extremely large group of kids high school age that hang out around Main Street in Port Jeff. If you are allowing your sons and daughters to spend their free time roaming the streets there I would like to inform you about what goes on. They are totally disruptive, rude, obnoxious and out of control.”

Albert said the post was shared several times, and his plan is to record more incidents on his cellphone and post them on social media going forward in the hopes that parents might see it and lay down the law with their own children.

“The kids aren’t going to stop on their own. I need to bring awareness to the parent that’s dropping them off,” he said. “It deters people from coming. I feed my family with these businesses.”

Port Jefferson code Chief Wally Tomaszewski. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Code enforcement officers in Port Jefferson will get a raise for the first time in several years if they approve their first union contract next week.

At the Jan. 4 village board of trustees meeting, the board approved the new agreement, settled upon a couple of years after negotiations began. The Port Jefferson Constable Association union must still ratify the contract to finalize it.

The new agreement would be retroactive to June 2014 and run through the end of May 2018, Trustee Bruce D’Abramo said in a phone interview. With part of the contract being retroactive, so is part of the proposed pay increase — the union members would receive an extra $1.50 for each hour they worked between June 2014 and the end of May 2015; and another $1.75 per hour worked from June 2015 and onward.

Moving forward, the officers from the Code Enforcement Bureau would receive an hourly bump of $0.25 each new year of the contract, meaning they would get a raise in June 2016 and June 2017.

The few dozen staff members covered under the proposal includes code enforcement officers and sergeants as well as appearance ticket officers, D’Abramo said. The union does not include code Chief Wally Tomaszewski or three lieutenants in the bureau.

According to both village officials and the union, it has been a while since the officers received a raise.

Port Jefferson Constable Association President Tom Grimaldi has been a code officer for more than seven years, he said, and the last salary increase was “way before I got there. Probably at least 10 years ago.”

D’Abramo noted that before the proposed raises kick in, the pay for code enforcement officers is $16 per hour. For sergeants, the pay is $18.25 per hour, and appearance ticket officers currently get $13.50 per hour.

The contract is “a long time coming,” Grimaldi said.

And D’Abramo said village officials are happy to put the negotiations behind them so they can finally “give the code officers, who do such a good job for the village, the kind of remuneration” that is comparable to such officers in other villages.

The constables have been particularly visible recently with some high-profile incidents in Port Jefferson Village.

In mid-December, a Belle Terre man was killed when he lost control of his Lamborghini while driving up a steep East Broadway hill and crashed into a pole near High Street. Officer Paul Barbato was the first on the scene, finding a “horribly mangled vehicle with a person still alive inside,” Trustee Larry LaPointe reported at a board meeting shortly after the crash. Barbato got inside the car and attempted CPR on 48-year-old Glen Nelson, but the driver later died.

“You can only imagine the scene he came upon,” Mayor Margot Garant said on Jan. 4.

In a phone interview, Tomaszewski said Barbato “tried desperately to save his life. Believe me, his boots were filled with blood.”

Code enforcement officer James Murdocco. File photo by Elana Glowatz
Code enforcement officer James Murdocco. File photo by Elana Glowatz

A couple of weeks later, on New Year’s Day, patrolling code officers James Murdocco and John Vinicombe responded to an overdose at the Islandwide Taxi stand near the Port Jefferson Long Island Rail Road station.

LaPointe said at the board meeting on Jan. 4 that Murdocco administered the anti-overdose medication Narcan and “saved the person’s life by doing so.”

Tomaszewski described another recent incident in which officer Gina Savoie “thwarted a burglary” on Crystal Brook Hollow Road. He said after Savoie took action and called for police assistance, the two suspects, who are from Coram, were arrested for loitering.

“My hat goes off to the code enforcement bureau,” Garant said at the most recent board meeting. “They’re out there handling things that are unimaginable for us to even contemplate.”

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