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Councilman Tom Lohmann

Children enjoy the upgrades to Joseph Andreoli Park in Nesconset. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

More than a dozen excited children climbed over a Nesconset playground Monday afternoon, as families took in the park’s first upgrade in more than two decades.

Town of Smithtown officials celebrated the completion of $1.3 million in upgrades to three town-owned parks this week, which also came in approximately $62,000 under budget. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at Joseph Andreoli Park in Nesconest July 9, followed by a celebration for Gaynor and Veterans
Memorial parks in St. James held July 10.

“There is no more important mission we can do than to build parks like this for the children who are growing up here,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “It’s been a long time coming.” 

Town of Smithtown officials celebrate the opening of Joseph Andreoli Park with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Joseph Andreoli Park, commonly referred to as Gibbs Pond park, received two new playgrounds. For older children, there are five different slides, several climbing obstacles and a swing set. A second area for younger children ages 2 to 5 consists of several tiny houses they go inside with interactive features.

“It’s visually appealing,” Shannon Cooley,  a Nesconset resident, said as she watched her 3-year-old daughter play. “It’s colorful, not faded, and everything feels inviting and welcoming.” 

Cooley said her favorite part of the renovations are the separate play areas created for young children and the new Classic Turf, a synthetic grasslike “shag rug” that replaced the former wood chips.

Both Cooley and Nesconset resident Morgan Tavis said they appreciated the modern, clean look, but if they had one criticism of the design, it would be a lack of shaded areas. “A shaded area for respite would make this into a full day activity,” Tavis said.

Wehrheim said there will be further improvements made at the Gibbs Pond park. Boy Scout Troop 566 has offered to build benches that will be installed by the town, according to the supervisor, and renovations to
make the bathrooms handicapped accessible are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2019. Shaded canopies will be installed over the playground’s slides, according to town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo, to prevent them from becoming heated and potentially burning children.

“This is the first of many,” Wehrheim said, indicating more park renovations are in the works for 2019. “We made a commitment when we got elected, one of those commitments was to renovate and bring our parks into the future so I am very pleased and honored this afternoon to tell you we have kept that campaign promise.”

Joseph Andreoli Park, off Gibbs Pond Road in Nesconset, now has a separate playground for children ages 2 to 5. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Both Gaynor Park and Veterans Memorial Park in St. James have received similar upgrades, according to Smithtown Parks Maintenance Director Joseph Arico. Gaynor Park has received a similar new playground set and field upgrades. The existing tennis courts at Gaynor were fully resurfaced and the basketball court was enlarged from a half court to full regulation size. 

Veterans Memorial Park, located off Moriches Road, had more recently received upgrades to its sports fields. Roughly $300,000 was spent to install a new playground set along with a new artificial grass surface and a resurfacing of the water park playground to improve safety, according to Arico.

Councilman Tom Lohmann (R), who served as the town board’s liaison to the parks department on the project, voiced his approval of the final product. 

“We are putting money back where it belongs in our parks, beaches and infrastructure so that we, the residents, have a nice place to bring our children, grandchildren and enjoy this beautiful town,”
Lohmann said.

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

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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