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Ed Wehrheim

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Vecchio memo puts end to weeks-long discussion over councilman’s plan to pay workers $9 an hour

Smithtown Town Hall. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Some Smithtown seasonal employees will have a little extra weight added to their wallets next year, but only by about 25 cents.

In a memo sent to the Town Board, Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) had made official the town’s commitment to including a minimum wage increase in the tentative 2016 budget for part-time summer positions. The discussion over whether or not to raise the minimum wage from $8.75 had been ongoing for several weeks since Councilman Bob Creighton (R) had introduced the proposal via a resolution at a recent Town Board meeting, but a disagreement over protocol had blocked the plan.

Creighton first brought the proposal to the board in August, but Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) floated a motion to table the proposal, which was unanimously approved.

The measure reappeared on the agenda at an early September Smithtown Town Board meeting and Nowick once again voted to table the discussion, drawing 3-2 split from councilmembers, with support from Councilman Tom McCarthy (R) and Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R).

“This doesn’t mean I am not in support of this,” Nowick said at the meeting after motioning to table the plan. “I want to look at the budget, which is not due for another 30 days or so.”

McCarthy, who voted in favor of tabling the discussion alongside Nowick and Vecchio, said in a phone interview earlier this month that he was in favor of raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour for the town’s seasonal workers, but believed it should be put into the budget. He also said he and his fellow councilmembers had full intentions of seeing the raise put into effect through the budget.

Creighton said the 25-cent raise for the town’s roughly 150 seasonal workers making $8.75 an hour would ultimately cost roughly $23,000, which he said could be factored into the budget now so the budget process could react accordingly.

Wehrheim said at the time that he was concerned with the way the procedure went through, given the fact that the councilmembers who voted against the resolution had weeks since it was last tabled to voice their concerns regarding its financial impact on the town.

Over the last several months, Smithtown resolutions for municipal hires showed workers being hired at rates anywhere from as low as $8 to as high as $16 per hour. The town, however, is not legally bound to abide by a minimum wage.

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Smithtown Councilman Bob Creighton. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Thursday’s Republican primary in Smithtown saw an incumbent fall to the bottom of the pack in the town board race, but only by a slim margin.

Councilman Bob Creighton (R) came in third out of three candidates seeking the Republican line in November’s general election. The other two, incumbent Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) and challenger Lisa M. Inzerillo came in first and second, respectively, all but assuring them Republican spots, according to unofficial Suffolk County Board of Elections results.

By Friday morning, Wehrheim had collected 40.49 percent of the vote — 1,673 total votes — and Inzerillo earned 31.27 percent, or 1,292 total votes. Creighton came in close behind Inzerillo with 27.81 percent — 1,149 votes.

Creighton had focused much of his primary bid on development in Smithtown that he said could attract new business to the community. He has served on the Smithtown Town Board since 2008 and has been a longtime ally of Wehrheim, often aligning with him in critical votes put before the board over recent years.

“There are still some 200-odd absentee ballots to count, but I have no illusions about that,” Creighton said. “I lost — period.”

Creighton said he attributed part of the loss to low voter turnout, with just about seven percent of Smithtown Republicans hitting the polls. The councilman also said he had full intentions of still running on the Independent, Conservative and Reform party lines come November, whether or not absentee ballots salvage his primary bid later next week.

Wehrheim has been on the board since 2003 and said in a previous interview that he would like to use another term to work on funding more projects to revitalize Smithtown’s downtown area. In a phone interview, the councilman said torrential downpours throughout the voting hours on Thursday may have had an impact on voter turnout, which was slightly lower than the average primary.

“I am very pleased with my position as number-one in the race, but I do believe the weather certainly had an affect on the voter turnout,” he said. “The board, as of late, is fairly divided, but I have a long tenure with the town and I will continue to do what I’ve always done. I will go in there, and work on behalf of the Smithtown resident.”

Inzerillo, a business owner from Kings Park, focused her campaign on making Smithtown’s downtown business district more vibrant. She declared victory following Thursday’s vote in a statement, looking forward to discussing the town’s most pressing issues.

“This grassroots campaign, fueled by family and friends, has inspired and humbled me and I am ready to represent the Republican Party in November,” she said.

Both Creighton’s and Wehrheim’s seats on the board will be up for a vote come November, with the incumbents facing off against Inzerillo and Democrat Larry Vetter, who announced his candidacy earlier this year. The winners will join incumbents not up for re-election, Supervisor Pat Vecchio, Councilman Tom McCarthy and Councilwoman Lynne Nowick — all Republicans.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include comments from Councilman Bob Creighton and Councilman Ed Wehrheim.

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McCarthy, Nowick, Vecchio vote again to table Creighton’s proposal to pay seasonal workers $9 an hour

Smithtown Town Hall. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

A previously tabled motion to increase the minimum wage for Smithtown employees was sidelined once again, and the town board is at odds over the reasoning behind it.

Councilman Bob Creighton (R) had initially proposed, at a work session in August, to raise the town’s minimum wage from $8.75 to $9 per hour as of April 2016, but Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) later floated a motion to table the proposal, which was unanimously approved. The measure reappeared on Tuesday’s Smithtown Town Board meeting agenda and Nowick once again voted to table the discussion, drawing 3-2 split from councilmembers, with support from Councilman Tom McCarthy (R) and Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R).

“This doesn’t mean I am not in support of this,” Nowick said, in justifying her decision to table the proposal a second time, after Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) had publicly asked her to explain her decision. “I want to look at the budget, which is not due for another 30 days or so.”

In a phone interview, Creighton said he was caught off guard by the decision to table the proposal a second time, and the councilwoman’s explanation to wait for the budget process early next month bewildered him.

“It does not seem to be a justification, in my mind, for postponing the vote,” said Creighton, who, along with Wehrheim, voted against Nowick’s motion to table the proposal for a second time. “You’re either for it or against it.”

Creighton said the 25-cent raise for the town’s roughly 150 seasonal workers making $8.75 an hour — would ultimately cost roughly $23,000, which he said could be factored into the budget now so the budget process could react accordingly.

“The actions of those three are asinine,” Creighton said. “It’s an insult to the kids who are working hard in this town.”

Wehrheim said he was concerned with the way the procedure went through, given the fact that the councilmembers who voted against the resolution had weeks since it was last tabled to voice their concerns regarding its financial impact on the town. He said the $9 minimum wage proposal was not only in line with state law, but was also run by Vecchio, Comptroller Donald Musgnug and the town’s personnel department, which he said validated the proposal.

“Not one word was uttered about any intention to table that resolution,” Wehrheim said. “The time to have that discussion was certainly at our work session. I know Councilwoman Nowick said she’d rather look at the budget first, but there is no reason to. I don’t think it’s fair to the public.”

Musgnug had no comment on the matter. But Vecchio later said Creighton’s resolution was a politically motivated decision, as most town workers were already making more than $9.

Over the last several months, Smithtown resolutions for municipal hires showed workers being hired at rates anywhere from as low as $8 to as high as $16 per hour. The town, however, is not legally bound to abide by a minimum wage.

McCarthy, who voted in favor of tabling the discussion alongside Nowick and Vecchio, said in a phone interview that he was in favor of raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour for the town’s seasonal workers, but believed it should be put into the budget. He also said he and his fellow councilmembers had full intentions of seeing the raise put into effect through the budget.

McCarthy said everyone on the board was ultimately in favor of raising the minimum wage, but they disagreed over how to implement the change.

“Going up to $9 is not a problem,” McCarthy said. “But the process is not putting it into a resolution. We’ve never done that before, ever. I tabled it because I will be putting it into the budget myself, definitely.”

In a similar instance last year, McCarthy had put forward a successful 3-2 resolution to increase the salary of the deputy supervisor — his own position — by $30,000, but ultimately rescinded the decision and said he would rather see that call come via the budgeting process. The raise was later included in the 2015 budget and passed.

File photo

Smithtown residents will have some choices to make come November, as two candidates have stepped up to challenge incumbent councilmen Bob Creighton (R) and Ed Wehrheim (R).

Democrat Larry Vetter and Republican Lisa Inzerillo are both running for Smithtown Town Board, but they have differing views on what to do when they get there.

Vetter, 62, said he believes he will bring a new view to Smithtown if elected.

“I look at things from a different perspective,” Vetter said. “I come from a different background.”

Vetter, of Smithtown, comes from the private sector and has owned an environmental consulting firm, Vetter Environmental Science, for the past seven years.

Challenger Lisa Inzerillo (R) is throwing her hat into the race to unseat a Republican incumbent on Smithtown’s Town Board. Photo from the candidate
Challenger Lisa Inzerillo (R) is throwing her hat into the race to unseat a Republican incumbent on Smithtown’s Town Board. Photo from the candidate

Among the biggest issues he said he thinks Smithtown is facing right now is a reinvigoration of the downtown area. Vetter said he wants to find new and innovative ways to find revenue and cut costs, to help fight the brain drain he believes Smithtown is currently experiencing, driving youth out of town.

“I know what it’s like to raise a family and see them leave, it’s disappointing,” he said. “Both of my children have left Long Island and are probably not coming back. Young people are constantly getting educated here and then leaving.”

Vetter said he would work with an industrial development association as other townships have done to retain youth.

Vetter also spoke of tax breaks and different incentives that could be given to businesses that develop in Smithtown.

Lisa Inzerillo, 50, a business owner from Kings Park, is also focusing on the issues of developing a more vital downtown business district.

If elected, Inzerillo said in an email that she plans to “use my influences to require our town planning and development staff to aggressively pursue state and federal grants designed toward revitalizing our downtown areas.”

Inzerillo said her stance on the environment is what sets her apart from her challengers.

“I am the only candidate that wants to protect the environment, green spaces, and quality of life,” she said. “Misguided development, contamination of our environment and abuse of sensible town zoning regulations will be at the top of my agenda.”

Both incumbents Wehrheim and Creighton said they felt that economic growth in the downtown area is key to ensuring that Smithtown continues to prosper.

“We need to ensure that the commercial tax base remains stable or is increasing,” Wehrheim said in a phone interview. “The healthier that is, the better able we are to keep residential taxes stable.”

Larry Vetter (D) is throwing his hat into the race to unseat a Republican incumbent on Smithtown’s Town Board. Photo from the candidate
Larry Vetter (D) is throwing his hat into the race to unseat a Republican incumbent on Smithtown’s Town Board. Photo from the candidate

The redevelopment of the Smith Haven Mall, as well as adding larger stores like Bob’s Discount Furniture to the Smithtown area are all projects that Wehrheim worked on during his last three terms, some with Creighton’s involvement as well.

Wehrheim also said that he intends to use bonding to help fund more projects in the downtown area. If elected, this will be Wehrheim’s fourth term in office.

When speaking on Creighton and himself, Wehrheim said, “I feel that we have a vast amount of government experience in Smithtown government. I believe firmly that our experience and dedication shows we’re the right people to put in office.”

Increased development is something that Creighton said is a perfect example of smart growth, and would encourage new businesses to come into Smithtown.

“We must do something to generate commercial enterprises,” Creighton said. “There are too many empty stores.”

Recently, a proposal to restructure Smithtown’s government has come to the attention of the board. Creighton brought the idea to the board and stressed that while it is still only in the proposal stage, it could lead to more accountability and cooperation in Smithtown’s government.

The restructuring would create four commissioner positions that would each look over approximately five to six department heads. Creighton believes this would be more successful than having all 26 department heads answer to Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R).

Wehrheim supported the proposal of this idea. If elected, this would be Creighton’s third term as councilman. He was elected to office in 2008, and Wehrheim was elected in 2003.

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Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio, right, hears Alan Schneider of Suffolk County Personnel discuss a proposal that would reorganize the town's government. Photo by Phil Corso

When it comes to government efficiency, Smithtown’s supervisor says it is not broken, and doesn’t need to be fixed.

Making good on his promise, Smithtown Town Councilman Bob Creighton (R) invited Suffolk County Personnel Director Alan Schneider to Tuesday morning’s work session to rap over a Creighton-backed proposal that would give the Town Board authority to appoint commissioners, which he argued would streamline workflow within the town. Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R), however, was not swayed in his previous position against changing the way the government operates, welcoming Schneider to the meeting by referring to it as “the lion’s den.”

Earlier this year, Creighton floated the proposal to restructure Smithtown’s government, similar to actions taken in other nearby municipalities like Babylon, Brookhaven, Huntington and Islip, taking 24 departments within the town and condensing them underneath four Town Board-appointed commissioners, including planning and development, human services, public works and public safety. The Town Board and Supervisor would remain the same, as would the offices of the town attorney, clerk, comptroller, assessor and tax receiver.

The plan would replace the current structure, which appoints Town Board members as liaisons to various different departments.

“We refined the plan, to some degree, and Alan indicated it was a workable plan,” Creighton said. “It has been utilized in other towns as well.”

Schneider told the board that local laws needed to be written and be brought before the state’s Civil Service Department for approval in order for such a plan to move forward, although he added it would likely make it through if it followed suit of neighboring municipalities that have already taken that route. He gave Creighton’s proposal his personal stamp of approval, nevertheless.

“What you have put before me is doable,” Schneider said. “It would give you four additional commissioners, or directors, depending on what you want to call them, and you can fill these positions with whomever you choose to fill them with.”

Councilman Tom McCarthy (R) suggested that if the town were to go in this direction, the board implement some sort of criteria or standards for commissioner positions in the future to prevent political pandering, or appointments borne out of government deals made behind closed doors.

When he initially brought the discussion to the table, Creighton asked his fellow councilmembers about inviting Schneider from the county level to come in and move the discussion forward. The proposal also received support from Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R), but the others remained reserved.

Vecchio, who had been against the proposal from the beginning, said he did not gain any additional insight into the debate after sitting down with the personnel director.

“It wasn’t helpful to me, I already knew about it” Vecchio said to Schneider. “What we have has worked well, having councilmembers supervise various departments.” Vecchio argued that neighboring towns that underwent government restructuring opened themselves up to political corruption and mishandlings that could have been avoided otherwise. Creighton, however, argued the town should keep the focus on its own municipality.

“We are doing this to correct the span of control,” he said. “In any business, having 23 different people in charge is out of control.”

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File photo

Calling upon previous instructions to be careful with Smithtown’s cash, two town board members voted against promoting two town employees at a public meeting Tuesday, though it was not enough to stop the raises.

Town Comptroller Donald Musgnug told the board in a special meeting last month that it must “tighten its belt” to protect its bond rating as the town goes out for bonding later this year to fund certain capital projects. Tuesday’s meeting agenda included two promotions that were ultimately approved by a vote of 3-2, but they were met with concern from Councilman Bob Creighton (R), who called upon Musgnug’s previous warning.

“We had Mr. Musgnug in here recently, and now I have a little bit of a problem,” said Creighton, who voted against the promotions along with Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R). “He tells us we shouldn’t be doing more promotions, and here it is, we have two more on here.”

The promotions ultimately went to Traffic Safety Department employees Dyanne Musmacker, to the position of senior clerk typist at $20.45 per hour, and Anthony R. Cannone, to the provisional position of traffic engineer at $54.07 per hour — both effective July 20. The two promotions were the only items Creighton and Wehrheim voted against in a list of 10 other personnel matters before the Smithtown Town Board on Tuesday.

Town Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) defended the promotions, saying money was already allocated at the beginning of budget season for such raises.

“When the department asked for those promotions in September of 2014, I told them we would consider those promotions and that I would put the money in the budget effective July 1,” Vecchio said. “So there’s money already accounted for.”

Vecchio also said such a practice, allocating money in the budget for future raises, was not out of character for the town.

Creighton, however, was against the practice on the grounds of Musgnug’s presentation before the Town Board in which he expressed concern over the town’s financial future.

“My recommendation is that we fill only essential positions, promote from within where possible and leave non-essential positions vacant,” Musgnug said in his June 23 presentation on the status of the 2015 Smithtown budget. “The message is that we must continue to contain what we can control — expenditures.”

Musgnug said the town’s financial standing was ultimately on the line come the end of the year as it considers bonding for projects, and potentially faces a lowered rating.

“The rating agencies would like to see a structurally balanced budget,” he said at the June special meeting. “As we approach the 2016 budget cycle, the closer we are to breakeven in 2015 means less adjustments for 2016.”

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Smithtown Councilman Bob Creighton. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Smithtown Councilman Bob Creighton (R) is reaching out to Suffolk County as he continues to push a plan that would reform the town’s government setup.

It has been nearly two months since the town board last discussed the government restructure proposal, which Creighton and Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) advocated for at a work session in March. Officials renewed discussion Tuesday morning when Creighton said he would be asking Suffolk County Personnel Director Alan Schneider to attend an upcoming work session and offer insight on how other municipalities endured a similar reform.

Under the plan, Smithtown would restructure its government services by placing a commissioner at the head of various departments, similar to operations in neighboring municipalities. For example, there would be one commissioner per department heading up areas like public safety, public works, planning and development and of human services, overseeing all levels of the town’s government.

“This is a very desirable place to live and we could improve on the way we run government,” Creighton reiterated at Tuesday morning’s work session. “I do think this would be an improvement because we would have far more accountability.”

Creighton said neighboring municipalities, including Brookhaven, already had similar makeups, differing greatly from Smithtown’s current structure of appointing councilmembers as liaisons to check in on various department heads.

“We do have liaison relationships with these various departments, but liaison is liaison,” Creighton said. “Direct control is something else.”

Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R), however, remained unimpressed by the proposal, as he was when it was discussed two months ago. While he said he was open to the prospect of Schneider coming to the board to discuss the restructuring, he did not feel it would sway him in favor of doing it.

Vecchio said in March he was worried that such a reform would bring about more political obstructionism in Smithtown, saying he felt the town already runs efficiently and that there is risk of losing sight of that by changing power.

“I have no problem with the town board. I really don’t,” Vecchio said. “I think we run very well. I’m not convinced this will make the town run any better. I just don’t see the need.”

When the plan was discussed in March, Councilman Tom McCarthy (R) called for a financial analysis on such a proposal so as not to cost Smithtown taxpayers any additional dollars. Creighton brought that concern to the table Tuesday morning, suggesting that if commissioners were chosen out of the pool of current town employees, no additional costs would be accrued.

“We can use people from within and it will not cost the taxpayer anything,” Creighton said. “It’s a more reasonable span of control.”

The next work session is scheduled for June 2 at town hall.

Town Board members played along with Smithtown’s 350th anniversary celebration Tuesday night, dressing up in outfits similar to those when the town was first founded. Photo by Chris Mellides

By Chris Mellides

Take members of the Smithtown Town Board, dress them up in 17th century garb and the rest is history.

Officials commemorated the town of Smithtown’s 350th anniversary sponsored by the Smithtown 350 Foundation Tuesday with the opening of a time capsule and were joined by residents who braved the snow to attend the event at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts.

Town historian Bradley Harris hosted the night’s proceedings and was joined onstage by Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) and his colleagues who wore elaborate 17th century period clothing and read passages from the Richard Nicolls Patent of 1665 — which outlined instructions for governance under English rule of what are now the states of New York and New Jersey.

Throughout the presentation Harris and those town officials that participated onstage engaged in playful

Town Board members played along with Smithtown’s 350th anniversary celebration Tuesday night, dressing up in outfits similar to those when the town was first founded. Photo by Chris Mellides
Town Board members played along with Smithtown’s 350th anniversary celebration Tuesday night, dressing up in outfits similar to those when the town was first founded. Photo by Chris Mellides

banter and delivered light-hearted jokes that often got a rise out of the Long Islanders who watched from their seats.

As the night progressed, Harris often pulled from the pages of history and delivered facts about the founding of Smithtown that those in attendance might not have otherwise known.

Despite the witty quips and wisecracks exchanged in the theater room of what used to be a local cinema, the 71-year-old historian and Saint James resident was quite serious and resolute about the importance of preserving history and the passion he holds for his community.

“This town is very interesting because it started with one man’s dream to carve out a niche for himself where he would be his own master and I think that’s [Smithtown founder] Richard Smith in a lot of ways,” Harris said. “He’s left us so many things to venerate.”

During the course of the event, eyes were drawn to a 50-year-old milk can worn with age, which sat to the far right of the stage. The dirtied metal time capsule was originally buried in 1965, and thanks in large part to the town Engineering Department, which had a precise map of its location, its contents were ready to be shared for the first time with audience members.

Town officials and residents were on their feet and the excitement filling the room was palpable. With a hard crack of a hammer, the time capsule was forced open and placed on the long table, where Vecchio and his colleagues were seated.

Among the contents contained within the milk can were: two dusty hats, a phonebook, a local newspaper, a flyer advertising tercentenary pageant tickets and an assortment of aged coins.

James Potts a resident of Smithtown, who has lived in the area for 63 years, was among those in attendance. Potts’ father was the town surveyor, and, due to this, Potts claims to have a very strong knowledge of the town’s history.

Asked about the night’s presentation, Potts said he was very happy with how things shaped up.

“As you can see from how the theater filled up, it shows you the extent of the connection in this town with the residents and basically the pride in the town that they live in,” said Potts.

While he enjoyed the event, Potts expressed some disappointment with the contents of the time capsule and felt as though there could have been more items included that could have better illustrated what life was like on Long Island in the early 1960s.

Town Board members played along with Smithtown’s 350th anniversary celebration Tuesday night, dressing up in outfits similar to those when the town was first founded. Photo by Chris Mellides
Town Board members played along with Smithtown’s 350th anniversary celebration Tuesday night, dressing up in outfits similar to those when the town was first founded. Photo by Chris Mellides

Also expressing his dismay with the time capsule finds was Harris, who as a historian expected a lot more.

“It was the era of Kennedy’s assassination, and I would’ve thought there would have been some commentary on that, but there was nothing and that’s a little disappointing,” said Harris. “The guys who made up the time capsule certainly were trying to stir interest in the past and they did that, but what we learned tonight was very limited.”

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