Government

Sound Beach Civic Associaiton President Bea Ruberto speaks during the Veterans Day ceremony at Sound Beach Veterans Memorial Park. File photo by Desirée Keegan

How high is the hill we have yet to climb? For the last several months we followed the guidelines: We stayed home, we wore masks when we needed to go out and we maintained social distancing, and it worked — we flattened the curve. The economy is reopening, and we’re all looking forward to resuming our lives, but from a health perspective and economically, it may be a long road back.

Suffolk is a populous county and has been severely affected by this virus, and the region’s ability to recover from the costs incurred by the pandemic depends on what happens next. As I understand it, Suffolk County is requesting $1 billion in federal aid, a fraction of what we send to Washington in taxes. In addition, Long Island sends more dollars to Washington than it receives in return. According to the Suffolk County COVID-19 Fiscal Impact Force Final Report, for most years sales tax collections account for approximately half of county revenues while an additional quarter comes from property taxes. The task force is currently projecting a $329 million shortfall in sales tax collections and a 4.9 percent shortfall in property tax collections. And, although the county is budgeted to receive $314 million in state aid, the State of New York has announced that, without federal reimbursements for the COVID-19 expenses it has incurred, there will be potential cuts of 20 to 30 percent. According to this report, the full impact of the lockdown is expected to bring steeper decline in the economy, the GDP and sales tax revenues. Again, as I understand it, without federal aid, the recovery could be extended out for a decade if not longer.

We did what we were told — we shut down the economy — and we hope that now what we hear from the federal government isn’t, “Thank you for following the guidelines; now you pay the cost of the response.” The pandemic is no different than any other natural disaster, and the federal government must provide the relief it would provide during any natural disaster. The state and county budgets are hurting, yet the message we’re getting from Washington is that there’s nothing to worry about and local governments should solve “their own problems.” 

This is a pivotal moment for the region. We need to recover as soon as possible. The financial impact should not be borne primarily by taxpayers nor should we accept cuts to services provided by our first responders, police and other essential workers, but this is exactly what will happen: An already fragile economy will tank without help from the federal government.

To this end, the Sound Beach Civic Association is spearheading a letter-writing campaign reaching out to our federal representatives without whose support the taxpayers of Suffolk County will suffer — both financially and in reduction of services. We encourage everyone to join us and contact Representatives Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1), Thomas Suozzi (D-NY-3) and Peter King (R-NY-2) and U.S. Senators Charles Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D). If you don’t want to write your own letter, you can download one at www.soundbeachcivic.org.

Bea Ruberto is the president of the Sound Beach Civic Association.

People rallied in Ridge June 25 to decry the state of Middle Country Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

New York State Route 25, known as Middle Country Road, which crosses through several hamlets in the center of Brookhaven Town, has long gone without fixes to its cracked pavement and massive potholes. Civics, town officials and some state officials said the New York State Department of Transportation has reneged on promises to finally repair the broken asphalt this year.

Gail Lynch-Bailey, the president of the Middle Island Civic Association, calls on New York DOT to pave Middle Country Road, though the DOT claims it never had such plans. Photo by Kyle Barr

“I have been at many meetings over the years to pave Middle Country Road, and last year they did promise us it would be done,” said town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point). “The issue has not been addressed for so long, this roadway now requires complete reconstruction. And you know why? Because cheap is expensive in the long run.” 

The road runs parallel to its sister highway Route 25A, which just recently received repaving in Rocky Point. Route 25, on the other hand, has received only minor patches in the past several years, officials said.

Town of Brookhaven officials said the state DOT had promised it would repave the section of road from Mount Sinai-Coram Road to Wading River Hollow Road in Calverton by July. However, officials said recent word from the state said it likely would not happen this year.

At a press conference held in Ridge June 25, state and town officials stood alongside local civic representatives and members of local fire departments calling for the road to be repaved.

Ridge Fire Department Chief Lou Keiser said the road’s uneven surface can make cars swerve and cause accidents. It also greatly impacts ambulance drivers who may be carrying injured people in the back of their vehicles.

“I have been here since 1991, and I haven’t seen it be repaved since then,” Keiser said. 

State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), whose district partially covers a section of the state highway, said he was copied in on an email with state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) that the construction company wished to do the road in a different order, starting with a part of the road in Nassau. The DOT is repaving Route 25B in the Town of North Hempstead and Route 107 in Oyster Bay as part of the state’s repaving project.

“My office got a response from DOT that they’ve had more complaints over in that direction in Nassau,” he said. “The only reason the complaints stopped here, which were more voluminous than anything in Nassau, is because we were told the construction was coming.”

Ridge Fire Department Chief Lou Keiser said Route 25 has not been repaved as long as he’s been in the district, since 1991. Photo by Kyle Barr

The press conference also brought in a measure of politics, even more emphasized during an election year. No local Democratic elected officials were there at the press conference. Members of the Town Board and local state Assembly members criticized the governor for what they called a dismissive attitude to the plight of local infrastructure.

Palumbo also referenced several state officials in Nassau who are seeking reelection this year for why construction was starting on that side of the Island. Palumbo is the Republican candidate looking to take the state Senate District 1 seat once LaValle vacates it at the end of the year.

In a statement, LaValle said, “My office has worked closely with the civics and constituents for well over a year in an attempt to fix the safety issues along this stretch of Route 25. We were given a commitment by DOT that repair and paving would begin this summer and completed in the 2020 calendar year. It is unacceptable that the DOT would do an about-face and put this project off for a year, especially in light of the fact that emergency vehicles cannot safely travel this stretch of road and driver safety is a major concern.”

In response, Stephen Canzoneri, a DOT spokesperson, said the resurfacing project on Route 25 has always been the end of 2021, though there will be spot repairs on the highway for this year.

“The resurfacing of Route 25 was never anticipated to be completed this year,” he said. “In addition, the department plans to make temporary repairs to sections of Route 25 ahead of this winter.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said residents have been contacting her office for years about the state of Middle Country Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

However, that directly contradicts comments sent to local officials last year. New York State DOT sent a letter April 8, 2019, to Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) which stated that the resurfacing project on Route 25 has been “accelerated to a bid opening in early 2020” with a going out to bid in March and a schedule to start construction in spring of 2020 for the described section of the highway. 

The letter was signed by DOT Regional Planning and Program Manager Glenn Murrell. Anker said in reaching out to DOT officials, there seems to have been a mix up on their end for why she and other officials were told it was in the pipe for 2020. She added this issue has been constantly on electives’ minds, with more than a few letters being sent to the DOT over the past several years. 

“I will continue to follow this intensely as this has been going on for a number of years,” she said. “Hopefully we can see the whole road done sometime soon.”

Supervisor Chad A. Lupinacci and Councilman Ed Smyth joined Andrew Steinmueller, President of ARS Landscape & Design, the first business to “adopt” and beautify two pieces of public property under the Adopt-a-Corner community beautification program, for a special unveiling of the installations at the southwest entrance to Heckscher Park in Huntington on June 24.

ARS Landscape & Design planted their first Adopt-a-Corner installation at the Prime Avenue entrance to the park in September of 2019 and added a second installation at the Main Street and Prime Avenue corner entrance to the park, maintaining both installations throughout the year. 

A box of complimentary wildflower seed packets was installed by the landscape company at the second installation, from which visitors to the park can take a complimentary seed packet. A second box of seed packets will be installed next to the first installation on the western Prime Avenue entrance to the park within the week.

Businesses, organizations and residents can adopt, beautify and maintain a select piece of public property approved by the Town of Huntington for one year, with the option to renew for a second year. 

Supervisor Lupinacci sponsored the Town Board resolution creating the Adopt-a-Corner program in October 2018 after Andre Sorrentino, the Town’s Director of General Services, approached him with the idea to involve the greater Huntington community in beautification projects across the town.

“Adopt-a-Corner is quality of life initiative, that offers a creative outlet for residents, business owners and organizations to display their pride in the Huntington community, while helping beautify our town at no cost to our taxpayers,” explained Supervisor Lupinacci. “Thank you to ARS Landscape & Design for these inaugural Adopt-a-Corner installations and for the seed packets they are giving away.”

“I am the prime beneficiary of this Adopt-a-Corner installation because my office is located across the street,” stated Councilman Smyth. “I see this beautiful corner every day. I encourage everyone to make the town look its best by adopting a corner. The resident or business which adopts a corner may put place a small plaque with their name or dedicate the corner in honor of someone.” 

“Over these past few months, we have been faced with a pandemic that forced us all inside and gave us all a feeling of uncertainty. Audrey Hepburn once said ‘To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow,’ I hope that by planting these gardens, I can spread a little joy and hope for what tomorrow may bring,” added Steinmueller.

Pictured in photo, from left, Councilman Smyth; Andre Sorrentino; Supervisor Lupinacci; Andrew Steinmueller (holding Addison Steinmueller); Bonnie Steinmueller (holding Ashton Steinmueller); Liz Steinmueller; and Joseph Digicomo. To apply to adopt a corner, visit www.huntingtonny.gov.

Photos courtesy of the Town of Huntington

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. File photo by Alex Petroski

In response to the ongoing need to close a revenue shortfall caused by the economic lockdown during the pandemic, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) is signing an order today freezing all steps and raises for management and exempt employees through 2021.

“It’s important that we move forward in a way that we’re doing the lowest-hanging fruit possible,” Bellone said on his daily conference call with reporters.

The move will save the county an estimated $3.4 million and is a part of an ongoing effort to prepare for a budget shortfall in the next three months that could be as high as $829 million.

“We are analyzing additional cuts in our department right now,” Bellone said. “In light of the catastrophic budget numbers we are talking about, it’s important that we make clear we are willing to take these steps.”

Bellone reiterated his call for the federal government to provide $1 billion in relief to Suffolk County, which stood at the epicenter of the pandemic and which shut down its businesses in response to guidelines from the federal government. Bellone urged the national government to provide financial support that would also support infrastructure projects as well as small businesses.

“I’ve been in public life for more than 20 years,” Bellone said, and the federal government has been talking about making a major investment in infrastructure projects. “That hasn’t happened. Now is the time,” as low interest rates will reduce the cost of those funds while also supporting the restart of an economy crippled by the virus.

Bellone is hopeful that the federal government will consider his request for financial support for Suffolk County in July. Bellone said the county sends to Washington billions more than it receives each year. This year, amid the pandemic, he urged the federal government to recognize the natural disaster that has devastated the region and urges the federal government to step in to prevent the county from hollowing out the vital services that responded to this crisis.

Viral Numbers

After a one-day slight increase in positive testing for the virus on Sunday, the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 rose by a smaller number through Monday. The number of new positive tests was 38, bringing the total for the county since testing began to 41,010.

The positive tests were below 1 percent of overall tests, which is a decline from the 1.2 percent on Sunday.

The number of people hospitalized declined by eight to 90. The number of people in Intensive Care Unit beds increased by six to 27.

An additional 17 people were discharged from the hospital in the 24 hour period ending on June 20.

For the fourth day in a row, one person died from complications related to the coronavirus. The death toll in Suffolk County is 1,965.

Bellone remains confident that the data will stay within a safe range through the summer.

“The numbers will remain good, largely because people will remain outdoors,” he said.

The fall, however, brings additional challenges, as students may return to school and people may return to more indoor activities, which could lead to a spike or a second wave.

He encourages residents to keep social distancing where they can, make sure they wear face coverings when they are in close proximity to others and to stay home if they are not feeling well.

With refinements in contact tracing, he is also confident that the county will be successful in keeping the economy open, operating and recovering.

Virginia Case

By Lisa Scott

COVID-19. Economic Meltdown. Social Justice Demonstrations. BlackLivesMatter. Shutdowns. Social Distancing. Active Military in our Cities. Misinformation. Local Budget Meltdowns. Post Office Survival. Malign Foreign Influences. Interruption of Census Reporting. Voter Suppression. And just this week, Voting Chaos exemplified in Georgia. Shall we continue listing 2020’s norm-shattering events and trends? Or do we instead renew our commitment to making American democracy work in this all-important election year?

As New York State voters, we’ve been through the worst of the pandemic, and yet also are experiencing an extraordinary amount of communication and action from our governor, Andrew Cuomo. The flurry of executive orders, daily briefings and critiques seem overwhelming, yet in a time of irresponsible misinformation it is vital for all our citizens to be spoken to as responsible and intelligent adults.

This far 2020 has been a “voting year” for the record book in New York. Starting in mid-March, village elections were postponed, special elections were delayed, a presidential primary was postponed, school board and budget elections were delayed, the presidential primary was rescheduled, cancelled, reinstated by the courts and now will be held several days after Mr. Biden has clinched the Democratic presidential nomination. Congressional and New York State Senate and Assembly primaries will be held as scheduled, but the special elections (to fill vacant lawmaker seats) will now have to wait until the November general election.

For the first time ever, the governor has ordered school districts to mail absentee ballots to every eligible voter in New York State, and to cancel all in-person voting. This presented huge challenges, and individual districts performed as best they could … but clearly need more lead time, transparency, money and much improved communication. 

From very low voter turnout in all past years, school districts in 2020 expect huge numbers of ballots to be returned, and worry about voters rejecting budgets because this is one of the few ways voters can directly comment on their economic distress. But remember, school, village and special district elections are not covered by the same election law rules as what we consider primary or general elections run by county boards of election. 

By 9 p.m. on June 23, voters will have cast votes in the Presidential, Congressional, NYS Senate and NYS Assembly primaries. A vast number of those votes will have been done via absentee ballots, forcing boards of elections to purchase new high-speed absentee ballot counters and incur significant costs for prepaid/postage to apply for and mail the ballot. (Absentee ballots must be postmarked by June 23 to be counted.) 

There will be early voting sites open from June 13 to 21 with varying hours for those who wish to vote in person, and the usual 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. hours on election day itself — Tuesday, June 23. If a person had received an absentee ballot but decided instead to vote in person, the Board of Elections counts the in-person voting first, and when the absentee ballot from the same voter is recorded, it will not be considered a valid vote and put aside. 

How will you know who is on your ballot in 2020, and what each candidate stands for? The League of Women Voter’s ballot information website, VOTE411.org, should be your go-to site. Information is usually available about four  weeks before a primary or general election. LWV candidate debates are still being held, albeit virtually via Zoom and available on YouTube.

Our LWVUS CEO, Virginia Kase, recently wrote from Washington, D.C. …

“If you are like me, you might have commented from time to time that 2020 feels like the worst year ever. It’s been rough. Many of us are just entering Phase 1 of our states’ reopening plans. We’ve seen challenges to our democracy, a global pandemic, and more black lives lost because of the color of their skin. It’s hard not to feel hopeless. But what if 2020 is actually a turning point?

Yes, America is going through some very difficult labor pains right now, but I believe that our democracy can be reborn. I believe that now, more than ever, we have the power to change our country and our society for the better. Right now, there is an awakening the likes of which I’ve never seen in my life, and I am, for the first time in a long time, hopeful.

Being democracy defenders means standing up to injustice with all our power: the power of our voices, the power of our resources, and the power of our votes. That is how we continue the push for a more perfect democracy.”

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email [email protected] or call 631-862-6860.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. File photo by Alex Petroski

As Suffolk County emerges from a public health crisis that claimed the lives of close to 2,000 residents and triggered an economic collapse, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) has renewed his request for financial aid from the federal government.

Following a municipal committee that laid out an economic shortfall for this year of over $800 million, the county’s nonpartisan Budget Review Office validated the enormous financial hole that threatens public health, public safety and social services.

“Our immediate need right now is for $1 billion in federal relief,” Bellone said on his daily conference call with reporters. “That won’t solve all our issues. We are still going to need to make some tough choices,” which  he said includes streamlining processes and potentially cuts in other areas.

Bellone urged the federal government, which originally urged the lockdown to save lives, to prevent essential employees from not only risking their lives and the lives of their families by working during the pandemic, but then also from having to help foot the bill for these unprecedented efforts.

“What we’re asking Washington to do is to give us back a fraction of what we send every year,” Bellone said. “It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.”

Bellone felt confident that a bipartisan group of federal government representatives recognized the need for financial help from the government.

The budget review office provided a list of mitigation measures that could include laying people off, lagging in payrolls, raising an energy or sales tax and amortizing pensions, all of which would cause additional suffering for first responders, essential employees and county residents.

Even putting all those items together, however, would only add up to $150 million, which is well short of the financial need the county has over the next three months when the next budget is due.

Bellone said the county was considering cuts in all areas, which could include the Suffolk County Police Department.

Viral Numbers

The viral numbers continue to remain stable and is a considerably better daily tally than many other counties and states which have seen a surge in new cases and hospitalizations.

In Suffolk County, the number of people who tested positive for COVID-19 was 32, which brings the total to 40,770. The positive tests continue to represent below 1 percent of the overall tests from the county each day.

These numbers remain low over a week after many of the 100 protests over the killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, whose death triggered sweeping requests around the world for reform of police tactics.

“I feel very comfortable saying that [the low number of positive tests] is evidence that the outdoor environment is a very safe environment with the caveat that I’m not a doctor,” Bellone said. “When you’ve had this many protestors wearing face coverings and not seeing a spike in cases is real strong evidence about how safe the outdoor environment is.”

The number of people hospitalized increased by eight to 129, which reflects a continuing holding pattern in that figure around 125.

The number of people in the Intensive Care Unit declined by two to 35.

Hospital occupancy remained well below health care metrics. The occupancy of hospital beds was at 64 percent, while the occupancy of ICU beds was at 60 percent.

The number of people discharged from the hospital in the last day was 10.

Meanwhile, one person died from complications related to COVID-19 in the last day. The total number of deaths for Suffolk County now stands at 1,958.

Stock photo

In the past 24 hours, the number of Suffolk County residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 was 33, which is well below the county’s goal of remaining below 100.

At the same time, the percentage of positive tests was below 1 percent, which is also an encouraging sign, particularly for a county that has had close to 100 protests in response to the killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd.

The total number of positive tests in the county since the beginning of the pandemic is now 40,692.

Meanwhile, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 remained fairly stable. The number in the hospital increased by two to 127, while the number in Intensive Care Unit beds declined by two to 38 in the 24 hour period ending on June 13th.

Bed capacity also remained below the 70 percent metric, with overall hospital bed use at 64 percent and ICU bed occupancy at 56 percent.

An additional 12 people left the hospital in the last day.

The number of people who have died from complications related to COVID-19 climbed to seven, with the total number who have died now at 1,955.

The number who have died from the virus represents a “spike” compared to the last few days, said County Executive Steve Bellone (D) on his daily conference call with reporters. Indeed, on Friday, the county reported its first day without a death from COVID-19 since mid-March.

“We’ll see moving forward” whether the numbers of people felled by the virus stay low or climb from days when Bellone has reported deaths of 0, one and two people over the last week.

Gregson Pigottt, the Suffolk County Health Commissioner, said people who have been in the ICU on a ventilator sometimes struggle to pull through after a few weeks.

“It’s hard to predict when you’re in the hospital,” Pigott said on the call.

Separately, the county hopes to enter Phase Three of the reopening by next Wednesday, June 24, at the latest.

At that point, restaurants could reopen at 50 percent capacity. Such a reopening would help boost an economy residents hopes gets back on track after the shutdown caused by the virus.

“Many people are unemployed,” Bellone said. “Getting this industry back is an important thing. We need to do it safely.”

Amid concerns Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) expressed yesterday about violations of social distancing and face coverings in Manhattan and the Hamptons, Bellone said the Suffolk County Police Department has remained in touch with law enforcement in the East End.

At the same time, the Health Department is sending a reminder about the guidelines with respect to the state order to restaurants so they are fully aware of the health restrictions in place.

The governor “spoke about the potential that violations could result in suspension or revocation of a business’s liquor license,” Bellone said. “Nobody wants to see that happen. We want to see all these businesses open up again and get them back on their feet.”

Suffolk County legislature's online meeting May 19.

“Hello?” “Can you hear me?” “Would that person please mute their mic?” “We can hear your dog barking/child yelling/lawn mower going …” and on and on.

These are comments well known to anybody who’s been paying attention to government meetings, of municipalities large and small, in this time of pandemic. When Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed an executive order which temporarily nixed the requirements for local governments to hold in-person meetings, many organizations quickly had to come up with some sort of workaround to still hold their legally required meetings, though staying as socially distanced as possible while still remaining open for public view.

The Town of Brookhaven during its most recent online meeting.

Zoom meetings, YouTube Live video, these are the new tools for conducting government business, but not all are equal in just how “open” these meetings are.

New York Coalition for Open Government, a small nonprofit organization, known until recently as Buffalo Niagara Coalition for Open Government, came out with a report May 12 grading different levels of government on their transparency, with all meetings being held online. The New York State Committee on Open Government, which is run from Albany under the Department of State, has opined that governments would still have to host visible livestreamed meetings to conform to both the governor’s executive order and the current Open Meetings Law. Some governing bodies have interpreted the governor’s order to mean a body could meet without allowing public access. The coalition organization instead points to opinions by the committee and people from the governor’s office that says agencies and all local governments should allow access to livestreamed meetings.

Kristin O’Neill, assistant director for the state Committee on Open Government, said in a phone interview that local governing bodies “must afford remote access to the meeting while the meeting is going on.” This does not have to be a video livestream, but it must allow the public the ability to listen to that meeting. She said it is not enough to post a transcript or video after for the public to listen to or read.

The nonprofit’s report found only four of 21 governments surveyed from all of New York state had met all their criteria, including having all meetings livestreamed, having videos/audio posted online after the meeting and having all meeting documents posted online prior to the meeting.

The coalition included another metric though it’s not required by the Open Meetings Law, specifically asking whether a government was soliciting public comments that are heard and/or seen during the meeting.

The open government coalition president, Paul Wolf, an attorney in upstate New York, said he feels it’s important for local governments to be judged on their willingness to listen to the public, despite it not being required by law.

“All right, there’s a pandemic going on, but you” can still hear from the public and hear their concerns,” he said. “[We had] some pushback and controversy on grades, but you have to somehow rank people and and have some calculation who’s doing good.”

Suffolk County and the Town of Brookhaven were given “B” rankings by the committee, noting both were not addressing public comments in their meetings. As of their last meetings in May and early June, both town and the county board meetings still were not enabling public comment.

“It’s good to push for this stuff, and that seems to be one of few ways to get elected officials’ attention that seems to prompt some change,” Wolf said.

That’s not to say it hasn’t been difficult for local government to make the adjustment to online meetings. Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) said the governing body had to figure things out on the fly. The last time all legislators were together for in-person meetings was March 17. He added it took time to get proper guidance from the state regarding hosting meetings. So far during the pandemic, the legislature has only allowed comment during public hearings.

Town of Smithtown’s online meeting May 21.

Calarco said some legislators have made comments that current meetings have not been sufficiently open.

“I get that, and it is important for us to be transparent, but we have been trying to do it as effectively as we can,” he said. “For local government [having public comment] is an integral part of how our meetings operate — for residents to have ability to speak to us in public fashion.”

The next general meeting, June 9, will be the first time in two months the legislature will have a timeslot for public comment. People can visit the legislature’s website at scnylegislature.us and scroll down to the link for submitting public comment.

Brookhaven, on the other hand, is looking more toward a time when they can host in person meetings again, according to town spokesperson Kevin Molloy. He said Brookhaven has had to work through technical difficulties, but is complying with the law and the parameters of the governor’s executive order, adding there were no current plans to createa a public portion during online meetings.

The town allows for comment on public hearings, which can be submitted either in writing or with the person joining the town’s online meeting in video form. Molloy said the town has tried to push back non-time sensitive public hearings until later dates.

We’re certainly trying to improve it, that means improvements in technology and the board is always trying to improve access to public,” Molloy said.

Despite this, different levels of government, including school districts, have found varying levels of success keeping their meetings open and responsive to the public.

TBR News Media has run through all school districts, villages and towns in our coverage area to check if its meeting four simple criteria. The point is not to degrade some and promote others, but to offer a means of comparison and give examples for how they can improve their openness to the public. Because of this, we have eschewed a letter grading system for our local governing bodies.

Port Jefferson Village is allowing for public comment via chat on YouTube but, as it has done in the past, has only hosted public portions every other week. Though this may have worked until now, the circumstances of the pandemic mean it may be time to change that policy.

School districts were perhaps the most consistent among municipalities for providing documentation and at least some communication of meetings and inquiries from residents. The Comsewogue school district has hosted a bevy of online options for students and district residents, including a website dedicated to offering stress relief for students, multiple Zoom meetings directly with students and a video of the budget hearing. However, the district has not posted any of its online board meetings after the fact to its website.

Grading Criteria (according to New York Coalition for Open Government)

  • Are meetings being live streamed?
  • Are meeting videos/audio posted online after the meeting?
  • Are all meeting documents being posted online prior to the meeting?
  • While not required by the Open Meetings Law, are local governments soliciting public comments that are heard/seen during the meeting?

Suffolk County 3/4 (As of June 9, this changed to allow a public comment period)

Meetings are being livestreamed through county website

Meetings video/audio/documents available after meeting

Meeting documents available before meeting

Public are allowed public comment only during public hearings

Town of Brookhaven 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed and can be accessed by cable Channel 18

Meetings video/audio/documents available after meeting

Meeting documents available before meeting

Public are allowed public comment only during public hearings

Town of Smithtown 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed

Meeting video/audio/documents available after meeting

Meeting agenda available before meeting

People are allowed public comment only during public hearings

Town of Huntington 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed

Video and documents are available after meeting

Meeting agenda available before meeting

Public are allowed public comment only during public hearings

Village of Shoreham 2/4

Meetings are held by Zoom with notifications sent to residents

Video/audio of meetings not available after meeting

Some documents are available before meetings, but agendas are not

Public can make comments during meetings

Village of Belle Terre 3/4

Meetings are held via Zoom with notifications sent to residents

Meetings video/audio is not readily available post meeting

Meeting documents are posted before meetings are held

Public is available to make comments during regular meetings

Village of Port Jefferson 4/4

Meetings are being livestreamed

Meetings videos/audio/agendas posted online

Meeting documents posted before meeting

Comments being posted through YouTube then addressed by board, but only every other meeting

Village of Old Field 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed with links sent to residents via Zoom

Meetings audio/video not posted online though minutes are

Meeting documents not posted before meetings

Trustee meetings regularly allow two public comment periods

Village of Poquott 3/4

Meetings can be accessed via dial-in code

Meeting video/audio of latest meetings not available

Documents are posted prior to meetings

Public is able to make comments during meetings

Village of Head of the Harbor 3/4

Residents can access meetings via links through notices

Meeting video/audio not available online

Documents are posted prior to meetings

Public is allowed comment during meeting

Village of Lake Grove 2/4

Meetings are being livestreamed via Zoom

Meetings audio/video not posted online

Documents are posted prior to meetings

Could not determine if public can comment during meetings

Village of Nissequogue 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed

Meeting video is available after meeting

Documents are not posted before meeting

People are allowed public comment during meeting

Village of the Branch 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed via Zoom

Meetings video/audio is not posted to the website after the meeting

Documents are posted to the website prior to meetings

People are allowed to comment during public portions of the meeting

Village of Asharoken 4/4

Meetings are being livestreamed via Zoom

Meeting minutes/agendas available after meeting

Meeting agendas are available after meeting but not video

Agenda available before meeting

Residents can ask questions prior to or during meeting

Village of Lloyd Harbor 4/4

Residents can listen in to meetings

Notices are present prior to meeting

Meeting agendas are available after meeting

Residents have been told they can comment during meeting

Village of Northport 4/4

Meetings are being held over teleconference call

Meeting audio not posted online after meeting

Agendas posted to website prior to meeting

Website says residents can ask questions of board via the web page

Shoreham-Wading River School District 4/4

Meetings are held publicly online via Zoom

Video of meeting posted after date held

Agendas are posted before meeting

Residents can comment during meetings

Rocky Point School District 2/4

Up until budget hearing, has not been having public board meetings online

Audio of meetings available on website

Board agendas posted prior to meeting

Public not able to comment on meetings up until budget hearing

Miller Place School District 3/4

Meetings held via Zoom

Video/audio of meetings not posted after meeting

Agendas posted prior to meetings

People may comment during meetings via chat

Mount Sinai School District 4/4

Meetings livestreamed via Zoom and on Facebook

Video of meeting posted afterward

Agendas posted prior to meetings

Questions from audience addressed during meeting

Port Jefferson School District 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed

Meetings audio/visual/documentation available post meeting

Meeting agenda available before meeting

Public is not able to make comments during meetings

Comsewogue School District 2/4

Public has access to meetings via livestream

Meeting audio/video not available post meeting

Documents are available prior to meeting via BoardDocs

Questions are not being addressed at meetings

Middle Country School District 3/4

Meetings livestreamed from Google Meet

Meeting video is available post meeting

Documents are available prior to meeting via BoardDocs

The district has dispensed with public input

Three Village School District 3/4

Meetings are not being livestreamed

Meeting video available after meeting

Documents are available prior to meeting

Questions are not being addressed at meeting

Smithtown School District 4/4

All meetings are streamed live via Facebook

Videos available after meeting

Documents available before meeting via BoardDocs

Public can submit comments prior to meetings

Hauppauge School District 4/4

Videos streamed via Facebook Live

Videos available after meetings

Documents available on website

Residents can ask questions via Google Docs attached linked to the agenda

Commack School District 4/4

Meetings are publicly streamed through the district website

Meeting videos are available after meeting
Meetings documents are available prior to meeting via BoardDocs

Members of the district can ask questions via email,

Kings Park School District 4/4

Meetings are publicly available via Zoom

Meeting videos are available after meeting

Documents are available via BoardDocs

District allows for comments on call during prearranged comment period

Elwood School District 4/4

Meeting videos streamed live to YouTube

Meeting agendas available via BoardDocs

Videos are available after meetings

Questions are answered during latter section of meeting

Huntington School District 4/4

Meeting videos streamed live via Zoom call

Meeting video is available on the district website

Meeting agendas are available via BoardDocs

Residents can ask questions during Zoom meetings

Harborfields School District 4/4

The district livestreamed meetings via Vimeo

Agenda is available prior to meeting on district website

Video is available after the meeting dates

Residents can ask questions via email, and questions are answered at a determined time in the meeting

Northport-East Northport School District 4/4

Meetings are being livestreamed via IPCamLive

Videos are available after meetings

Agendas are available beforehand via BoardDocs

Questions can be sent via email and addressed during meeting

Cold Spring Harbor School District 4/4

Meetings are being livestreamed via Zoom

Videos of the boards hearings are available at the district’s YouTube page

Board agendas and documents are available at its meeting portal page

The board advises sending questions via email, which are addressed during the meeting

This article has been amended June 16 to update information about the Suffolk County legislature.

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Port Jefferson Village Hall. File photo by Heidi Sutton

Port Jefferson village continues to plan for a number of ongoing projects. Here’s some notes from the June 1 meeting.

• The village has voted to waive all dining table application fees and outdoor dining public hearings, and permits would be effective for the full 2020 season. One example officials gave was Tiger Lily Cafe, which has one outdoor table setting but could expand to host more of its services outside. The village is still working out details with some restaurants, such as Ruvo East and Old Fields, to use residential parking lots as outdoor dining space for shops looking to participate.

• As the Port Jefferson Fire Department will not be making a decision on the annual July 4 parade until mid-June, the board voted to push back the fireworks show, normally held at East Beach, until potentially later in the summer. Mayor Margot Garant suggested the dates of Aug. 1 or 2 to coincide with potential graduation plans with the Port Jefferson School Districtm although no dates have officially been set as of yet. Fireworks by Grucci, which normally hosts the village’s fireworks displays, notified officials they would see no problem in providing the displays at a later date.

• Bike racks have already been installed at the small park by the village center, and now there are new bike racks next to the basketball courts near Rocketship Park. 

• A new electric vehicle charger has been installed at the parking lot in front of Rocketship Park. So far there have been 31 charging sessions with each session averaging a total of 1 hour and 21 minutes. The village plans to install another charging station at the Barnum Avenue parking lot once the lot is finally constructed.

The H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge. Photo by Rita J. Egan

As the economic toll from the lockdown during the virus becomes clearer, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) has asked department heads to come up with 5 percent cuts in their discretionary spending, which would trim $60 million from the budget.

Those departments include the Health Department, the Department of Public Works, Real Estate, Parks, the Budget Office and the Office of Aging.

“Earlier today, I directed the departments under the control of the county executive’s office to identify potential cuts in preparation for the budget that we will be working on for 2021,” Bellone said on his daily conference call with reporters.

As for the spread of the virus, Bellone said he is concerned about any increase in viral transmission during the numerous protests in response to the killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, who died when a former police officer, who was now charged with his murder, kneeled on his neck while he was handcuffed for close to nine minutes.

“Gatherings of this size and proximity is a concern,” Bellone said. The county executive said the transmission of the coronavirus could become evident over the next week.

As of now, the county has excess capacity at its testing sites, including in hotspot areas.

Separately, Bellone and Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor) will host a town hall tonight at 6:30 p.m. to discuss testing and contact tracing. Interested residents can tune in through facebook.com/SteveBellone.

Viral Numbers

Over the last 24 hours, Suffolk County has had the smallest increase in deaths due to complications related to COVID-19, with one additional person dying. The current total is 1,916.

“Every day, I’m hoping to see that number get down to zero,” Bellone said. “We haven’t been down to [as low as one death] since the third week in March.”

The number of people infected with the virus each day continues to hover below 100. Over the last day, 91 people tested positive, raising the total in Suffolk County to 40,153. The number of residents who tested positive for the antibody was 14,778.

Hospitalizations, meanwhile, decreased by 11 to 225, with those in Intensive Care Unit beds declining by five to 56.

An additional 20 people were discharged from hospitals in Suffolk County.