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Huntington Town

A conceptual rendering of the proposed K.I.D.S. Plus adult group home in Greenlawn. Photo from Facebook

Greenlawn residents rallied before Huntington Town officials Oct. 17 seeking answers to their questions about proposed plans for a group home on Cuba Hill Road.

More than a dozen community members spoke out at the town board meeting in which the Northport-based nonprofit K.I.D.S. Plus presented plans for an 8,000-square-foot group home for adults with physical and developmental disabilities. Residents raised concerns about traffic, noise, overall size of the home and density of group homes in the area, but ultimately found themselves with more questions than answers.

“I’m really trying hard not to have the knee-jerk reaction of not in my backyard,” said Manan Shah, a Cuba Hill Road homeowner. “We want to be partners. We want to understand. But to ask us to give you an 8,000-square-foot home without giving us information is unfair.”

Sergio Gallardo, of Greenlawn, said the Cuba Hill Road residents weren’t given an opportunity to speak with K.I.D.S. Plus founder Tammie Topel to learn what types of disabilities the home’s residents would have or review the business plans.

“We assumed you would have sat down with the people who live in the area prior to this hearing,” Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said. “Obviously, that didn’t happen.”

Topel, a Northport resident and member of the Northport school district’s board of education, is a well-known advocate for children with special needs as she has spoken publicly on several occasions about her son, Brandon, who is diagnosed with autism. She explained her “dream” plan is to build a group home for eight adults, 21 years of age and older, on the 2-acre wooded lot. The house would have an administrator/coordinator on site 24/7 to oversee the health and safety of residents in addition to a rotating staff of specialists and caregivers based on individual residents’ needs, according to Topel.

“There is a waiting list in New York state of greater than 11,000 people who need homes and we are trying to mitigate the problem,” she said. “We are trying to provide assistance for parents of children, young adults and adults who need a supportive independent place to live.”

However, residents were quick to point out that the K.I.D.S. Plus home would not be the first facility of its type in community.

“Within a half-mile of my home in any direction, and my neighbors as well, there are three group homes already — this would be a fourth,” said William Whitcomb, a Cuba Hill Road homeowner of 10 years. “Regardless of the nature of the residents, four is simply too much.”

Another major concern voiced repeatedly was the proposed size of the group home in comparison to the existing homes. Neighbors expressed fears that it would alter the area’s character, giving it a more commercial feel.

“The homes tend not to be very large; the properties are large, that’s why we like to live there,” said Taylor McLam, a Cuba Hill Road homeowner who said his residence is approximately 1,200 square feet by comparison. “Seven times the size of my house seems a little much.”

Jules Smilow, a resident of Darryl Lane, expressed sympathy, saying that a group home that was more commensurate in size to the existing residences would be more agreeable.

Many Greenlawn property owners, including Rebecca Gutierrez and Stephen Wuertz, pointed to the three existing group homes in the area with concerns of noise from handicapped transportation and delivery trucks, increased traffic and possible behavior incidents involving future residents.

“I think one of the things that is happening here is some people don’t know what disability looks like and what it is all about,” said George Wurzer, a licensed clinical social worker.

Wurzer said he operates a number of group homes for children diagnosed with autism. While many were met by resistance  from their surrounding communities at first, he said that over time there was more acceptance and the neighbors learned more about developmental disabilities from the experience.

“Tammie’s vision is the next evolutionary stage in helping people with disabilities,” Wurzer said.

Petrone admitted it was, in part, the town’s fault that residents did not have critical information to fairly evaluate the group home proposal. He directed Anthony Aloisio, the director of planning and environment, to arrange for a community meeting between residents and Topel.

Topel has posted a proposed blueprint of the building on the K.I.D.S. Plus Facebook page. There are several upcoming public meetings to provide those interested  with more information Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. at Signature Premier Properties in East Northport, and Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. at Cause Cafe in Fort Salonga.

Huntington Town Hall. File photo by Rohma Abbas

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Huntington homeowners can anticipate to see taxes increase in 2018, but town officials have pieced together a plan that won’t require piercing the state tax cap as opposed to 2017.

Huntington Town’s budget will slide in just under the state-mandated 1.84 percent tax levy increase cap with its proposed $194 million spending plan for 2018..

Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) presented his last and final budget proposal at the Sept. 15 town board meeting, calling for a $4.2 million spending increase compared to 2017.

The single largest driving factor behind the town’s budget hike is high health care costs for town employees, according to Petrone. Town personnel salaries and benefits “is the single biggest influence on municipal budgets,” reads the proposed 2018 budget, citing it accounts for more than 50 percent of the town’s major expenditures. The state has predicted health care insurance premiums will rise by 8.3 percent, which would cost the town an additional $22.5 million in 2018.

To help cut back these costs, Petrone has proposed to reduce the number of full-time town employees through attrition for a second year. So far this year, the town has eliminated six positions, for a savings of $400,000 in paid salaries and benefits, according to town spokesman A.J. Carter.

“I continue to advocate for changes to the Tax Cap Act that will allow the Town of Huntington to expand upon existing successful programs such as the continuation of the Town Open Space Bond Act.”

— Frank Petrone

Successful changes in two of the town’s ambulance districts — Huntington and Commack — will result in residents seeing decreased taxes for ongoing services. Commack Volunteer Ambulance Corps began billing patients’ insurance companies in 2016, a move that was followed by Huntington this year and resulted in a significant increase to its revenue. Carter said residents without health care insurance will not be billed by either company, as those costs continue to be covered by the town.

The preliminary budget calls for $16.6 million in capital spending on local projects, holding steady at 2017 levels. These capital projects include $3.75 million to begin construction of the James E. Conte Community Center at the former Armory in Huntington Station and $3 million to construct a new animal shelter adjacent to Mill Dam Park in Halesite.

Town officials have already unveiled plans to build its first of two spray parks, or interactive water playgrounds, in 2018 — one in Elwood Park in memory of New York City Police Sgt. Paul Tuozzolo who was killed in the line of duty in 2017, and one next to the Conte Community Center.

Other major projects included in the 2018 preliminary budget are improvements to Manor Park in Huntington Station, restoration of the waterfront bulkheads in Halesite and $1 million toward improvement of the Huntington sewers.

In issuing his final budget, Petrone called for changes to the state’s Tax Cap Act.

“I continue to advocate for changes to the Tax Cap Act that will allow the Town of Huntington to expand upon existing successful programs, such as the continuation of the Town Open Space Bond Act, and to develop new economic drivers, like the formation of special improvement districts which deal with issue-specific concerns and solutions, and the establishment of new Business Improvement Districts to further enhance our small business communities,” the supervisor said.

Petrone called for specific programs or capital projects to be approved by voters in a town referendum vote, then excluded from tax cap calculations, otherwise he feared programs could be discontinued to stay under the cap.

For 2017, Petrone got residents’ support in piercing the tax cap by approving a 2.85 percent tax increase for his $191 million budget. The supervisor had claimed it was necessary in order to maintain the town’s services along with social, youth and art programs without severe cuts.

Residents will have the chance to share their input on the proposed 2018 budget at the Oct. 17 town board meeting.

A Larkfield Road home is at the center of a lawsuit by its two former owners against Town of Huntington, Councilman Eugene Cook and his two business partners. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Two former East Northport landowners are suing Huntington Town, Councilman Eugene Cook (R) and his two business partners for $5 million over alleged loss of property rights.

A federal lawsuit filed Sept. 11 in U.S District Court for the Eastern District of New York claims that town officials have intentionally overlooked zoning code violations at a multi-family home on Larkfield Road — but only after it was purchased by TGJ 2014 LLC in 2014. The company is owned by Cook and two business partners, Huntington real estate agent Timothy Cavanagh and Commack attorney Joshua Price.

The former homeowners, Mary Ann Dellinger, of Huntington, and her brother, Carmen Tomeo, allege the town officials’ efforts to unfairly enforce zoning codes on the five-family dwelling caused them to lose money in the sale, according to their attorney Christopher Cassar. The house was purchased for $400,000 by TGJ 2014.

“This house was their primary asset,” Cassar said.

The plaintiffs claim the Larkfield Road home’s use as a multi-family dwelling predates the creation of Huntington Town code in 1934, according to court documents. Cassar said the family has a March 11, 2007 letter from the town which grandfathered the property’s right to be legally occupied as a five-family residence.

The lawsuit alleges town code enforcement officers began to issues summonses in 2012 against the property owners demanding it be returned to a single-family home, despite earlier promises.

“Town of Huntington has permitted and tolerated a pattern and practice of unjustified, unreasonable and illegal use of the enforcement of town code against the plaintiffs,” the lawsuit reads.

Cassar said the town’s actions caused Dellinger and Tomeo to have difficulty selling the house, as two prior deals fell through. One potential buyer would have paid $900,000 for the property, according to Cassar, half a million more than Cook and his partners paid.

The former homeowners also claim the $5 million sought is for damages including loss of income from the property, loss of property value, embarrassment, harrassment, loss of liberty and infringement of their property rights, according to court records.

In 2015, town officials  hired attorney Edward Guardaro Jr., of the firm Kaufman, Borgeest & Ryan LLP, to look into the East Northport house, to determine whether it was a legal rental and if the work being performed was legal.

Cassar said the town has issued a summons on the property, since Cook and his company took ownership, over issues with an exterior staircase and debris. However, the attorney said the town did not ever issue a code violation against it for being a multi-family dwelling.

Huntington has not been served with the lawsuit as of Sept. 20, according to town spokesman A.J. Carter, and he declined to comment further on the matter. Cook also declined to comment on the lawsuit after the Sept. 19 board meeting, as did Cavanagh. Price returned calls but did not comment on the matter.

Huntington Manor firefighters evacuated 15 residents from an early morning apartment blaze Sept. 20.

The fire department responded to initial reports of a structure fire on New York Avenue between East 10th and East 11th streets in Huntington Station at 6:51 a.m., according to fire district spokesman Steve Silverman.

Firefighters found a fire in an apartment building located behind a commercial building and began an aggressive search and rescue. Several neighboring fire departments including Commack, Dix Hills, Greenlawn, Halesite, Huntington, Melville also responded bringing a total of 50 firefighters and 10 trucks to the scene.

Huntington Manor assistant chiefs Jon Hoffman, Chuck Brady and Jim Glidden led crews in evacuating residents and bringing the fire under control within an hour. The fire caused extensive damage to the commercial building and apartments on the first and second floor, according to Silverman.

New York Avenue was closed off in both directions by Suffolk County police during the fire, causing snarls to rush-hour traffic.

The Suffolk County police Arson Squad and Huntington Town fire marshal are investigating the cause of the fire.

Huntington Manor Fire Department members unveil the new sign at the entrance of the newly-named Depot Road Richard W. Holst Memorial Park. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Eight years after the tragic death of a Huntington Manor firefighter, a town park has been renamed to honor his service to the community.

Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) and the town board announced Depot Road Park is now officially Richard W. Holst Memorial Park, renamed after the late fire police captain, chaplain, and posthumous honorary chief of Huntington Manor Fire Department.

“It is our honor to rededicate this park in his name for his heroic efforts and his giving to this community, continuously,” Petrone said.

Noreen Holst, Huntington Town Board members and Huntington Manor Fire Department members unveil a memorial plaque dedicated to Richard W. Holst. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Holst, a U.S. Navy veteran, joined the Huntington Manor fire department in 1978. He served for 31 years, spending 26 of those as the department’s chaplain and captain of the fire police. Prior to his death, Holst was elected chief chaplain of the New York State Association of Fire Chaplains in 2008. His fellow firefighters affectionately called him, “the Rev.”

“As chaplain, Rich spent countless hours looking after, comforting and at times consoling members and families of the Huntington Manor Fire Department,” said Jon Hoffman, first assistant chief of Huntington Manor Fire Department. “Today, we dedicate this stone and plaque in honor of Richie. It will stay here for years and watch over the people in this park as Richie did for us for so many years.”

In the early morning of Sept. 9, 2009, Holst was walking to 7-Eleven on Depot Road when he saw smoke rising from the adjacent shopping center. He reported the fire and immediately went to the scene to begin evacuation of the stores and checking for possible trapped occupants. Shortly after firefighters arrived, Holst suffered a heart attack and died.

The fire was determined to have started in Uber Cafe, a bagel shop, and police later ruled the incident arson, Petrone said. One of the shop’s owners pled guilty to attempted arson, the second owner was later convicted of arson.

Depot Road Park in Huntington was renamed for former Huntington Manor Fire Department member Richard W. Holst.

The newly renamed Huntington Station park off East 20th Street is only a few hundred feet from the site of the fatal fire. It features a playground and Little League baseball fields. 

“Depot Road Park is a special place, it’s a hidden gem in our park system,” Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) said. “I think like many of you firefighters who knew Chief Holst, he was a hidden gem in our community. He was someone who was there to serve, dedicated his life to service in the [U.S.] Navy and in the fire department, then the important role of chaplain. So much of his time was dedicated to others.”

In addition to the park’s new signage, a large stone was unveiled bearing a memorial plaque with Holt’s image, notes about his accomplishments and details about his death. Deacon Edward Billia from St. Hugh of Lincoln Roman Catholic Church said a blessing over both the sign and memorial stone.

Noreen Holst appeared deeply touched by the tribute paid to her late husband. While she declined to speak publicly, she clutched a tissue in hand while Huntington Manor Assistant Chief Chuck Brady thanked all those who attended Saturday’s ceremony on behalf of the family. 

Huntington Manor Fire Commissioner Chris Fusaro encouraged the young members of the organization to take a long look around at those gathered and ask to hear personal stories about Holst’s exemplary life. 

“For all you who don’t know what firefighters do, it’s day and night, holidays and weekends when you get up from the table, get out of bed to go and respond,” Fusaro said. “Rich did that. He did it willingly and always from his heart.”

Huntington Manor firefighters salute their former colleague. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

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Huntington Town Hall. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Two hopefuls will face off in the Sept. 15 primary to win the Democratic party line in the wide-open race for the Huntington Town supervisor seat. For many, it is the first Democratic primary for town supervisor they can vote in.

Incumbent Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D), 72, announced in April he would not be seeking re-election.. He has served for nearly a quarter of a century, as he was first elected to the position in 1993.

Town Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) will compete for votes against community leader Darryl St. George (D), of Centerport, to determine who will attempt to fill Petrone’s shoes.

Tracey Edwards

Edwards has made the decision to step forward and run for supervisor, rather than seek re-election to a second term as a town council member. If she does not win the Democratic primary, she may no longer serve Huntington as an elected official.

“I chose to run for town supervisor versus running for re-election,” Edwards said. “This is not about me. This is about what I believe is best for Huntington.”

Tracey Edward

Edwards was elected to the town board in 2014, after serving 10 years on the board of education in the Elwood school district. She previously served on the board of directors of the Long Island Association and worked for 37 years at Verizon, starting as an operator and climbing the ladder to regional president of network operations.

Over the last three years, Edwards spearheaded the creation of Huntington Opportunity Resource Center, a program that offers assistance with job hunting and career training for unemployed and underemployed residents. She has also been an advocate for Huntington Station revitalization, a plan which includes construction of veteran’s housing, art space, stores, sidewalks, and a parking garage while also working to stamp out crime.

“The biggest issue is public safety and safe neighborhoods,” Edwards said. “That is always No. 1.”

If elected supervisor, Edwards said her primary goal is to improve public safety, making more affordable housing for millenials and seniors, working with families to address ever growing opioid and heroin dependency, and expanding the town’s environmental initiatives.

“I think what [voters] have to do is really decide who has the business experience, the civic experience and governmental experience to make the changes necessary to take the town forward,” Edwards said. “We have work to do.”

Edwards will be attending Huntington Awareness Day, Sept. 9 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Stimson Middle School, located at 401 Oakwood Road in Huntington Station

Darryl  St. George

St. George was one of the first to announce he would seek election as town supervisor in February, prior to Petrone’s announcement he would not seek re-election. He said he previously contemplated running for town board in 2015.

“The political landscape from February till now has shifted dramatically, what has not shifted is my resolve,” St. George said.

St. George works as a Northport High School teacher, where he is the co-advisor of Northport High School branch of Students Against Destructive Decisions and the advisor of Project Vets, a club that works to improve the lives of veterans once they return home. He previously taught at St. Anthony’s High School in Huntington.

Darryl St. George

St. George is a U.S. Navy veteran who served a nine-month tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2011. Upon returning home, he served as the president of Greenlawn Civic Association for three years. In that role, St. George said he addressed public safety issues and opioid and heroin addiction.

“I was proud to be in that position,” St. George said. “I felt we were able to grow the civic association and get a lot of young people involved.”

If elected supervisor, St. George said he would focus on improving public safety by addressing in addition to opioid addiction, gang issues, protection of the environment and democratic reform to make town government more accessible for people to become involved.

“The real difference between the supervisor and the town board is a supervisor must be a leader,” he said. “A leader should have a vision and be able to communicate that vision clearly, build consensus on the town board and in the community so the vision can be translated into action. I have a track record of doing that as a teacher, as a veteran who served in the U.S. Navy,  as a civic leader and as an activist.”

St. George will be holding a fundraising event Sept. 9 at 6:45 p.m. at the Conklin Brush Barn, located at 2 High Street in Huntington.

Polls will be open for primaries Sept. 12 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Huntington Town residents are eligible to vote in the supervisor race if you are a registered Democrat,  at least 18 years old, have lived at your current address at least 30 days before the election, and have not been in prison or on parole for a felony conviction.

To double check if you are registered to vote, visit the state’s website at voterlookup.elections.state.ny.us/votersearch.aspx.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini speaks about new police cameras at each of the seven precincts during a press conference in Greenlawn. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Be careful what actions you take, because the police are watching.

Suffolk County Police Department officials announced the implementation of 12 overt surveillance cameras throughout the county July 10, in an effort to deter crime.

The pilot program began in October 2016 with the implementation of a single camera in both the 1st and 2nd precincts. Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said that cameras were installed in the five other precincts early June.

Two of these cameras were positioned in Huntington Town, with one displayed on top of a telephone pole outside a small shopping center at the corner of Rockne Street and Broadway in Greenlawn.

“We want people to know about it.” Sini said of the camera program. “Local government is doing everything in their power to increase the quality of life in our communities.”

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said that the town is dealing with the impact of several recent crimes, specifically recent shootings in Greenlawn that are “all too fresh in our minds.”

“These incidents of crime take away the feeling of safety,” Spencer said. “We will not tolerate violence in our community. These cameras put criminals on notice to say, ‘Don’t come here.’”

The cameras are full color and full motion, and can be accessed remotely through any officer or SCPD official that has access to Wi-Fi. The camera equipment was purchased for about $130,000 in a program funded by SCPD asset forfeiture dollars. However, the plan for a new real-time crime center, part of which will be to monitor the overt security cameras, will be created using SCPD’s normal operating budget.

The cameras are additions to a surveillance system that includes a number of license-plate readers along intersections and hidden cameras placed in areas such as local public parks.

“While the discreet cameras catch crime, the overt cameras do the same but they deter crime as well,” Sini said.

SCPD officials said that depending on community feedback, the cameras could be moved into different positions or to different areas.

On the topic of privacy, Sini responded that people should not expect privacy in a public space.

“The message we want to send is think twice before doing something illegal — think twice before doing something that demotes the quality of life for our residents, because we are watching,” Sini said.

Several nearby residents were happy to have the new camera system in their community.

“It’s a blessing,” said Greenlawn resident Earline Robinson about the implementation of the camera. She said she was concerned about crime, including gang activity, in the area and especially those of several shootings that happened in the community just in the past month.

President of Greenlawn Civic Association, Dick Holmes, said he had high expectations for the cameras and the police department.

“I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “We’ll see what it does and I guess we’ll see how it goes from there.”

The cameras are meant to be hung from telephone poles and are colored bright white and wrapped with a blue stripe that reads “police.” The camera positioned outside the shopping center in Greenlawn looks down at a strip that has been the site of a number of crimes, including several robberies.

One Stop Deli owner Mohammad Afzaal said that in the nine years he’s owned his store, it had been raided four times. Once, robbers broke into the safe behind the counter, and several times he had walked in to find the store in disarray. From those robberies, he estimates he lost about $11,000.

“Sometimes my camera doesn’t work,” Afzaal said, pointing to the camera hanging in the corner of his store. “But the camera out there, it will work.”

Scenes from Greenlawn's Veterans Day Ceremony Nov. 11. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

For anyone planning to attend the Greenlawn Memorial Day ceremony May 29, this year’s event promises to be a unique one.

After a joint effort between the Greenlawn American Legion Post 1244, the Greenlawn Fire Department and Huntington Town, the Greenlawn monument located across from Greenlawn Park was refurbished.

According to the legion post, the monument was originally dedicated as a memorial to Greenlawn residents who fought in World War I. It was then rededicated in 1960 as a monument to “all those who made the supreme sacrifice.” The landmark has been in its current location since 1996 at the corner of Pulaski Road and Broadway in Greenlawn.

The original World War I plaque and the 1960 dedication plaque have been refinished to their original conditions, and four smaller plaques have been added to the sides of the monument, commemorating those who served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the current Global War on Terror. A new eagle will also replace the monument’s existing eagle, which is a smaller one donated by the fire department after the original bronze eagle was stolen. The monument has also been moved several feet forward so it’s easier for residents to see the plaques on the back of the monument.

Bob Santo, public relations chairman for the Greenlawn post, said the work for this project started a year ago, and it was completed thanks to a team effort.

“It was important to our group because that’s the location we celebrate Veterans Day and Memorial Day,” Santo said in a phone interview. “But it’s also a focal point of the community, and we wanted to bring it up to date and make it look great again.”

Huntington Councilman Mark Cuth-
bertson (D) said he was approached with the idea from the post and the fire department after the previous year’s Veterans Day ceremony.

“It was my honor and privilege in assisting the A.L. Post 1244 in this important endeavor,” he said in a statement. “I would like to commend Dennis Madden, commander of Post 1244, and Bill Irving of the Greenlawn Fire Department for their dedication and commitment to our nation’s veterans and community.”

A few days prior to the monument’s unveiling, a Purple Heart will be sealed into the base of the monument in honor of all those who were killed or wounded in all of America’s conflicts. In addition, a National Defense Ribbon will be included in honor of all who have worn a United States service uniform.

“I’m very happy with how everything came together,” former post commander Dennis Madden said in a phone interview. “It was important to get this done because this is a monument to all of the people who have fought for this country.”

Bill Irving said this project came together thanks to the teamwork and unity of the post and the fire department.

“This was a true partnership. We did this together for the right reasons,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s important to us to support our veterans in any way we can. This is my way of saying thank you to our veterans for all they have done.”

Residents can come see the unveiling after the Memorial Day parade Monday morning, which starts at 9 a.m., just prior to the annual Memorial Day ceremony.

Former Huntington Councilwoman Tracey Edwards won the Democratic town supervisor primary. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Huntington Town Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) is determined to serve her community no matter what. After the lifelong Huntington resident was diagnosed with breast cancer in Jan. 2016 — the beginning of her second year on the board — she spent the better part of nine months in and out of the doctor’s office, undergoing chemotherapy, radiation and surgeries. Yet  she didn’t miss a single board meeting.

“I came in with my hat, I was bald, but I was there because the residents elected me to do a job — I’m efficient,” Edwards, who is now cancer-free, said with a smile.

That efficiency, along with a list of initiatives to better her community, has put the restless 55-year-old on track for town supervisor.

On Monday, May 1, Edwards sat down for an interview, at Panera Bread on Main Street in Huntington, to discuss her achievements so far on the town board, her upbringing, and campaign for supervisor. Born in Huntington Hospital and raised by a narcotics detective, her father, and a civil activist, her mother, Edwards married her high school sweetheart at 17. She and her husband live in Dix Hills and have three children, and two grandchildren.

Edwards was elected to the town board in 2014, after serving 10 years on the Elwood board of education. She previously served on the board of directors of the Long Island Association and worked for 37 years at Verizon, starting as an operator and climbing the ladder to regional president of network operations.

As councilwoman, Edwards worked alongside fellow councilwoman Susan Berland (D) to expand affordable housing legislation for millennials and first-time home buyers to more easily live downtown and has been a strong advocate for youth-oriented programs that tackle drug awareness, encouraging the town’s partnerships with its school districts and churches to confront Long Island’s heroin and opioid epidemic.

She led the rewriting of the town’s ethics code to make it more transparent for residents. “The residents are our customers and the more I can do to bring government to the people the better it is for a more open government,” she said. She and the board are currently working on a resolution to modify registrations for bow hunting, which has long been a safety concern among residents in Asharoken and Eaton’s Neck.

She also spearheaded the creation of the Huntington Opportunity Resource Center, a program that offers assistance with resume preparation, job searches, exploration of career options and access to job training for unemployed and underemployed residents, many of whom are veterans.

“Tracey has always made the veterans feel like we’re an important part of the community and she’s been a great supporter of us,” Bob Santo, commander of Greenlawn American Legion Post 1244, said in a phone interview. “She’s very honest and straightforward and immediately welcoming. Most recently, HORC organized a special veterans service day where dozens gather to welcome veterans and provide information and social services to them…it’s all due to her leadership.”

If elected supervisor, Edwards said she wants to complete revitalization efforts started in Huntington Station, which includes the construction of veteran’s housing, art space, stores, sidewalks and a parking garage, while working with law enforcement to stamp out crime.

“Huntington Station is the entrance into the village and we need to make sure there is a look and feel all the way down on New York Avenue,” she said. “I saw what Huntington Station used to be with businesses along New York Avenue that were thriving. Unfortunately, that turned into parking lots. Paved parking lots for commuter parking is not what our community is all about.”

She said she also wants to continue to hold the line on taxes under the town’s cap, building on the foundation of financial stability laid by current Supervisor Frank Petrone (D).

Moving forward, she hopes to expand the town’s environmental initiatives, focusing specifically on solar and sustainability. She’s a lead sponsor on the county’s Focused Clean Water resolution that bans formaldehyde in marine water tanks.

Alissa Taff, a civic leader in Melville, said although her group can’t endorse candidates, she appreciates Edwards’ support in voting against a recent proposal to build a HomeGoods on a vacant special groundwater protection area on Route 110. The vote wound up 3-2 in favor of the application, with Petrone and other board members giving the go-ahead.

“She voted not in line with her party but in line with what’s right for the community and the wishes of our civic association,” Taff said. “[In doing so], she showed great concern for the environment and what will become a very high traffic area, and protection of park land. We admire her for that.”

Edwards graduated from Elwood-John Glenn High School in 1978 at just 16, doubling up on the essential courses and eliminating the rest so she could more quickly begin her career — she initially had her heart set on joining the police force but her father steered her away from that idea. She quickly got a job at New York Telephone, which later became Verizon, and felt at home.

But she said she feels most at home helping the people of Huntington.

“When people call me and say ‘I hate to bother you with this…’ I’m very quick to tell them, ‘listen, I work for you…when you’re calling me, don’t apologize. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing, working on your behalf,’” she said. “This town is important to me and I want to make sure I do everything I can for it.”

A view of the main page of a piece of Reclaim NY’s Transparency Project. Image from ReclaimNY website

Transparency and honesty play a major role in healthy democracies, and now New York State municipalities will have a watchdog tracking their effectiveness, providing feedback publicly to concerned citizens, by concerned citizens.

Last week, Reclaim New York, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established to “educate New Yorkers on issues like affordability, transparency and education,” launched a website designed to rate government accessibility and transparency based on an index of recommendations.

The site is part of the group’s New York Transparency Project, an initiative launched in 2016, which kicked off with 2,500 Freedom of Information Law requests for basic expenditure information to county, town and village governments, as well as school districts across Long Island and the state.

“This is an accountability tool,” Reclaim New York Communications Director Doug Kellogg said. “Anybody who wants to help do something to make government more accessible and accountable, go spend 30 minutes and input ratings.”

The new system allows citizens to grade local governments based on 29 indicators, including whether contracts are posted on the internet, there’s access to expenditure records, notices of meetings and the minutes to the meetings are available and contact information is listed for elected officials. The municipalities will receive an overall, objective grade. The grade will indicate which are transparent and law-abiding, as budget information and records access officers need to be publicly available.

“Anybody who wants to help do something to make government more accessible and accountable, go spend 30 minutes and input ratings.”

— Doug Kellogg

“Citizens can hold their governments accountable at every level if they have the right tools for the job,” executive director for the organization Brandon Muir said in a statement. “This is a truly unprecedented moment for New Yorkers who want to reclaim ownership of their government. Working with this new site they can make proactive transparency a reality.”

To input data, users must register with an email address. When data is put into the system, it is vetted and sited prior to going live to avoid a “wild west” feel, according to Kellogg. The process of imputing data to extract a rating for municipalities has only just begun. Kellogg said it will take time to have an all-encompassing collection of information.

In May 2016, Port Jefferson Village and Commack school district failed to comply with FOIL requests as part of the organization’s Transparency Project.

New York’s FOIL requires governments and school districts respond to records requests within five business days, whether with the information requested, a denial or an acknowledgement of the request. The response needs to include an estimated date when one of the latter two will occur. Denials can be appealed but  not allowed “on the basis that the request is voluminous or that locating or reviewing the requested records or providing the requested copies is burdensome, because the agency lacks sufficient staffing.”

As part of a project it dubbed the New York Transparency Project, Reclaim New York sent 253 Freedom of Information requests to school districts and municipalities on Long Island. It reported on its findings, saying that while many entities complied with state guidelines on processing such public records requests, and after the findings were released, Port Jefferson Village and Commack school district eventually complied with the requests.

Entities that it said complied included Suffolk County; Brookhaven, Smithtown and Huntington towns; Belle Terre and Lake Grove villages; and the Port Jefferson, Kings Park, Huntington, Smithtown, Mount Sinai, Miller Place and Rocky Point school districts, among others.

To become an evaluator for the website or to view data, visit www.reclaimnewyork.org and click on the Transparency tab.

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