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Suffolk County

William Belanske sketches while waiting with his luggage to embark on a journey with William K. Vanderbilt II. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum archives

William E. Belanske already had an enviable job as an artist and taxidermist for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) when he got a call from William K. Vanderbilt II.

The year was 1926 and Vanderbilt was preparing for an expedition on his yacht Ara to collect animal and marine life. The voyage would take him to one of the most scientifically diverse and remote places on earth — the Galápagos Islands, on the Equator off the coast of Ecuador. He needed an artist to record the live specimens he would bring back to his private museum in Centerport. To Belanske, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, which marked the 65th anniversary of its official opening on July 6, has created a new exhibit honoring Belanske’s work.

On display in the Memorial Wing of the museum, the installation features a recreation of Belanske’s studio on the Vanderbilt Estate and includes some of the detailed paintings of the numerous marine specimens Vanderbilt collected from the oceans of the world. Large illustrated panels detail Belanske’s work, on the expeditions and at the museum.

Kirsten Amundsen and Brandon Williams of the curatorial staff came up with the exhibit concept and design.

“The ship’s artist, Mr. William E. Belanske, has been with me since 1926,” Vanderbilt wrote in 1932. “He makes accurate paintings of rare fish. With every scale carefully drawn, every shade, every nuance of color exactly portrayed, his reproductions are true, lifelike, and of value to science.”

In 1927, following the Ara expedition, Vanderbilt requested Belanske’s services full time at his museum, and Belanske chose to resign from the AMNH. He served as Vanderbilt’s curator and lived in a cottage on the estate from 1928 to 1945. His work included taking part in around-the-world cruises on the Ara in 1928-1929 and on the Alva in 1931-1932.

Notably, Belanske collaborated with the renowned painter Henry Hobart Nichols (also of the AMNH) to create the Vanderbilt Habitat in 1930, nine stunning dioramas that depict animal life from several continents. The centerpiece of the room is a 32-foot whale shark, the world’s largest taxidermied fish, caught off Fire Island in 1935.

Stephanie Gress, director of curatorial affairs for the Vanderbilt Museum, said, “On the Ara, they placed fish in holding tanks with saltwater to keep them alive. Belanske would paint the catches immediately in order to record the colors accurately.”

Before color photography, Gress said, the beauty and vibrant hues of the collected marine specimens could only be captured with an artist’s hand. Belanske’s perfect color images of the specimens were displayed in the Marine Museum next to the faded, fluid-preserved specimens.

When he returned to his studio, the artist began the time-consuming task of creating his final images. He used his notes, measurements and rough sketches to create fully accurate, detailed fish prints worthy of scientific publication, she said.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum is located at 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport. Through Sept. 6, the museum will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

Kara Hahn, center, officially opens Forsythe Meadow Count Park/Nora Bredes Preserve’s new walking trail during ribbon cutting ceremony Monday. Photo by Giselle Barkley

The sun appeared just in time for Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn’s (D-Setauket) ribbon cutting ceremony that marked the official opening of Forsythe Meadow County Park/Nora Bredes Preserve’s walking trail.

The ceremony took place Monday afternoon at 52 Hollow Rd. in Stony Brook. More than 50 people were in attendance including Hahn; former legislator Vivian Viloria-Fisher; Cynthia Barnes, president of the Board of Trustees Three Village; and Louise Harrison. Barnes and Harrison were both co-chairs of the Coalition for the Future of Stony Brook Village.

Once Hahn cut the ribbon, those who attended the ceremony were invited to hike the trail.

Coalition members wore pink ribbons, which the group selected upon their  outrage that developers wanted to turn the property into a 40-house subdivision.

For these members, the trail is a symbol of success in an effort to preserve this approximate 36-acre property. But according to Jeffrey Weissman, scoutmaster of Troop 377 for the Three Village Boy Scouts, the trail will not be the last improvement made to the property. Weissman wants to have more benches in the area among other improvements.

Hahn, as well as Viloria-Fisher, Barnes, Harrison and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) thanked the individuals who helped create the trail. They also thanked those who attended the ribbon cutting ceremony for their support and effort to save “Stony Brook’s last forest.”

“It is this group standing here today that saved this forest,” Harrison said. “Someday we’ll have access from the village center.”

Eight affordable rental housing parcels in the works

Veterans roll up a flag at a press conference on the Housing our Homeless Heroes initiative. The county Legislature will vote on a measure to transfer properties to create affordabe housing for homeless veterans at its Sept. 9 meeting. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Suffolk County has gained some footing in the war against veteran homelessness.

Last week, officials announced a proposal to transfer eight tax-defaulted properties over to nonprofit groups that will be charged with developing them into rental housing for homeless veterans or those who are at risk of becoming homeless. The units will be overseen and managed by the non-profit organizations.

The move is part of the Housing our Homeless Heroes legislative initiative, a package of four bills sponsored by Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills). Officials say there are about 750 Long Island veterans who are either homeless or who are expected to be homeless by the end of 2015.

In a phone interview on Monday, Stern said the county Legislature would vote on the transfer of the properties at its Sept. 9 meeting. He said he expects the resolution, which he is co-sponsoring with County Executive Steve Bellone (D), to gain unanimous support.

Stern, who is the chairman of the county’s Veterans and Seniors Committee, said in addition to housing resources, the veterans will receive additional services through these nonprofits, such as job training and placement; primary and mental health care; disability management and health care coordination; family counseling; financial training and substance abuse services.

“The Housing our Homeless Heroes initiative is the housing part of providing assistance to our veterans and families,” Stern said. “But it can never be just about four walls and a roof.”

Once transferred, the nonprofits would foot the construction bill through roughly $10 million in state and federal grant funding available for such projects, Stern said. Funding for the construction will be provided in part from the New York State Homeless Housing Assistance Program and United States Department of Housing and Urban Development HOME Investment Partnerships Program.

Two parcels in Central Islip will be transferred to the Concern for Independent Living for the construction of three single-family homes. Bay Shore-based United Veterans Beacon House has proposed to rehabilitate an existing home on a Copiague parcel, and build a single-family unit on a Yaphank parcel.

In addition, the Association for Mental Health and Wellness is proposing to build a new four-bedroom house for three senior disabled veterans and a live-in house manager on two parcels in Mastic; rehabilitate a house in Riverhead for one veteran family; and build a new set of four, single room occupancies for veterans on a parcel in Medford.

The Legislature approved the Housing our Homeless Heroes initiative last year, and Bellone signed the legislation into law just days before Christmas. The four laws tackle the issue of veteran homelessness from different angles — one establishes a partnership between agencies and community advocates that serve veterans and their families and helps them set up an informational web portal on the county’s website to direct them to services available across all levels of government and within the nonprofit sector. Another maximizes access to available housing for veterans. The third amended the county’s human rights law by adding veterans as a group of individuals protected against discrimination in housing and employment opportunities. The last bill will require a veteran services officer to work at the county’s Department of Social Services on a regular basis. The officers must be veterans as well, in order to establish a peer-to-peer relationship between those they are helping.

“As an agency committed to ensuring empowering people to overcome the impact of health and mental health disabilities, it is our intent to devote these houses to assist male and female veterans who have been affected by service-connected and post-service transition mental health challenges,” Michael Stoltz, chief executive officer of the Association for Mental Health and Wellness said in a statement. “I thank Suffolk County for partnering with our organization to further assist us in supporting our veterans.”

Sigma Psi Omega members make healthy snacks for children. Photo from Pleshette Shelton

Giving back and making a difference in the community is what the women in the Sigma Psi Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha have strived for since June 23, 1990. But the quest to serve the community did not start with the chapter.

According to Alpha Kappa Alpha Inc., Howard University student Ethel Hedgeman founded AKA, the first African American sorority, on Jan. 15, 1908, in Washington D.C. Her goal was to unite like-minded women to help give back to those in need. One hundred years later, her efforts still drive members like Pleshette Shelton, the current president of the Sigma Psi Omega chapter in Bay Shore in Suffolk County.

“We went from doing 20 programs a year, to last year we did, I want to say 45,” Shelton said in a recent interview.

Shelton’s chapter was charted by 26 African American women in Hauppauge. Now, the local chapter doubled to include around 50 members. Although the women in the chapter are Suffolk County residents, this graduate chapter welcomes all AKA members regardless of which university they attended as undergraduate members.

Second Vice President Trina Gerrard, joined the sorority as a sophomore at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md, before moving to Long Island and joining the local chapter. For Gerrard, a full-time social worker, what attracted her to the undergraduate sorority was not just the ladylike mannerisms of the members but also the services they did for their community.

Last month, the Sigma Psi Omega chapter celebrated its 25th year the day after providing its services on June 13 at the Tri Community Youth Agency in Huntington. They conducted a seminar for youths and their families regarding financial literacy and historically black colleges and nutrition, according to TRI CYA Director Debbie Rimler.

“Our center serves youth 5 to 21 years old,” Rimler said. “Most of them are at or below the poverty line. It’s great for these families to have this type of information available for them.”

For Sigma Psi Omega, the quest is to find those in need and help educate, feed and provide activities for them to learn, grow and enjoy. According to Shelton, some of these youths do not receive a hot meal during the weekends or holidays since some pantries do not serve on those days.

“I started to cry,” Shelton said when she learned these kids only have microwavable food when the pantries are not in service. “I waste so much food myself that here are families living in shelters and they’re hungry.”

It was one of many eye-opening experiences for Shelton.

“The question isn’t, ‘Why would you serve?’ It’s, ‘Why wouldn’t you want to?’” Shelton said.

Before providing its service, the chapter meets with Dorothy Buckhanan Wilson, the sorority’s international president. Wilson organizes the programs and identifies target communities before the chapter uncovers the communities that are most in need.

Their programs are not limited to financial literacy or historically black colleges. The chapter also organizes blood drives, arranges craft days where children can make pieces of artwork like paper mache flowers for Mother’s Day, provides information on going green, helps single mothers living in shelters and finds employment or career opportunities for the individuals they help among other services.

For the communities to which the chapter frequently provides its services, the women try to “piggy-back” off of what they taught the children on their previous visit while maintaining a light-hearted fun learning environment.

“You want to make sure you’re keeping it light because these kids are already going through a lot,” Shelton said.

Funding for these programs does not come from donations but out of pocket. Sigma Psi Omega chapter members are required to contribute some of their own money to gather appropriate supplies for each program they organize.

According to Gerrard, there is a high demand for the chapter’s services that “people are just waiting because they don’t have direction. They don’t know where to reach out to,” Gerrard said. As a result, some individuals respond within a week of the chapter reaching out to them.

On many occasions, the communities this chapter serves are not aware of information available on the importance of going green or managing finances. The sorority does not just give back by providing the programs, but they are also teachers to those who do not have access to various resources.

But like any other group, working with members of the chapter is not always easy.

“It’s a sisterhood. It’s a lifetime commitment so you get a lot of fulfillment,” Garrard said. “Sometimes you get frustrated … but you find the strength from each sister.”

The chapter has retreats where members can resolve tension and discuss and strategize plans for a program or community in need.

“Each community is different,” Shelton said. “Going in and finding what that need is and being able to help them succeed … even if it’s one life.”

Going forward, both Shelton and Gerrard want to continue their efforts and continue their founder’s purpose by helping communities that require their services.

“I think that it was phenomenal to have an organization that is still around for that long and it’s still growing strong,” Gerrard said. “It makes us know that whatever we are doing, we’re doing it for a cause and it’s … making our founders proud to continue their legacy.”

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Morning glories, once planted, reseed themselves year after year. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

By now, most gardeners know two restraints on Suffolk gardens. Fertilizer cannot be used on lawns before April 1. It must be stopped by Nov. 1. This is to prevent excess fertilizer, which can’t be taken up by plants in the cold weather, from being washed into and polluting the water table and surrounding bodies of water.

The second rule has to do with what plants can no longer be propagated and sold in the county. This is to prevent invasive species from taking over and forcing out native plants. The Do Not Sell list details these plants.

But, in addition, there is a Management list — a list that fewer gardeners are familiar with. What exactly does Suffolk County’s Management list mean and include? The Management list refers to plants which are invasive, but not as invasive as the ones on the Do Not Sell list. Those on the Management list can be legally sold and propagated in the county, but due to their invasive nature, it is recommended that they not be planted on Long Island, “especially by county agencies or for homes near natural habitats.”

Here are some that you may be familiar with or considering planting. Remember, these plants are not illegal to plant and grow, but do you really want to? They’re on the Management list for a reason.

English ivy (Hedera helix) is one that really takes over. Many years ago, when I didn’t know any better, I planted a few small plants. To this day, I’m still pulling out ivy plants. They spread like crazy, love Long Island’s climate and soil, and really take over. If I knew then what I know now, I’d never have planted them.
Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) is a native of Japan and China. It’s grown as an ornamental tree here.

A gardening friend of mine planted several and was told that the tree was relatively slow growing. She was very surprised at how quickly they grew and how large they got. It’s hardy in zones four to nine. It does well in acidic soil. The leaves turn a beautiful red color in autumn, but its aggressive nature makes it a problem.

Asian wisteria (Chinese and Japanese) is absolutely gorgeous, but does take over. Personally, I think it should be on the Do Not Sell list, but that’s just my opinion. Unless you are prepared to control it by pruning and pulling up any volunteers, avoid this one. It does extremely well in Long Island’s climate and soil, needing little in the way of fertilizers. The vines reach for the sun, so you will sometimes see them blooming at the top of trees to which they’ve become entwined. If you must grow these wisteria, train them around a pergola or gazebo and keep the pruning shears handy.

Periwinkle (Vinca minor) has blue flowers and is sold as a ground cover because it spreads so easily. Consider this when deciding to plant — it does spread easily.

Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana or Bradford Pear) is a beautiful tree, which is why it has become so popular, with beautiful white flowers and intense burgundy leaves in fall. It’s relatively quick growing and is the one of the last trees to lose its leaves in fall. In addition, it is disease resistant. All in all a great tree? Well, yes and no. It’s known as a tree whose wood splits easily and it’s not structurally sound — definitely not a good quality. Some produce viable seeds, so they can spread quickly.

Other common plants on the Management list include Common or European barberry, Russian olive, Morning glory, California privet, European privet, White mulberry and Kentucky bluegrass. Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk’s website has a complete list of plants on the Management list; visit www.ccesuffolk.org.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

Photo from the health department

Blue-green algae has made some waters in Suffolk County unsafe for residents, according to the county health department.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation reported recently that in seven nearby bodies of water, levels of cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, have exceeded health criteria, according to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services.

While cyanobacteria appear naturally in lakes and streams in low levels, the department said, they can become abundant and form blooms that are green, blue-green, yellow, brown or red in color. The algae can appear in “floating scums on the surface of the water, or may cause the water to take on [a] paint-like appearance.” Contact with those scummy or discolored waters should be avoided.

Currently affected waters include parts of Lake Ronkonkoma; Old Town Pond, Agawam Lake and Mill Pond in Southampton; Maratooka Lake in Mattituck; Kellis Pond in Bridgehampton; and Wainscott Pond in Wainscott.

Lake Ronkonkoma Beach has already been closed to bathing for more than a week, a health department official said on Monday, because test results showed high levels of a different bacteria — E. coli, caused by fowl droppings.

The levels of cyanobacteria and “associated toxins” are particularly high at Agawam Lake, the health department said in a recent press release, so residents should avoid direct exposure to water there.

At all of the affected locations, the health department said, residents should not use the water, and should not swim or wade in it. Officials also advised residents to keep both children and pets away from the areas.

If people or pets come in contact with the affected water, health officials said, they should be rinsed off immediately with clean water. If the affected person experiences symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, allergic reactions, breathing difficulties or irritation in the skin, eyes or throat, he should seek medical attention.

More information about cyanobacteria is available on the county health department’s website.

To report a cyanobacteria bloom at a county beach where bathing is permitted, call the Suffolk County Department of Health Services’ Office of Ecology at 631-852-5760. To report one at a body of water in Suffolk County without a bathing beach, call the Division of Water at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation at 518-402-8179.

They buzz and flutter and they are disappearing from Long Island’s environment. Pollinators are on the decline on the Island and nationwide.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, native pollinators such as Monarch butterflies have decreased in numbers by more than 80 percent in the past two decades. Native bee populations, among other indigenous pollinator species, are also on the decline, which can put local farms at risk as less pollinators mean less pollination.

But Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) hopes to help Long Island farmers combat the population decline with her new Educational Agriculture Support Initiative, which aims to increase the amount of native plant species on Long Island, starting with the Heritage Park in Mount Sinai.

“The history of Heritage Park is [that] we wanted to take care of the rural character and the heritage of the area,” Lori Baldassare, president of Heritage Trust, said about how the park got involved with Anker’s initiative. According to Baldassare, Anker has a long history with the park so “it just seemed like a natural place to do [a] … demonstration garden.”

Honeybees, above, which are native to Europe are efficient pollen collectors and honey producers but they are not effective pollinators because pollen sticks onto their legs so well. They are one of the few bee species that live in a hive. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Honeybees, above, which are native to Europe are efficient pollen collectors and honey producers but they are not effective pollinators because pollen sticks onto their legs so well. They are one of the few bee species that live in a hive. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Although Anker has teamed up with Heritage Trust, Girl Scouts of Suffolk County, Long Island Native Plant Initiative, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County and the Suffolk County Soil and Water Conservation District to help create a pilot native plant species garden at Heritage Park, she said that it will take more than the individuals from these organizations to bring back local pollinator species.

“I need people to participate,” she said. “I need people to understand that this is really important. If we don’t preserve [the environment] nobody else will.”

According to Polly Weigand, executive director of the plant initiative and senior soil district technician for the conservation district, the team is trying to provide the pilot garden with various native plant species, including native grasses, which will attract and sustain pollinators throughout the year. While these plants are neither flowering nor the most visually appealing, Weigand said the grasses provide a place for insects to lay their eggs and shelter during the winter months.

While some invasive or nonnative plants, like butterfly bush, can provide food for native butterflies, it isn’t sufficient for these insects to lay their eggs or seek shelter. Native insects evolve with the native plants in the area. The evolution allows these creatures to use a plant for shelter and sustenance. Although some invasive or nonnative plants can provide food and habitat for these small creatures, this is not always the case.

“Plants have a little chemical warfare that they play with the species that are going to [prey] on them,” Weigand said. “They put out toxins to try to keep the animal from eating the leaves.”

It takes several generations before an insect can successfully utilize the foreign plants for their life cycle.

But according to Robin Simmen, community horticulture specialist for the cooperative extension, and Laura Klahre, beekeeper and owner of Blossom Meadow in Cutchogue, in addition to the lack of suitable plants, the use of pesticides and lack of suitable habitat for Long Island pollinators are some of the many factors contributing to the decline in the native species.

Polly Weigand, left, of the Long Island Native Plant Initiative, and county Legislator Sarah Anker, right, discuss native plant species for Anker’s Educational Agriculture Support Initiative pilot garden at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Polly Weigand, left, of the Long Island Native Plant Initiative, and county Legislator Sarah Anker, right, discuss native plant species for Anker’s Educational Agriculture Support Initiative pilot garden at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai. Photo by Giselle Barkley

“We used to just think that we would get these free pollination services from nature,” Klahre said. “But in the future that may not be the case because there aren’t enough flowers around [and] we have so many pesticides.”

Pesticides that target unwanted pests, like ticks, are also detrimental to native bees, which live underground.

When the toxins seep into an area in close proximity to native insects, some eventually develop dementia.

Klahre also mentioned the lack of open space as an issue as it jeopardizes the livelihood of the bugs.

While Klahre does not know by how much the native bee population has declined, she said they are struggling to maintain their populations just like their European counterpart, the honeybee. According to Klahre there are about 4,000 different bee species nationwide and 450 different species in New York state alone.

Unlike docile native bees like mining, mason or sweat bees, honeybees are not efficient pollen collectors.

Native bees are among the best pollinators for a variety of plant species. The native bees also yield higher quality and longer lasting fruits like apples or cherries, which can have a thicker outer skin; a thicker skin means that the fruits have a longer shelf life than those pollinated by honeybees.

Although Anker said farms across Long Island are affected by the decline in pollinator species as they are forced to import pollinating bees to the locations, Klahre said she only saw a disruption in growing produce with home gardeners.

Monarch butterflies, above, fly from their wintering grounds in Mexico to Long Island, which serves as their breeding range during the summer. Monarchs born during the summer only live three to five weeks in comparison to overwintering adult Monarchs that can live up to nine months. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Monarch butterflies, above, fly from their wintering grounds in Mexico to Long Island, which serves as their breeding range during the summer. Monarchs born during the summer only live three to five weeks in comparison to overwintering adult Monarchs that can live up to nine months. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Pollinators like bees usually have a route that they go on to collect pollen and nectar before returning to their habitat. If these insects are not accustomed or attracted to a homeowner’s property, it is unlikely that the pollinator will visit the area. This is especially the case for homeowners who have a simple grass lawn.

While some grasses help native insects, a bare lawn does not provide a pollinator with the necessary sources of food in order to survive.

But Anker’s goal is to educate the community about the best way to attract and support these insects using appropriate native plant species like milkweed, among others.

“I’m actually looking to have [pilot gardens] throughout Suffolk County,” Anker said in regards to her initiative.

The plant initiative has selected the types of native plants that will go into Anker’s pilot garden, which could be designed and constructed toward the end of August.

Individuals like Klahre believe there is enough time to heal the environment and help increase native pollinators like bees, but she does acknowledge the reality of having little to no pollinators.

“In China there are some areas that are so polluted that they actually have people that are going from flower to flower in orchards with feathers moving the pollen,” Klahre said. “I just never want us to get to that point.”

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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.”

Suffolk Republicans select candidate with experience serving as town councilman, building commissioner

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone file photo

The Suffolk County executive race is on.

Jim O'Connor is stepping up to challenge Steve Bellone for Suffolk County Executive. Photo from Jim O'Connor
Jim O’Connor is stepping up to challenge Steve Bellone for Suffolk County Executive. Photo from Jim O’Connor

County Republicans have selected Jim O’Connor to challenge Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) in November. And in his words, O’Connor said he could not be more honored to represent his party in the pivotal race.

“John Jay LaValle [chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Committee] called me up and asked me if I would be interested in the position, and I said of course,” he said. “Why wouldn’t you be interested in that position?”

O’Connor, now a resident of Great River, is a partner in the Manhattan law firm of Maroney O’Connor LLP. He has a long resume of working in local government, starting in the Town of North Hempstead in 1998 as an elected councilman, where he served until 2001. From 2006-08, O’Connor was appointed building commissioner for North Hempstead.

He had a very brief run at the Nassau county executive spot in 2001 — for approximately 48 hours, to be exact — before the Nassau Republicans chose to back candidate Bruce Bent instead.

O’Connor’s opponent, Bellone, also garnered similar public service accolades before assuming office at the county level in 2011. Bellone served on the Babylon Town Board for four years, starting in 1997, and was then elected supervisor of Babylon Township in 2001.

Since being voted into office, Bellone said he was proud of passing three consecutive balanced budgets under the tax cap, securing a $383 million investment in clean water infrastructure — the largest of the county in 40 years — and negotiating labor contracts that make new employees more affordable and requires new employees to contribute to health care costs.

“We must continue to move Suffolk County forward,” Bellone said in an email through a spokesperson. “While we have made a lot of progress there is so much work left to do.”

Specifics of moving Suffolk County forward, Bellone said, include continuing to hold the line on taxes, creating new jobs, growing the economy and keeping young people on Long Island.

Bellone also said he is interested in utilizing better the many assets that Suffolk County has, including Stony Brook University, Brookhaven National Laboratory and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. If re-elected, he said he wants to make sure the county is leveraging those assets to create innovation jobs.

But O’Connor said he found flaws in the way that Bellone has handled the financial aspects of the county.

“The attitude is, ‘Let’s put off tomorrow what we could do today,’ and that is hurting my children and my children’s children, in terms of the amount of debt that will fall on their shoulders,” O’Connor said in a phone interview.

Under an O’Connor administration, there would be an implementation of a Suffolk County debt management plan, which would start the process of a debt ceiling, much like what has been done in Washington D.C., O’Connor told Times Beacon Record Newspapers in an exclusive interview.

“It’s a simple concept,” he said. “Let’s look at the county’s existing revenue streams and compare it to the county’s maturing debt in an effort to retire, or reduce, the interest payments that will burden future generations of Suffolk residents.”

Suffolk County has $180 million of structural deficit and more than $1.5 billion in cumulative debt, according to O’Connor, who said these factors have led the New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, a Democrat, to say that the county is in fiscal distress. O’Connor said he wants to stand up for the taxpayers of the county.

According to Bellone, when he first entered office, Suffolk County’s finances were in free fall, with a deficit of more than $400 million. He has since cut the deficit significantly by shrinking the government by more than 10 percent.

“I know that Suffolk County taxpayers are overburdened,” Bellone said. “That’s why I am committed to staying under the property tax cap at the same time as I cut my own salary and volunteered to be the first employee in the history of Suffolk County to directly contribute to their health care.”

Keith Davies, campaign manager for Bellone, said his candidate was the right choice for residents to continue moving Suffolk County forward: “Steve Bellone has a proven record of protecting our tax dollars and our quality of life. He’s balanced three consecutive budgets, kept taxes under the tax cap and protected our drinking water by investing in our clean water infrastructure.”

The Suffolk County Republicans, however, said they believed O’Connor would lead the county in a better direction.

In a statement, LaValle said O’Connor’s reputation from both Democrats and Republicans from North Hempstead is what drew him to asking him to fight for the position.

“He’s a guy that is very well respected of course by Republicans in the area, but also by many Democrats,” LaValle said. “In this day and age of almost political hate, here is a guy where not only Republicans but prominent Democrats were speaking very highly of him. That stuck with me.”

File photo

A routine speeding stop in Huntington yielded much greater results over the holiday weekend when Suffolk County police arrested Bayshore man Mohamed Khan for driving while intoxicated, among other charges, authorities said.

Suffolk County Police Highway Patrol Officer Robert Scudellari initially flashed his lights behind Khan, 42, for speeding on the eastbound Long Island Expressway between exits 51 and 52 around 1:50 a.m. on July 3, police said. The officer soon learned that Khan, who was driving a 2013 Kia, was also under the influence of alcohol and his license had been revoked, the Suffolk County Police Department said.

Mohamed Khan is accused of driving while intoxicated, among other charges. Photo from SCPD
Mohamed Khan is accused of driving while intoxicated, among other charges. Photo from SCPD

Police also said the man was in violation of his New York State driver’s license restriction that he operate a motor vehicle only if it is equipped with an ignition interlock device, cops said.

Khan was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated and operating a motor vehicle without an interlock device, police said. He was also charged with criminal contempt in the second degree for violating a court order that stipulated he refrain from consuming alcohol, cops said.

The Suffolk County Police Department also said the man had an outstanding warrant for committing the same offence back in January, and had collected seven traffic tickets for vehicle and traffic law violations by the time of his arrest.

His attorney could not be reached for comment.