Editorials

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Most kids see hoverboards as the next hot toy, but they don’t know how literal that is.

U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) spoke this week about the dangers of hoverboards shipped from overseas, with batteries that have sometimes burst into flames. He said the type of battery being used in foreign-made hoverboards is unstable if not stored and charged properly.

While this problem seems like the most dangerous reason not to buy a hoverboard this holiday season, there are more concerns shoppers should consider. These boards are serious pieces of machinery. There are hundreds of videos of kids displaying their skills and tricks on hoverboards, as well as many videos of kids wiping out as they try to learn how to maneuver. Everyone who operates a hoverboard should exercise caution with these new devices, for themselves and for those around them.

These machines gain speed quickly and a slight shift in weight can quickly turn into a crash. Parents should consider requiring kids to wear helmets while riding, and should talk about how to use one safely, such as by keeping a certain distance away from pedestrians and staying within certain speeds.

When someone starts the ignition of a car, that person is expected to drive safely, thinking about other drivers and pedestrians on the road. The same should go for anyone on hoverboards, or any other motorized ride.

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It’s easy to get wrapped up in the chaos of shopping for holiday gifts during the December rush. Most of us are trying to get in and out of stores and malls as quickly as possible, but staying a little bit longer could go a long way this holiday season if we all make an effort to buy just one more present.

It doesn’t have to be a big one, like a video game console — although we’re sure nobody would mind that — but we could all buy just one more gift and donate it to a child in need through a local church or charity. There are kids whose parents simply cannot afford gifts, or live in domestic violence shelters, or don’t have parents at all. Those kids deserve a little happiness, too, to know that they are part of a community and that there are other people out there who care about them. We could also consider donating a gift to a hospital or a nursing home, where there could sometimes be people without family to remember them during the holidays.

Our newspaper told a story this week about a 22-year-old woman from Setauket who spent the last month raising money to buy holiday gifts for underprivileged teenagers. Her name is Hailey Del Giorno and she works at Little Flower Children and Family Services (631-929-6200) in Wading River. She is an only child and grew up reaping the bounty of the Christmas morning loot. But that did not deter her from reaching out to those who may be less fortunate, and she has already raised close to $2,000 to provide presents to teenagers she works with at the nonprofit organization.

We also see many local schools raising money to donate toys to those who are less fortunate. The Students Against Drunk Driving club at Mount Sinai raised money for Holiday Magic (631-265-7200), a not-for-profit organization that dedicates itself to making the holidays special for less fortunate children and their families. The club raised more than $7,000 and went shopping at Walmart and the Smith Haven Mall to purchase gifts for 67 children.

We, too, could look beyond ourselves and make our community better this holiday season.

There are strangers all around us who need a friend. Let’s make a difference in one of their lives during the season of giving.

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Colorado Springs is not around the corner. But the effects of a tragic shooting there the day after Thanksgiving have trickled down and made a very real impact on Suffolk County.

We spent much of the fall season interviewing candidates running for various offices, and more than once we were reminded that our county police department was being stretched too thin.

Fast forward a few weeks to the aftermath of Friday’s shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado that killed three and injured nine. Our county police department announced it would be increasing patrols near the five clinics in its jurisdiction as a result. The department also committed itself to training Planned Parenthood officials in crime prevention, which hopefully will provide a more lasting impact on preventing similar tragedies here.

Sometimes there is a disconnect between the national conversation and the small-town scuttlebutt, but this is an example of how one person’s actions can have a nationwide effect. In our case, it is strapping an already taxed police department.

The consequences are real, and there are things we could do on a local level that could perhaps trickle in the opposite direction — up to the national conversation.

We could strive to better care for our neighbors, both through publicly funded mental health programs that provide more access to treatment and more comprehensively deal with mental illness, and by speaking up when someone we know is behaving erratically or speaking in an alarming manner. We are seeing more and more irrationally thinking people commit acts like the shooting in Colorado Springs, in which the assailant targeted people unknown to him. And it seems impossible that none of these perpetrators displayed irrational behavior or thought beforehand.

A strongly connected community is an excellent safety net. We should work to weave ours tighter.

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When most people celebrate Thanksgiving, they say they are thankful for things like their families and friends, and similarly irreplaceable items. Your newspaper staff is equally thankful for them, but we would be remiss if we did not also mention the little things that have kept us going all year.

In our own words, the things we are grateful to have:

Victoria Espinoza, editor of The Times of Huntington & Northport — M&Ms, which have been my constant companion when I’m stressed; Fleetwood Mac, for making me feel like Esméralda; Christoph Waltz, for being alive and reminding me that love is real.

Phil Corso, editor of The Village Times Herald and the Times of Smithtown — The Shih Tzus, Betty and Buster, for carrying on Bugsy’s legacy; Taco Bell’s mobile app; my Casper mattress.

Desirée Keegan, sports editor and editor of The Village Beacon Record — Coffee, for its waking and warming qualities; music, because it’s always there to complement my mood; sports, because they are exciting, challenging and rewarding.

Giselle Barkley, reporter — My new car, which brings an end to a history of car troubles; tea, because it’s one of the few things that keep me warm; Louis C.K., because life’s nothing without some laughter.

Elana Glowatz: online editor and editor of The Port Times Record — My dog, for being a person; Dunkin’ Donuts, for opening 200 feet from my desk; peanut butter, for being my life partner since the 1980s.

A happy Thanksgiving to all our readers, both the longtime subscribers and the ones who picked up a newspaper for the first time today. We are all thankful for you too.

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AIMHighNY, the state’s survey for receiving public feedback on the Common Core Learning Standards, seems to be coming up short.

Board of education members from Huntington Union Free School District expressed frustration with the review system, which was felt across the North Shore this week, and said the survey did not give parents and educators enough space or time to voice their Common Core concerns.

Trustees said the review is specific and tedious, and that the section to submit opinions is “restrictive.”

Upon exploring the site, many of those claims don’t seem far-fetched.

There are more than 24 subsections of the review. At one point, the continual division of a topic into a smaller topic seems endless, and a user may need to go through more than five sections before they can write in their own comments. If a participant wanted to fill out the entire assessment, it would be no small feat — and that’s if time is on your side.

But that is not the case for AIMHighNY. The survey, which opened in October, ends in about two weeks. Schools have even said they are having multiple teachers work on one survey just to submit something.

With the amount of protesting against Common Core we’ve seen throughout New York State over the last few years, should there even be a deadline?

Perhaps like rolling admissions in college, rolling submissions in Common Core may work. Of course reviews need to be evaluated, but with the current public opinion of Common Core, it may be a good idea to continually check parents’ and educators’ suggestions and not limit their time to a four-week period.

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Uerda Zena and mom Barbara are all smiles while in the U.S. to repair the girl's heart defect Photo from Joe DeVincent

Simple but necessary medical procedures we receive in the United States are often something we take for granted, but they are miracles to many people around the globe.

Take, for instance, the case of 4-year-old Uerda Zena, a girl born in Kosovo with a heart defect. Rotary volunteers across Suffolk County and the North Shore recently brought her to this country through their Gift of Life program so she could receive a lifesaving heart operation. Uerda had a hole in her heart the size of a nickel, but the procedure to repair it was not available in her home country because the hospitals there do not have the resources to train their staff.

Uerda’s case is not an isolated one. Young children from developing and disadvantaged nations around the world, including in Eastern Europe, much of Africa and South America, do not have access in their home countries to medicine and surgical procedures they desperately need.

Several global organizations have made it their mission to provide procedures like the one performed on Uerda, but Americans tend to forget that those organizations are necessary at all. If an American child is born with a cleft lip or a detectable heart defect, it is fixed as soon as possible and without the child needing to trek hundreds of miles — or thousands, in the case of Uerda.

We should be grateful for all the lifesaving procedures we have at our fingertips. And maybe instead of spending some of our money on a discounted plasma screen television on Black Friday, we should donate to causes like Gift of Life.

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Our government was designed to have some give-and-take. We have a mostly two-party system and two houses of Congress because the parties and the houses ideally check each other.

The House ensures proportional representation based upon population while the Senate, with each state getting two votes, makes sure the little guy can be heard even in a room of big guys. And the Republicans and the Democrats, in a well-balanced Congress, keep each other on their toes.

That’s why the spread between Republicans and Democrats in our North Shore legislative bodies makes us uncomfortable.

In Suffolk County, we have a large majority of Democrats in the Legislature, and the same imbalance exists on the Huntington Town Board. In Brookhaven and Smithtown towns, the Republicans have the overwhelming majority.

That disproportion will be worse come January, when Councilwoman Valerie Cartright will be the only Democrat on the seven-member Brookhaven Town Board. Her lone colleague on the left, Councilwoman Connie Kepert, was ousted by a Republican on Election Day.

One of the reasons our newspaper endorsed Cartright was our desire to preserve the Democratic minority on the board. This wasn’t because we particularly dislike any of the Republican board members or think they are irresponsible, but our government was designed to have shared control, to bring multiple viewpoints. Differing opinions foster compromise and prevent leaders from having absolute power to enact whatever laws they wish. A minority party is a watchdog.

Similarly, we endorsed Councilman Gene Cook for re-election in Huntington in part because he is the only non-Democratic member, and in that role he keeps the others in check. He will remain in such a position next year.

We hope our majority party leaders, from the Suffolk County Legislature to the town boards, keep in mind that even though they may not agree with minority colleagues, those people serve an important purpose — and we hope they will do their best to reach across the aisle, even though they don’t really have to.

It’s not just lip service
We hear it all the time: Every vote counts. And if you want proof, look no further than the North Shore.

With just one vote in the lead, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) stood beside a triumphant group of Democrats on Election Day and timidly celebrated. Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Rich Schaffer joked she won by a “landslide.” Anker fought a tough battle against Republican Steve Tricarico, a Brookhaven Town deputy highway superintendent, and the fight isn’t over — it could be a while before absentee ballot counts are finalized and an official winner is declared. The vote was 5,859 to 5,858 — it could have been Anker’s own vote for herself that kept her head just barely above water.

Our paper has editorialized about voter turnout in the past, usually after Election Day. But it’s virtually unheard of to have two candidates separated by just one vote.

So once again, we implore you, go out and vote at election time. Every vote does count.

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National Hispanic Heritage Month, a time when the country pays tribute to the generations of Hispanic-Americans who have influenced our society, ended on Oct. 15. But that doesn’t mean Long Island’s North Shore should stop thinking about this growing demographic.

There’s more we can do as a region to better accommodate and embrace Hispanic-Americans who help diversify our neighborhoods and are a huge economic driver on the Island. According to a 2007 research report, prepared for the Long Island social activism nonprofit, Hagedorn Foundation, Hispanic residents add nearly $5.7 billion to total Long Island output as a result of their consumer spending, and Hispanic employment continues to grow rapidly. Those numbers can only have grown in the last several years since the report was published — and community tensions have grown along with them.

Tensions between Hispanic residents and police officers have been well documented.

Earlier this year, a class action lawsuit by a group of Latinos alleged the Suffolk County Police Department targeted them. The group claimed several officers robbed them or issued them traffic citations in unfounded, race-based stops. There has also been an outcry from Huntington Station residents, many of them Hispanic, who say they don’t feel safe in their own neighborhoods or protected by police.

And there have been instances of Hispanic people being made to feel marginalized by their own neighbors.

Police should continue to cultivate a stronger relationship with the Island’s Hispanic communities by involving youth and hosting local programs, like forums, where residents can discuss local issues or share concerns. Non-Hispanic residents should also do their part to call out prejudice when they see it, and encourage more Hispanic neighbors to join their various community groups.

We should strive to include Hispanics as we steer Long Island toward its future, and we should do it because it’s necessary, not just because of some national holiday prompt.

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When a car runs a red light in Suffolk County, does it make a sound?

Yes. If you listen closely, you’ll hear your wallet being pried open.

Beware the daring driver who goes through a yellow light to traverse a busy intersection. It’ll happen so suddenly. You’ll see a quick flash of white light, followed by a sinking feeling: You just ran a red.

Flash forward weeks later when you get slapped with a $50 ticket. Let’s not forget the $30 administrative fee. And don’t be late with it, or else you could be hit with additional late fees of $25 or more.

Suffolk County’s Red Light Safety Program just feels unjust. Ask any Long Islander about it, and you’re likely to get that eye-roll or an angry tone.

It’s a “money grab,” they’ll say. And they already pay a ton in taxes to live here.

Remember that story over the summer about the Centereach man who used an expandable pole to push the cameras toward the sky? It attracted much attention and numerous shares on social media. To the public, he was known as the “Red Light Robin Hood.” In a follow-up interview with Newsday after his arrest, the man, Stephen Ruth, defended his actions.

“It’s abusive and it’s got to stop,” Ruth told Newsday reporters. “My taxes have doubled. … They keep taking more and more money from people. When is enough, enough?”

GOPers in the Suffolk County Legislature say they feel like Ruth. Some Republicans are calling for greater scrutiny in the program, and some flat out disagree with it all together. A press conference last week singled out the county’s red light program, dubbing it a cheap attempt at building revenue on the backs of everyday citizens.

We agree with that notion, but we do not outright disagree with the program’s premise. Those drivers who purposely whiz through a red light deserve that ticket they’ll eventually receive in the mail, but we don’t feel the same way about drivers slapped with tickets for not stopping enough before a turn at right-on-red intersections. Cameras don’t capture enough of the oncoming traffic in an intersection, in our opinion, to appropriately determine whether or not a right on red was executed safely, and that — to us  — is a textbook money grab.

The county says red-light-running is “one of the major causes of crashes, deaths and injuries at signalized intersections.” The action killed 676 people and injured an estimated 113,000 in 2009, the year before the county program was enacted. And nearly two-thirds of the deaths were people other than the red-light-running drivers.

But while it is a noble intention to stop speeders or those who flagrantly disobey the rules of the road, and to prevent fatalities from occurring, we agree with the notion that the measure is a money grab. We agree the county should stop and yield to the concerns of many and evaluate how to make the program better.

Could the stuff you’re washing your face with end up in your sushi? It sounds crazy, but yes.

We don’t often agree with legislators who want to add more restrictions to businesses, but a recently approved law, drafted by Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), tries to take tiny pieces of plastic out of the equation.

The culprit is known as microbeads, which are used as exfoliants and are becoming more and more common in personal care products like facial scrubs and toothpastes. The tiny particles are too small for our treatment plants to filter out of wastewater, so they pick up toxins and are discharged into our waterways. Small creatures confuse them with food and ingest them, and those small creatures are consumed by larger creatures — which then reach us at the top of the food chain.

Hahn’s law passing this week means products containing microbeads are going to start disappearing from Suffolk County shelves, with complete removal by 2018.

While some of us may lose our exfoliant, we will all gain a healthier water supply and environment. It’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make, because without it, we may not have the clean water we need to exfoliate with in the first place.