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Mayor responds saying both parties should be aware of code

A Residents First Party sign in front of a Port Jeff home. Photo by Kyle Barr

This post was updated June 5 to add comments by Fred Leute Jr.

After certain Residents First Party candidates got heated over issues involving their signs several weeks ago, acting Chief of Code Enforcement Fred Leute Jr. looks to set the record straight.

He was originally told by an official in the village that signs were not allowed on public property, which is correct according to Village Attorney Brian Egan, but he was also told that anything 3 feet from the curb is prohibited as an easement.

“They did not want me to take signs off easements,” he said, admitting it was a mistake not to ask another village official first. 

The acting chief said he uses Tuesdays to do paperwork and other administration duties, and usually dresses in plain clothes to do that work. He also takes his personal vehicle to Village Hall on Tuesdays, as he said he doesn’t wish to waste taxpayer money using a public safety vehicle.

On his way to work he drives around the village interacting with homeless populations, but he also noticed several signs along his way that were on public property, and others on residential property right next to the road near St. Charles Hospital. Another sign was in front of The Steam Room seafood restaurant in the garden facing the road, which he originally thought was public property. He said once he learned it was not village property, he took that sign and replaced “in the same holes I took it.”

He added that he did not know where the signs removed in the residential section were precisely, and those signs were instead picked up by trustee candidate Tom Meehan, of the Residents First Party. Leute said the event became a big misunderstanding.

“There was no malice against LaValle,” he added.

Garant and Leute have confirmed signs are not being taken down from private property by village officials.

Original Story:

It’s a sign the Port Jeff mayoral and trustee race is heating up as signs, specifically political signs, lead to friction between candidates.

John Jay LaValle, who is running for mayor alongside trustee candidates Thomas Meehan and Tracy Stapleton, said he and Meehan received calls the morning of May 14 saying a black Ford SUV was traveling around the village taking political signs from people’s lawns.

Later, while at Village Hall, LaValle said he saw the SUV, a black Ford Escape, in the parking lot and learned it belonged to acting Chief of Code Enforcement Fred Leute.

“We’re pretty upset, we’re trying to play fair, and it really kind of bothered me.”

— Tom Meehan

“We find out he was driving his personal car, in civilian clothes, not his uniform, driving around on government time taking down his boss’s opponents signs,” LaValle said.

Brian Egan, the village attorney, said village code disallows residents to place signs on the right-of-ways of a public street or walkway. It also allows residents to put up political signs on their public property for 30 out of a 60-day period and can be placed anywhere on said private property.

Village Clerk Bob Juliano confirmed that signs may be placed anywhere on private property and that some of the signs should not have been taken.

In an interview, Leute said that two of the signs were on public property, but another few were on private land. He admitted to making the mistake in taking those signs, and code enforcement would no longer be enforcing political signage, instead referring them to the public works department.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said her campaign and LaValle’s received an email from Juliano May 6 about the need to keep signs from public property. She added code enforcement removed signs from both candidates and put notes on each one explaining why they were taken. 

“Both of our signs were taken,” the mayor said. “I had a conversation with John [LaValle], and I said you got guys volunteering, I got guys volunteering. We both got guys who are overzealous — it’s going to happen … it’s about keeping the village from looking like a war zone right now.”

Meehan confirmed hearing about a number of signs taken down near where he lives, and had received calls that the car was a black Ford Escape. People calling him had reported a man picking up their signs and putting them into the back of the car.

“We’re pretty upset, we’re trying to play fair, and it really kind of bothered me,” Meehan said. “For him to take the signs … it takes a lot of brass. Him, in his private car, and I don’t know if he was working at the time and who directed him to do this.”

Though people involved did not agree on the number of signs, among them were a few Unity Party signs — the party featuring Garant, trustee Stan Loucks and trustee candidate Kathianne Snaden  — and one or two additional school board candidate signs.

“Fred is the chief — he’s the chief all the time, 24/7.”

— Margot Garant

The signs were brought to Juliano, who later returned them to the residents. 

Meehan said he was told the removed signs “were on right-of-ways, and two were too close to the road.”

“The courts have said political signage has wider protection than commercial signage,” Egan said.

LaValle took particular exception with Leute using his personal vehicle to remove the signs, instead of a code enforcement vehicle. Garant, meanwhile, said there was nothing necessarily wrong with how the acting chief did it. The acting chief said he uses his personal car on Tuesdays as he spends most of that particular day doing paperwork.

“Fred is the chief — he’s the chief all the time, 24/7,” the mayor said.

The mayoral candidate said he has reason to believe Leute acted under the current mayor’s orders to target his signs directly.

Meehan, Edna Louise Spear Elementary School principal, said he and his party had been efficient in removing signs from where they were not supposed to be, such as in right-of-ways. He added he has heard recent reports of people, not necessarily code enforcement, removing their signs from people’s lawns.

“I wasn’t looking for this kind of a fight, and I’m not saying I’m going to fight dirty,” Meehan said. “Just makes me even more sure I want to win this thing.”

Updated May 23 to correct name of trustee candidate to Kathianne Snaden.

Baseball is missing out on an entertainment gold mine. In most games, the third base coach is practically invisible, wandering in and out of a rectangular box that’s missing its back line.

Indeed, most of the time, the coach isn’t anywhere near lines that were drawn specifically for him. If those lines aren’t necessary, why draw them? And, if they are where the coach is supposed to be, then shouldn’t umpires enforce that rule? What kind of lessons are we teaching our children if the coaches can’t stay between the lines?

Are we telling them it’s OK to leave the lines? Or, maybe, we cleverly imagine that allowing them to stray from their limitations encourages children to exceed whatever limits others put on them — as happens in this space on occasion, but I digress.

No, you see, the third base coach spends an entire game performing: He appears to be simply scratching an itch on his nose, tapping his cap and motioning for sunscreen as he rubs his hand down his arm. Yet those gestures are a series of complicated signals that indicate what the batter and the runners should do before, during or after the next pitch.

Why does every team need to be so restricted and why does the coach’s facial expression always have to look like he’s trying to memorize a phone number written on a blackboard 90 feet away?

We are a creative culture, the endless Hollywood sequels to movies that shouldn’t have been made in the first place notwithstanding. Why can’t we encourage the third base coach to add entertainment and perhaps levity to a sport in which the home audience routinely watches players and managers shove sunflower seeds into their mouth and then expectorate them onto the field of dreams?

I have a few suggestions to bring more eyeballs to the third base coach and, perhaps, away from teams that long ago gave up hopes of a playoff berth. A coach could:

• Attempt to bring his hands together behind his back. Sal, as we’ll call him, could turn his back to the hitter, put one hand behind his back from below while reaching down from above with the other.

• Break into a one-person kick line. Who doesn’t love a great Broadway number? Sal could kick out his leg and raise his hat at the same time.

• Combine line dances. Sal could start with a Macarena, add a second of the wobble and then conclude with the hustle.

• Attempt to start a lawn mower. The coach could bend down as if he were fixing something on the ground and then pull straight up several times, hoping the engine catches.

• Wash his hands. This could serve two purposes: It could signal to the hitter to clean up his swing or mechanics; and it could remind everyone watching about the benefits of good hygiene, all the spitting and rubbing dirt between their fingers notwithstanding.

• Put a leash on an imaginary dog and stroll in place.

• And, finally, Sal could walk around his small box, tapping imaginary heads and then mouth the word “goose” and run back to his original spot.

These are just a few of the ways the forgotten man on the field might spruce up the game a bit. Maybe, if he caused the other team to focus on him enough, he might give his team an edge, allowing a runner on first to break for second as an appreciative pitcher became distracted by a coach’s antics. And, even if it didn’t work, it might bring a few smiles to fans during the dog days of summer.

From left, Supervisor Ed Romaine, Councilwoman Connie Kepert, Councilmen Dan Panico and Neil Foley and town waste management officials Tim Timms, Frank Tassone and Frank Balsamo celebrate removing more than 1,500 illegal signs from town property. Photo from Brookhaven Town

Brookhaven Town announced on Monday that workers had removed more than 1,500 illegally posted signs from rights-of-way and utility poles in the year since the town adopted stricter laws on posting signs.

The town board banned all signs on public property last April in a unanimous move, after Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) introduced the tighter restriction.

Romaine had announced the idea during his 2014 State of the Town address, saying the ban would help clean up the town and bring local laws into step with federal regulations.

The outright ban on signs on town property replaced a rule previously on the books in Chapter 57A of the town code that faced a court challenge from a Mount Sinai business owner, who alleged it favored commercial speech over noncommercial speech. Brookhaven Town adopted its new regulations while that case was working its way through the courts, although the New York State Appellate Court ruled in favor of the town in December. The new code eliminated a requirement to notify violators before an illegal sign is removed.

Romaine and a few other town board members visited the Brookhaven landfill recently to mark the one-year anniversary of the new sign code and celebrate the town’s waste management department removing more than 1,500 illegal signs since the law’s enactment.

Violators of the town sign code face a $250 fine.

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