Town of Smithtown

Photo by Julianne Mosher

Almost a year to the day of the first reported case of COVID-19 in Suffolk County, elected officials joined mourning families to remember the lives lost. 

On Monday, March 1, Suffolk County Presiding Officer Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) with his colleagues and officials unveiled a new county COVID-19 memorial in Hauppauge. 

“Over this last year, I don’t think anybody at the beginning would have thought that we would have had so many trials and tribulations, so many challenges and so many losses,” Calarco said.

Since March 2020, there have been more than 500,000 deaths nationwide from the virus, and just over 3,000 in Suffolk County. 

“That is a tremendous number of people,” Calarco added. “And it has left many of us mourning.”

The wooden structure, located outside the Legislature’s William H. Rogers Building at 725 Veterans Memorial Highway, was built and donated by Smithtown Boy Scout Troop 888, and will be on display throughout the month of March.

Families and loved ones are encouraged to write the names of those who have passed, tying the purple ribbons on the metal cords across the wooden planks. It’s a way, Calarco said, to memorialize them.

“Because especially for those who were lost early on, family members weren’t able to lean on each other,” he said. “They weren’t able to be with their loved ones in the hospital due to restrictions. They weren’t able to have the normal funeral and wake process for their friends and family. When we grieve, we need to have the community around us to support us.”

Deputy County Executive Jon Kaiman spoke on behalf of County Executive Steve Bellone (D) who was not in attendance. 

“Three thousand people in this county lost their lives … that’s more than 3,000 families grieving,” he said. “We in Suffolk County stand with them. We grieve with them. We know that we’re in the process of getting through it, we’re getting through it together.”

The first group of families able to share names tearfully thanked the county for honoring their loved ones. 

The family of Sgt. Keith Allison of Brentwood was the first to tie the ribbon. Allison, who spent 25 years in uniform with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, died in December after a 17-day battle with the coronavirus. 

“I’m humbled to be here and to accept this ribbon in his name,” said his wife Brenda. “I know that he’s looking down smiling.”

County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) said of his former colleague that he was “not only just a friend of mine, but a person who was always smiling, always helpful and always energetic and passionate about his job.”

County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart came to support the Van Zeyl family. Lt. Robert Van Zeyl, of Selden, passed away from the virus on Jan. 20 after a two-week battle. He was the first active county police officer to succumb to COVID-19. 

“I think we all thought that we would be immune from this tragedy, and it really hit our family very hard, our police family,” Hart said. “Bob was out there every day. He didn’t stop. He didn’t back down during the most difficult of times in this pandemic. So, we were honored to have him in our family, and we will always be honored to have you with us. And we’ll never forget what he’s done for us.”

Van Zeyl’s ex-wife, Tina, joined their two children Hailey and Tyler in the emotional ribbon tying. Hailey had the honor of putting her dad’s name on the memorial. 

“It felt like I was honoring my dad,” she said. “I know he’s proud of me.” Anyone who has lost someone to COVID-19 may submit their loved one’s name for inclusion in the memorial online at scnylegislature.us/covid-19-memorial. The website also provides the option to share a photo and a memory about the person. 

After the county receives the submission, county staff will write the loved one’s name on a ribbon and affix it to the memorial. 

Ribbons will also be made available to those who wish to write their loved one’s name and tie the ribbon themselves, at both the memorial in Hauppauge as well as a temporary structure on the East End in the lobby of the Evans K. Griffing Building at 300 Center Drive in Riverhead. Any ribbons tied in Riverhead will be incorporated into the memorial. 

More information is available at the above website.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart, right, and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. File photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Suffolk County Police Department suspended two officers for kicking Christopher Cruz, a 30-year-old homeless man who stole a car and injured two other officers, after he had been handcuffed.

Cruz had stolen a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee in Port Jefferson Station late on the evening of Feb. 23. During a 35-minute chase, Cruz rammed two police cars, injuring two officers who were eventually treated and released from the hospital.

Cruz, who has been charged with several crimes, including third-degree grand larceny, second-degree assault, third-degree criminal mischief and resisting arrest, was kicked by officers who now face their own criminal investigation. At the same time, four other officers, including a supervisor, who didn’t stop the assault on a handcuffed suspect, are also on modified duty pending the investigation.

“The matter is now in the hands of [District Attorney Timothy Sini’s] office, and I can confirm that there is a criminal investigation,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said during a press conference on Tuesday night.

The two officers have been suspended without pay.

“If we are to continue to build trust with all of our communities, we have to be transparent and we have to hold our officers to the highest standards,” SCPD Commissioner Geraldine Hart, said during the press conference.

Hart called the incident “disturbing” and said the department would continue its internal investigation.

The investigation of the officers’ behavior came to light after officials reviewed a recording from another responding officer’s body camera.

“While Cruz was standing up and handcuffed, a 6th Precinct police officer pushed the arrestee forward from behind and kicked the back of his leg,” Hart described. “The officer who initially pushed Cruz and one other officer kicked Cruz multiple times while he was on the ground.”

Hart called the inaction of other officers “unacceptable” and said the “number of officers who did not intervene is a direct violation of our rules and procedures.”

She called the actions against the officers “swift” and said the investigation would continue and could involve other police officers.

The police made a formal referral to Sini (D), who was a former police commissioner, and had pledged to clean up the county’s law enforcement agency amid a scandal engulfing the former DA.

Hart recognized that the public would express outrage at the video.

“People will be rightfully angry and disappointed and I can tell you that I am, too,” Hart said. “This type of behavior cannot and will not be tolerated.”

Hart added that the incident should serve as a message to the rank and file that “we must be better. I expect our officers to act with respect and restraint. If you witness misconduct by a fellow officer, you are obligated to stop it.”

Hart assured the public that the matter is “being taken very seriously.”

Bellone, meanwhile, who also called the video “disturbing,” underscored the review the county was conducting of police policy.

These types of reviews are occurring throughout the country, particularly after several high-profile incidents of police actions caught on video. The death of Minnesota resident George Floyd at the hands of police officers now charged with his murder, triggered numerous protests throughout the country.

Bellone said the video of the Cruz arrest is a “stark example of why those [body cameras] are so vital and important. I can tell you that I will not move forward and present a police reform plan that does not include body cameras for the police department.”

 

 

Ray Manzoni Photo from ALS Ride for Life

The ALS Ride for Life board of directors unanimously appointed Ray Manzoni as president of the organization.

Manzoni, of Miller Place and proprietor of Manzoni Real Estate located in Mount Sinai, replaces Chris Pendergast, a beloved community member and founder of the nonprofit, who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in October after a 28-year-long battle.

But Manzoni said Pendergast’s legacy will live on, and he’ll be there to help see the organization through.

When ALS Ride for Life was incorporated back in 1997, Manzoni stood alongside Pendergast — a man he became good friends with. 

“We had been friends for years before he was diagnosed. Then he sucked me in and here I am 28 years later,” he laughed. “I knew him well. I knew his mind. He taught me well.”

While Pendergast was still alive and spreading awareness on ALS (often referred to as Lou Gehrig disease), the new president served on the board of directors, eventually — and currently — as board chairman. 

“Chris was a nationally known leader in the world of ALS,” Manzoni said. “I was proud to be his friend. I look forward to continuing his mission and that of our organization toward providing patient services, awareness and supporting research so that a cure can one day be found.”

ALS Ride for Life started when Pendergast embarked on a ride with his electric scooter from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx to Washington, D.C., 22 years ago to raise awareness about the disease and raise funds for research. After a few years, the ride was contained to New York state — from Riverhead to the Bronx — where participants stop by schools along the way that take part in the organization’s presentations throughout the school year. 

Pendergast, a Miller Place resident and former Northport elementary teacher, had lived with the disease for 28 years. When doctors diagnosed him, they thought he only had a few years to live. He lived to be 71.

Pendergast became an icon and symbol for the North Shore for never giving up. 

Even as he lost the ability to speak and had to communicate with an eye-to-speech device, his determination never seemed to relent. Just this year, Pendergast, alongside his wife Christine, released the book “Blink Spoken Here: Tales from a Journey to Within” about his life since his diagnosis in 1993.

The ALS Ride for Life organization has raised over $10 million for advocacy and research. Their yearly Ride for Life trips were later accompanied by visits to close to 90 school districts on Long Island.

“His story still resonates,” Manzoni said. “ALS is not gone.”

The new president is looking forward to keeping Pendergast’s legacy alive. 

“We fortunately have this great team,” he said. “We held it all together and are refining in these COVID times.”

Known to visit schools and give presentations on the disease, the group had to change shape to get their word out, while adhering to coronavirus guidelines. But he is asking people to continue supporting their local nonprofits. 

“The kids want this, administrators want this,” he said.

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr.

By Rich Acritelli

In honor of Black History Month, Errol Toulon Jr. (D), of Lake Grove, is the first African American Suffolk County sheriff. Ever since his youth through the lessons that he learned from his father, Toulon has been motivated to achieve his duty and responsibilities.  

As a kid, he asked his father, a longtime correction officer, what he did for a living. His dad replied, “We rehabilitate individuals that are incarcerated, we never throw away the key and we try to help these people safely return back to society.” 

The story of Toulon Jr. began in the Bronx, where he was born in 1962, and he lived in the city until 1990. 

Yankee batboy

Errol Toulon Jr. as a Yankee batboy. Photo from Errol Toulon Jr.

A talented baseball player who excelled as a center fielder and a leadoff hitter during his high school and college years, Toulon had the unique chance of being a batboy for the New York Yankees in 1979 through 1980.  

He was in the locker room to observe the impressive leadership skills and character of the late Yankee great catcher Thurman Munson. In the Bronx, Toulon watched Billy Martin manage the baseball stars of Reggie Jackson and Bobby Murcer, and he also met boxing champ Roberto Durán.  

As a young man in the Yankee Clubhouse, Toulon encountered a young boy, and asked him his name. It was Hal Steinbrenner, who now owns the team after his father George. 

The former batboy ended up becoming the first African American sheriff of Suffolk County, and had a wonderful time being welcomed back by senior management of the Yankees. Players like Ron Blomberg and Mickey Rivers were pleased to see their former batboy who has always worked to protect his community. Still to this day, Toulon is an avid baseball fan who glowingly recalls his special time in pinstripes around the “Boys of Summer.”

City correction officer

Errol Toulon Jr., left, with Hal Steinbrenner, general partner of the New York Yankees.
Photo from Errol Toulon Jr.

During those earlier years, Toulon took the city correction officer exam, after he completed an associate’s degree in business.  As a 20-year-old, he became one of the youngest recruits within the New York City Department of Correction.  

He observed the older jails that were built from the 1930s through 1960s, were cold, secured with steel, and lacking any of the advancements of the penitentiaries of today. Early in his career, Toulon was impacted by watching inmates hold few liberties and living in poor conditions. 

There were dangerous moments during fights, riots and emergencies, that saw officers isolated and unable to see each other where their own safety was compromised. Over the years, Toulon has learned from these lessons to ensure the constant support of the current officers of his department.

As a lifelong officer, a captain and official, Toulon always follow the examples that were established by his father. Toulon Sr. was employed by the NYC Department of Correction for 36 years in positions ranging from officer to a warden at Rikers Island. 

From his dad, he learned the value of attention to detail and always treating his staff with the utmost amount of respect. Whether it was his junior years as a correction officer or as the present Suffolk County sheriff, Toulon never loses focus on the evolving complexities of operating the county system of imprisonment. Over the past decades, he has been involved in hostage crisis, handling drug abuse, attempted escapes, and seizure of guns and contraband that were smuggled into jails by prisoners.

Suffolk County sheriff

Gov. Andrew Cuomo administers the oath of office to Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. during his inauguration ceremony in 2018. Toulon was joined by his wife Tina. File photo by Kevin Redding

Toulon has always believed in the necessity in analyzing the complexity of criminal justice problems that are always evolving. There was recently a major riot in St. Louis, where the inmates broke windows and set debris on fire. Always understanding the usefulness of information, Toulon’s Sheriff’s Office examines these situations by calling different corrections agencies around the country. They try to determine the root of local or national incidents and utilize these resources to be prepared to sufficiently handle these concerns in Suffolk County.  

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) has worked with him through their tenures in office.

“Sheriff Toulon leads a proud department of men and women dedicated to upholding the law and running the Suffolk County Correctional Facility,” she said. 

There is always the major process of investigating prisoner grievances over health care, food, communication with family members, religious services and more. Toulon tries to improve these concerns before they materialize into a major crisis. 

During his career, he has dealt with the Ebola and swine flu outbreaks and the health implications within the jail environment. Through the determination to always contain the strength of these sicknesses, protective measures were already established within the county jails before the first COVID-19 case hit New York in last March.  

Due to the pandemic, new ways had to be developed to handle the services that were needed for the prisoners. Toulon’s office made a goal in always sharing current information on the threats and changes that COVID-19 presented to both the outside world and the jails. The virus prevented family visits, but prisoners were allocated two extra calls a week, pictures of loved ones were printed for inmates, and there were virtual substance and psychological programs. 

Professional and educational experiences

Errol Toulon Jr. with Yankees Mickey Rivers and Ron Bloomberg

Education has always been an important part of Toulon’s life which he has incorporated into his many correctional positions. He has a doctorate in educational administration, an advanced certificate in Homeland Security Management and an MBA.  

Since his election as sheriff, Toulon has spoken to many educational programs with local school districts to address the daily concerns that his department handles, always with a positive demeanor. 

VFW Post 6249 Rocky Point Comdr. Joe Cognitore has always viewed Toulon “as an upstanding and an energetic people person that has always protected our residents, worked well with community leaders, aided veterans that have fallen on criminal times in jail, and he has helped create local 9/11 memorials.”

For two years, Toulon taught at Dowling College as an adjunct faculty member. He planned to instruct students at St. John’s University, but was unable to do so due to his present position.  

Harvard University has invited Toulon to address its student body on his professional and educational experiences. While he enjoys his current position and is hopeful that he will be reelected to another term, Toulon enjoys teaching, and he would like to teach again. A leader with a tremendous amount of energy, there have been some personal battles that he has had to endure as a survivor of pancreatic cancer and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Whereas Toulon is determined to have a secure prison system within the county, provide resources and support for his officers, he also wants to ensure that prisoners do not return. Through the Sheriff’s Transition and Reentry Team, known as the START program, correction officers help inmates find housing, jobs, medical services and food, and to become productive and safe citizens. 

Photo from Pixabay

By Leah Chiappino

The COVID-19 rollout in New York state has brought hope to residents, after nearly a year of shuttered businesses, isolation and general fear for their own health and safety. For many, hope turned to frustration as they attempted to navigate the New York State signup website, phone hotline or even a simple Google search to find other options.

Leah Chiappino

Even as a 20-year-old digital native, attempting to navigate the world of vaccine signups was difficult to put it mildly, and infuriating to put it bluntly. Through my part-time work at a law firm, I began trying to book appointments for elderly clients at the end of January. I was able to secure a few appointments by luck, as I happened to look on the state-run site at exactly the right time to see open appointments. Of course, the website crashed, but I notified clients, friends and family to call the hotline. 

From there, securing an appointment seemed to become more difficult, even as more locations opened up. Getting an appointment seems to be a combination of pure luck, persistence and patience.

Distributing a vaccine to combat a pandemic is an extraordinary feat. It is unrealistic to expect the process not to have any roadblocks. However, the system seems to lack basic necessities to account for the inconveniences encountered by those trying to make vaccine appointments. 

The average New Yorker does not have 12 hours to sit at a computer in a virtual wait line, only for the computer to crash when they finally get an opening.

My 89-year-old grandfather cannot figure out how to merge a call to give the operator consent for me to make an appointment. Someone in their 90s cannot figure out what to do when the website crashes. There’s also no real database that shows every single possible vaccination site, pharmacy or other center that allows people to get an appointment — at least in Suffolk County. 

Seniors, essential workers and vulnerable populations deserve better.

Through my failures and successes in trying to get the vaccine appointments, I have acquired a few tips and tricks, as well as answers to commonly asked questions.

1. Community is a great resource for finding out the latest information, unavailability, hearing tips from other people who made an appointment successfully and guiding others through the process. The Long Island COVID-19 Vaccination Information Facebook group posts multiple times a day and offers direct links to state-run distribution sites, as well as consistent posts and guidance as to when appointments open.

2. Pharmacies will only vaccinate, pursuant to New York State executive order, those 65 and older and exclude essential workers and those with comorbidities. Appointments can be made online at Rite Aid, Walgreens, CVS and Stop & Shop. In my own experience, appointments tend to open up on these sites after midnight.

3. Another helpful tool is the TurboVax website — an A1 site that automatically posts appointments on social media when appointments are available. Most of the appointments are New York City vaccine sites, which usually require patients to live or work there in order to receive the vaccine, and have stipulations as to what category of eligibility they can vaccinate (essential workers, seniors or those with comorbidities). However, Long Islanders can make appointments at state-run vaccination sites, which also appear on TurboVax.

4. Those with comorbidities need to bring a doctor’s letter, medical documentation showing their comorbidity or a signed certification to their appointment. Those with comorbidities can be vaccinated at state-run mass vaccination sites, as well as through local department of health sites. Local departments of health can determine how the supply is distributed to area sites.

5. It is essential to be persistent. Sometimes, you call the hotline and the operator will not look more than 50 miles from your home zip code, or will say that appointments are unavailable when they are showing on the website. There is some lag between the site and the hotline, so always be sure to double check. In general, however, hotline workers are kind, informed and helpful. Any frustrating guidance, they tell you, comes from the state and general lack of supply. They are doing their best, so be kind. It usually helps.

Leah Chiappino is a 20-year-old contributing writer with TBR News Media. Currently a junior at Hofstra University, she is a political science and journalism double major. She is a resident of Smithtown. 

Winter Scene, Frank Melville Park

By Tara Mae

Art is an expression of personal inspiration, and the Smithtown Township Art Council’s latest exhibit at the Mills Pond Gallery, A Sense of Place, examines how Long Island acts as a muse to local artists. The show opens Feb. 20.

The beautiful exhibit fills four gallery rooms and the center hall gallery on the first floor of the historic 1838 Greek Revival mansion in St. James. A mixed media display, it includes book art, sculptures, acrylic, oil, and watercolor paintings. With 62 works by 48 artists from 32 communities across Long Island, the exhibit is a cross-section of local culture and influences, capturing scenes of nature and community.

“Long Islanders will see art about Long Island … places they see daily or places of their memories. We think the exhibit will help people reconnect with this place where they make and live their lives and hopefully inspire them toward ongoing care and interpretation of these places,” said Executive Director Allison Cruz. 

‘Walks Through Avalon’ by Loretta Oberheim

Increasing awareness about the environment was a goal for both Cruz and a number of the artists. Galvanized by the natural world and forged by remembrance, the art encompasses genres including realistic landscape vistas and abstract or surrealist renderings. How nature and memory intertwine is a recurring theme of the show, expressed through individual perspectives. 

“People will see beautiful forms of art and how artists felt in that time and that space and maybe it will get them to appreciate those places. Maybe this will make them want to venture out. It’s the little places that have been preserved … and the county parks, little gems that need more appreciation. The more that they are highlighted in exhibits, the more people will get to see them” said artist Loretta Oberheim, of Ronkonkoma.

Her abstract expressionist piece, Walks Through Avalon, is a sculpture mounted on canvas and made of alcohol inks on yupo paper. It is Oberheim’s homage to Avalon Nature Preserve in Stony Brook, which she cites as one of her “happy places.” 

The exhibit explores the myriad ways Long Island informs artistic development and depiction. 

“I’m always on the lookout for an interesting or beautiful scene and feel fortunate to live in an area with such picturesque beaches, farms and woodlands,” said artist Robert Roehrig of East Setauket. His two landscape oil paintings, Facing the Sun and Winter Scene, Frank Melville Park, are tributes to local vistas: Cupsogue Beach County Park in Westhampton Beach and Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket, respectively. 

More than just imagery, the show incorporates the artists’ descriptions of their art and what inspired them, details that add insight into the impact of the installation, according to Cruz. “Artists couldn’t just submit the art; they also had to explain the connection they have to Long Island. [I asked them to] tell me what gives you a connection to this island that we live on,” she explained. 

‘Winter Scene, Frank Melville Park’ by Robert Roehrig

It is the second exhibit for which Cruz utilized this process. She previously included written testimonials of the artists’ motivations for the Celebrating Creativity exhibit back in November and was encouraged to do it for this installation after the positive response from visitors.

During the era of COVID-19, the gallery has striven to remain a respite for individuals seeking an escape into artistic beauty. The effort is a continuation of the gallery’s ongoing commitment to engaging the public and providing an escape from the doldrums and despair of the pandemic for both the artists and audience.

Nesconset artist Catherine Rezin’s piece, a watercolor and gouache painting, Along Great River, is a rendering of a photograph her husband took of the bank of the Connetquot River at Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River. 

“From the perspective of an artist, it is important to be seen, to allow other artists to see my work and to be inspired by their work. For the rest of the public, it is important to be able to go somewhere and retreat from reality, to connect with nature through art and to connect with Long Island through art,” said Rezin.

Participating artists include:

Marsha Abrams (Stony Brook), Lucia Alberti (Smithtown), Tina Anthony (Northport), Shain Bard (Huntington Station), Ron Becker (Deer Park), Joyce Bressler (Commack), Jean Marie Bucich (River Vale NJ), Carol Ceraso (Hauppauge), Rocco Citeno (Sayville), Donna Corvi (Montauk), Gráinne de Buitléar (Belle Terre), Lou Deutsch (Stony Brook), Michael Drakopoulos (Port Jefferson), Karin Dutra (Port Jefferson), Paul Jay Edelson (Poquott), Ellen Ferrigno (Port Jefferson), Dorothy Fortuna (Smithtown), Donna Gabusi (Smithtown), Jan Guarino (East Northport), Margaret Henning (Sayville), Libby Coker Hintz (Blue Point), Irene Ruddock (Stony Brook), James Kelson (Stony Brook), Lynn Kinsella (Brookhaven), John Koch (Port Jefferson Sta.), Lee Ann Lindgren (Breezy Point), Olivia Mathon (Smithtown), Eileen P. McGann (Island Park), Carissa Millett (Setauket), Hillary Serota Needle (Dix Hills), Loretta Oberheim (Ronkonkoma), Eileen W. Palmer (St. James), Catherine Rezin (Nesconset), Robert Roehrig (East Setauket), Lori Scarlatos (Saint James), Gia Schifano (New Hyde Park), Anita Schnirman (Kings Park), Faith Skelos (Smithtown), Paul Speh (Ronkonkoma), Mike Stanko (Valley Stream), Madeline Stare (Smithtown), Barbara Stein (Port Washington), Nicholas Valentino (North Babylon), M. Ellen Winter (Northport), Mary Jane van Zeijts (Stony Brook), Mary Waka (Ronkonkoma), Patty Yantz (Setauket) and Theodora Zavala (East Meadow)

The Mills Pond Gallery, located at 660 Route 25A, St. James, will present A Sense of Place from Feb. 20 to March 20. The gallery is open Wednesdays to Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free. Mask wearing is mandatory and social distancing protocols are strictly observed. For more information, call 631-862-6575 or visit www.millspondgallery.org. 

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Photo from the town

By Chris Cumella

Through a Zoom meeting Feb. 4, the Smithtown Town Board and residents gathered together virtually to elaborate on the efforts of the town and H2M Architects and Engineers, of Melville, to implement a comprehensive master plan within the next couple of years. The meeting followed other public outreach meetings that have been held since the middle of January to discuss specific plans for Commack, Hauppauge, Nesconset, Kings Park and St. James.

On December 15, 2020, the town released a draft comprehensive plan and initiated the State Environmental Quality Review process.  

Directing participants through a slideshow of statistics and ambitions allowed Allyson Murray, principal planner of the Planning Department, to detail the progress of their collaborative efforts with H2M.

Murray said that the town’s former plan “is outdated,” considering the last time it had been adopted was 1957 — and once more before that in 1949. She especially elucidated that the plan’s proposals were only hypothetical and subject to alteration at any point in the next two years.

“There have been questions in some of the past presentations where people thought some of the made recommendations in the plan were 100 percent going to happen,” Murray said. “That’s not really the case — these are guiding policy recommendations that may be implemented.”

The town extended its public outreach to the community in advance in 2019. Murray emphasized that announcements had been made at each of the Town Board meetings, fliers distributed in the downtown areas and in schools, and mentioned the various articles featured in local newspapers.

The presentation made available to those on the call had been made possible from the result of public outreach that the Town Board extended. In addition to the 1,200 responses that the town had garnered in the spring of 2019, it also hosted 370 participants over the course of six community-planning workshops.

“This is the public input over the course of months we were taking it,” Murray said. “H2M took these comments, met with the town, and began preparing that draft plan.”

The plan’s formulation took one year following community feedback.

Smithtown residents felt there was an increased need for safety and renovations, also people needed high quality to be upheld and refurbishments made in several areas of the town.

Pedestrian safety was highlighted as a significant concern, which included enhancing walkability along Main Street as well as the general streetscape. The community also wanted to see the removal of fences that separate the town, county and state parks, and more buildings added to the National and State Registers of Historic Places.

Murray advised what the next steps of the plan would entail for the town and community. In March, a public hearing on the draft plan is set to occur with a date to be determined, which would allow for further public feedback and revision of the plan as necessary. Another hearing will occur in May when the final comprehensive plan will be formatted.

The Town Board recommends that the community continues to provide as much feedback as possible by utilizing its website and to see what the comprehensive plan holds in store for Smithtown’s future.

For more information about Smithtown’s comprehensive master plan and to view the public outreach meetings, visit www.smithtownny.gov/648/draft-comprehensive-plan.

Photo from Pixabay

By Leah Chiappino

News of the COVID-19 vaccine was met with immense excitement and demand after the pandemic ravaged for almost a year with no apparent light at the end of the tunnel. 

Excitement stifled among New Yorkers, many say, as the distribution of the vaccine supply in New York state has been filled with supply issues, appointment cancellations and an online portal that is difficult to navigate.

Distribution began with health care workers in December (Phase 1a) and on Jan. 11 (Phase 1b) expanded to other frontline workers such as teachers and police officers, along with anyone ages 65 and older. 

This seems to have been when the demand surged out of control. Long Islanders have been trying to access the portal to make an appointment only to find available appointments to be both miles and months away, leaving residents to consistently call the New York State hotline, hoping for a cancelation and appointment to open up — a process especially challenging for elderly residents. As of Feb. 8, the state has received 2,808,825 vaccinations and administered 2,228,567. On Long Island, 82% of the vaccine doses distributed have been used. There are about 7 million eligible residents throughout the state. 

On Feb. 15, those with certain comorbidities and underlying conditions will be eligible to sign up for appointments.

“The entirety of our week seven allocation was delivered to providers yesterday and already New York has administered 90% of its first doses while prioritizing fairness and equity,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said in a statement. “Week after week we exhaust our vaccine supply and are basically left waiting for the next week’s delivery. This is not unique to New York. It’s happening in states across the nation because the previous administration grossly mismanaged and politicized the vaccine distribution process from the beginning by not ordering enough vaccines from manufacturers. With new leadership in Washington, the light at the end of the tunnel is in sight but we must manage our expectations. Production of the vaccine alone will take six to nine months. In the meantime, we will continue to distribute the supply we do get quickly and fairly as we have from the start.”

To try to find out the best way to go forward, TBR News Media spoke with a bipartisan group of local elected officials to ask what we can hope for in the future, where they think the biggest problems are in the distribution chain and whether or not they have received the vaccine.

File photo by Kevin Redding

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) 

“We need to make it easier, not harder, for New Yorkers to get the coronavirus vaccine who want it,” Zeldin said in a statement. “New York’s rollout has been an unmitigated disaster: Unused coronavirus vaccines sitting in freezers for weeks, doses ending up in the trash, local health departments overwhelmed with vaccine demand, thousands of appointments canceled, New Yorkers showing up to appointments only to be turned away and more. While these drug companies need to continue ramping up the production and distribution of vaccines, the state needs to ramp up its strategy, rules and communications.”

“While I believe vaccine distribution should be prioritized to those who need it most — the elderly, frontline workers and more — as soon as the doctors say it’s my turn, I won’t hesitate to get it.”

When asked about the state health department lacking vaccine supply from the federal government he said, “Drug companies need to continue ramping up production and distribution, but when these vaccines get to states around the country, they need to be put into people’s arms effectively and efficiently, not thrown in the trash.”  

 

File photo of Jane Bonner

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point)

Bonner said that the issue with the distribution is at the federal level. “President Biden [D] said throughout the entire campaign that he had a plan [for vaccine rollout] and clearly he doesn’t,” she said. “Never make campaign promises that you can’t keep.”

Bonner has been working with her elderly constituents to try and guide them to the New York State website, or to the hotline.

“Seniors have lost so much throughout this pandemic,” she said. “They really need to be able to socialize and go out again. We need to work together for our seniors, and to get the schools and businesses open.”

Bonner has not yet received the vaccine, as she wants elderly people to receive it before she does.

 

File photo by Kevin Redding

County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai)

Anker has sent letters to Cuomo, as well as U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) seeking answers for the failures in the vaccine rollout.

In a letter to the governor dated Jan. 11, Anker conveyed the frustrations of senior citizens and  essential workers trying to get appointments immediately after the  Phase 1b distribution, only to find out they were already booked

“As the Suffolk County chairwoman of both the health and seniors committees, I am writing to acknowledge my frustration and concerns regarding the disbursement of the COVID-19 vaccine in the county,” she wrote. “With my district having one of the largest senior populations in Suffolk County, I offer the suggestion of providing accessible locations, including community on-site availability, to our senior communities who are more at risk of COVID-19. While I appreciate the many Suffolk County staff members doing their best to facilitate the vaccination process and the patience and cooperation of the residents eagerly awaiting their turn in getting inoculated, I ask that a more cohesive process be implemented as soon as possible as we move forward in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Anker wrote to Cuomo again Feb. 3. “Since the county is not able to provide vaccinations to our senior citizens under New York State executive order 202.91, it would be helpful to have a comprehensive list that outlines all locations, including pharmacies and other vaccination sites,” she said. “Without this information, we as elected officials cannot provide our constituents, in particular our senior citizens who may not have the ability to register online, with accurate information and guidance about how and where to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Anker also stated in the letter the Suffolk County Disabilities Advisory Board advised her that accommodations were not being made for disabled people at state-run vaccination sites. For instance, the New York State COVID-19 vaccine form, which patients are required to fill out before receiving the vaccine, does not have a braille version nor is it compatible with screen reading software for the blind. Anker also reached out to Schumer and Gillibrand on Feb. 3. expressing concern with the limited federal supply of the vaccine being distributed to the county.

“Currently, the vaccinations that are available are a mere fraction of what our constituents need, and the current climate is getting more desperate. Increasing vaccinations are not only the best way to combat the pandemic, but paramount to keeping our large population of seniors and others healthy,” the letter read.

“I say I’m like a dog with a bone,” Anker said. “I will not let this go until I’m assured that this process is fixed. I don’t want to wait a week. I don’t want to wait a month. I know that we may not have the vaccines right now, I understand that,but while we’re waiting fix the process.”

She said she has been working with local pharmacies to try and get them a supply of vaccines, as well as local senior communities to figure out their vaccination plans.

Anker has not yet received the vaccine but said that she “probably will” once she is eligible.

 

Leg. Nick Caracappa

County Legislator Nick Caracappa (R-Selden)

“I believe I share the same view as many residents of Suffolk County in that the initial rollout of the vaccine was a disaster, with the short supply and limited venues of distribution,” he said in a statement. “Recently, this office has aligned with other county, town and state officials in demanding that the governor stops ignoring the needs of Suffolk County. Additionally, I’d love to see the New York State health commissioner and local government agencies collaborate to expedite supply and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to our frontline workers, essential workers and vulnerable senior citizens.”

“The time is now to get our residents a sufficient supply of the vaccine to combat this deadly virus once and for all,” he added. “I encourage all those who are eligible for the vaccine to sign up as quickly as possible. Although I haven’t received the vaccine to date, I intend on doing so once I qualify in accordance with New York State guidance.”

When asked to expand on what he meant by the governor “ignoring the needs of Suffolk County,” as well as how specifically the state health department and local governments could collaborate, he said, “The governor should have sent more doses to Suffolk County and more specifically to Brookhaven Town. County and town agencies have the venues available to provide ample locations to receive these much-needed vaccinations and easing the overcrowding we are experiencing at the limited locations currently available. We should work collectively with the state, county and town to arrange for these vaccines to be expedited and administered to those who need them. We all knew this vaccine was coming but the preparation to distribute was completely mishandled.”

 

Steve Englebright

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket)

“New York’s vaccination rollout and its online system for determining eligibility and booking appointments has resulted in a great deal of anger and frustration for residents anxious to get vaccines for their parents or themselves,” Englebright said in a statement. “We need to have a simple, more user-friendly system for signing up online for  vaccines.  A universal preregistration system where eligibility can be approved, and appointments allotted as doses arrive would save us all a lot of time and angst.”

Although he has yet to be vaccinated, he knows the importance of getting it to Long Island seniors. 

“It makes little sense for residents of retirement communities to make appointments and travel separately to mass vaccination centers when medical teams can bring vaccines to them. For seniors who have their homes in the community and, soon, residents with comorbidities, there should be pop-up vaccine centers run by hospitals or the County Department of Health at local libraries and senior citizen centers. Elected officials on the state, county and town levels could help get the word out to their local communities.”

 

Photo from Kara Hahn

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket)

Hahn shared constituents frustrations regarding the New York State online registration system and expressed regret that she is limited in what she can do to reform it as a county legislator. She called the process of seniors trying again and again to get an appointment without success as “dehumanizing.”

“I feel their pain,” she said.

Hahn has been working with the county to establish distribution locations within the community for when supply is more abundant.

She has not received the vaccine, as she is not yet eligible but said she will when she is.

 

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim. Photo from Nicole Garguilo

Smithtown Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R)

Wehrheim said that he signed a letter to the governor Jan. 14, in coordination with the Suffolk County Supervisors Association asking that essential town workers be vaccinated. He said that a lot of town workers were exposed to COVID-19 in recent weeks and he was concerned, but if they were still quarantined when the storm hit, town workers would still be quarantined.

“The majority of our employees still are not included in any vaccine schedule as of today, endangering our abilities to provide essential services like senior meal delivery, animal shelter staffing, duties of the town clerk and the functions of our building departments,” the letter read. “Should these workers be included in a phase in the near future … allow us to help the process by setting up vaccination sites in each of our towns and by including municipal workers in the next phase of vaccine rollout to ensure that our essential services are not disrupted.”

Wehrheim said that he had not yet heard back from the governor. He also has not personally received the vaccine.

Smithtown Town spokeswoman, Nicole Garguilo, said the town has received approval from the county to use Nesconset and Branch Brook elementary schools as vaccine distribution sites as supply becomes more widely available. “If the county doesn’t get the number of vaccines from the state that they require, they’re not going to greenlight any other vaccine distribution sites,” she said.

Another roadblock is the fact the site needs to be staffed with certified vaccinators, a process that takes four-to-six weeks. While the site must be supervised by a nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant or a licensed physician, pharmacists, midwives, EMTs, medical students, podiatrists, dentists, dental hygienists and students in medical studies programs can get certified to give the vaccine, pursuant to New York State guidelines.

Garguilo said the town is working on partnering with a private pharmacy or hospital in order to streamline the vaccine process. The town’s priority would be to get vaccinations for teachers, as well as seniors in assisted living communities who live on a fixed income and are generally not technically savvy.

“That would make the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time,” she said. You would give the schools everything they need to get back to in-person learning and you would help the people who have those who are in that high-riskcategory that have suffered the most through this pandemic,” she said. Ideally, they would have “targeted vaccine weeks” in which they would focus on vaccinating the schools, and the senior population, one at a time.

 

Mario Mattera. File photo

State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James)

Mattera said the “whole” problem with the vaccine distribution is a lack of federal supply being delivered to the state. “Every CVS, every Walgreens, every pharmacy, just like with the flu shot, could go and get the supplies and give it, our residents could go right around the corner from their home to go and make this easy … the problem is the federal government releasing as many [vaccines] as they can.”

When asked what he thinks the realistic timeline for the vaccine to be widely available is, Mattera said, “I really wish I could answer that. If I had the crystal ball, I guess I would be a hero. I just really feel the more companies that the FDA approves … there’s going to be more that’s going to be distributed out there.”

He is specifically optimistic for the Johnston & Johnson vaccine, which will be administered in a single dose. He also said that he has not personally received the vaccine, as he “wants everyone else to go” first. He emphasized the importance of following social distancing measures and wearing a mask to continue to curb the spread of the virus.

 

File photo

County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga)

Trotta said the state should have granted eligibility to a smaller population, such as those 85 years old and over, studied the backlog, and then opened it up to other groups such as teachers.  Cuomo “created the panic,” he said. Trotta added the state was “giving people the hope that they’re going to get [the vaccine], and in doing so “clogged the system up.”

“Anybody with common sense would never do that,” he said.

Trotta has not yet received the vaccine because he is not yet eligible, but he was able to secure his parents an appointment at Jones Beach after spending hours on the computer attempting to secure one.

“Everyone was very nice,” he said. “The National Guard’s running it. It went very smoothly, and it could have all been like that if they would have just opened it up slower.”

 

Steve Stern. Photo from Stern’s office

State Assemblyman Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) 

“The COVID-19 vaccine is a light at the end of the tunnel and our best hope for recovery from the pandemic for our health standpoint and for our economic recovery,” Stern said in a statement. “I share the frustration that my neighbors feel about the scarcity of vaccines, difficulty securing appointments and a hard-to-navigate system. New York has been receiving 250,000 vaccines a week for the entire state, which has 19 million residents, seven million of whom are eligible under current CDC guidelines. This is clearly inadequate and totally unacceptable. Our new administration in Washington is actively working to procure and produce more vaccines, vials, syringes and to develop logistical support to enable the states to vaccinate at least 150 million Americans by the end of March. Our office has been working with our partners in state government to ensure that we receive our fair share of vaccines and that residents are kept informed about how they are vaccinated when they are eligible. I have not received the COVID vaccine and like my neighbors, will wait until it is my turn. It is in all of our interests to have as many of our neighbors vaccinated as soon as possible to bring an end to the pandemic.”

 

File photo

County Legislator Susan Berland (D-Dix Hills)

“Suffolk County is ready with the infrastructure and personnel necessary to help vaccinate the public,” she said in statement. “The problem we’re facing now is that we don’t have enough vaccines. Recognizing that demand is clearly outpacing supply, I will continue to advocate for increased supply from the state and federal governments so we can reach our goal of vaccinating 75% of our eligible residents as soon as possible.”

Berland said she is “neither eligible for, nor has she received, the vaccine.”

 

 

 

File photo by Alex Petroski

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport)

“What we’ve seen so far has been problematic,” Gaughran said. “The biggest issue is twofold: One is the lack of supply coming out from Washington, and what I think made it even worse was that the state was told it was going to get a supply that it never got; and two, the rollout itself, including at the state level, has been problematic.”

He acknowledged that there have been issues with the state website crashing, and appointments being made when there was a lack of supply. 

“It’s been a mess, but I believe it’s going to get significantly better,” he said “I think you’re going to see an addition to the large state-run sites, large county-run sites. Eventually it will be distributed even more on a community-by-community basis.” He is hopeful that the senior population can be vaccinated within “the next month or so.”

Gaughran added he has pushed for additional community pop-up distribution sites, as well as a plan to vaccinate seniors that are “shuttered in their homes.” He also acknowledged seniors are having difficulty navigating the vaccine website and there needs to be a solution to make it more accessible. He said that he worries that once the vaccine becomes more widely available, people are going to be making cancelations to try and get an earlier appointment which could create a “bureaucratic nightmare,” and feels as though there needs to be a system in place to prevent that from happening.  

The state senator said that he has not yet received the vaccine, as he is not a member of any occupational group that is eligible, nor is he over 65. 

“I’m waiting for millions of other people to get the vaccine before it’s my turn,” he said. “But once it is, I’m going to sign up.”

File photo

County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) 

Spencer said that his office has been getting calls from seniors, who are having trouble getting on the phone, or going on the computer to make an appointment. 

“For seniors that may be less tech savvy, to go online and make the appointment is not so easy for them,” he said. “My wife was able to do it for her parents, but she had to do it, they would never have been able to do it. Sometimes the website is down, sometimes the hotline is down, so I think that that’s probably one of the biggest things is expanding that infrastructure once you’re actually doing the vaccines. I think this is almost as much as an IT job as it is a health department job.”

Spencer stressed the importance of making sure the vaccine is going into underserved areas, not only in the United States but around the world. 

“I believe there’s a lot of nationalism that’s going on right now. People are like, ‘We’ve got to get enough vaccines for people in our country,’ and I can understand that, but there’s definitely been some reports that if we don’t vaccinate in a lot of our third-world countries, it will become  not only a humanitarian crisis, but it’s an economic crisis too.”

Spencer is focused on ensuring that vaccines get to communities of color hard hit by the pandemic. 

“If we don’t get enough vaccinations in areas where there are Hispanic and African American populations, where they may be in close quarters there’s less opportunity for social distancing, we’re not going to be able to control the virus as effectively,” he said. He added that he is advocating to place vaccine sites in communities like Brentwood, Huntington Station, Central Islip and Gordon Heights that are walkable.

Spencer has not yet received the vaccine but will do so once he has “the opportunity.”

 

 

The county legislature passed a bill to crack down on reckless bicycling this week, Port Jefferson officials created a village task force that will help prevent problems and keep patrons safe. File photo from SCPD

The Suffolk County Legislature recently approved a bill to crack down on “reckless biking,” which could stop riders from endangering themselves and others on the road. 

Sponsored by county Legislator Rudy Sunderman (R-Mastic), the bill claims to crack down on trick riding — like popping wheelies and swerving into traffic — and biking while intoxicated.

While it was approved 13-4, Deputy Presiding Officer Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) abstained from the vote.

“There were pieces of his bill that I really liked,” she said, “And there were some things I didn’t agree with.”

Hahn, who is still in public hearing with her complimentary bike bill, said hers focuses more on the education for drivers when put in contact with bikers on the road. 

“Legislator Sunderman’s bike bill regulated dangerous behaviors by bicyclists, while my bill tries to clarify the laws about drivers and how they should pass bicyclists on the road,” she said. 

She added that motor vehicle law states that a driver must pass a bicyclist at a safe distance.

“My bill states drivers need to give them at least three-feet [space],” she said. 

Hahn said two legislators from the East End had some concerns regarding her bill, and she is “working to address them.”

The next general meeting is March 2 where Hahn hopes she can close the public hearing so the bill can move to the Public Safety Committee on March 11. If her bill passes, it can be voted on by the full Legislature on March 16.

Meanwhile, the Village of Port Jefferson has implemented their own policies. 

According to trustee Kathianne Snaden, a new code was introduced in the fall of 2019 to pre-vent problem bikers causing issues in the village. 

It started when Snaden and her daughter were outside and a young person was recklessly riding his bike in front of them, doing tricks.

“When the bicycle just about came over me and my daughter’s heads and landed in the street in front of a car, I said, ‘That’s it, I’m done. We need to do something about this.’” 

That’s when the village brought in the new code, which enforces code officers to confiscate a bike from a bicyclist involved in any type of reckless behavior. The bike then must be picked up and signed for by a parent. 

“Because of COVID, things were quiet in the village,” Snaden said. “But then we put together the outdoor dining and the ‘trouble’ bicyclists saw it as a beautiful stage to start performing their acts in front of the patrons.”

She said that’s when code enforcement “really put down the hammer and started implementing that code.”

Snaden said that since summer 2020, bikes have been taken and bikes have been returned to parents, with the majority of them “mortified by their children’s behavior.”

“I want to be proactive and just get them off the street, so no one gets hurt,” she said. 

Along with code enforcement, the village has recently started up a task force for business owners, the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, the commissioner of public safety, the code chief, the village attorney and a representative from the Suffolk County Police Department. 

“It’s eyes on the street,” she said.  “And now we’re working more as a team.”

Photo from the Town of Smithtown Youth Bureau

The Town of Smithtown Youth Bureau announces a variety of upcoming youth and young adult programs planned for the month of February.

In partnership with Microsoft-Huntington Station, the Youth Bureau will offer three programs in February. On February 16th, the Rock Your LinkedIn Profile Workshop will be held from 3 to 4:30 p.m. virtually. Participants will learn exactly how to build their online brand, grow and engage a LinkedIn network, and sharpen a basic resume.

On Wednesday, February 17th, the Minecraft Hour of Code Workshop will be held from 11 a.m. to noon virtually. Students ages eight and older will have fun learning and being inspired by Minecraft, computer science and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Using the power of code and AI, students will learn to program a character to prevent forest fires and regrow a forest.

On February 18th, middle and high school students are invited to participate in the Black History Museum: Virtual Museum Experience from 3 to 4:30 p.m.. Students will virtually visit this museum and learn about the Freedom Riders in the 1960’s, and the work they did to protest segregation in public transportation. After the event, students can email the Youth Bureau and request a Town Certificate of Community Service Credit for participation.

The Youth Bureau will have a live virtual encounter with the butterflies and bugs of the Long Island Aquarium on February 19th from 10 to 10:40 a.m.. This free program is limited to 30 participants.

On Friday, February 23rd, there will be a District 7255 Virtual Student Interact Meeting for any students interested in learning more about the Interact Club’s community service and leadership opportunities. This meeting will be held from 7 to 8 p.m. Interact Clubs organize at least two projects every year, one that helps their school or community, and one that promotes international understanding. Rotary Club adults sponsor, mentor, and guide Interactors as they carry out projects and develop leadership skills.

The Choosing Your College: How to do an Effective College Search Webinar will be held for students and parents on Thursday, February 25th from 6PM to 7PM. Topics that will be covered include when to begin thinking about your college list, making big decisions such as choosing a major, do’s and don’ts for choosing schools, college characteristics to consider, and effective college search engines and how to use them. A question and answer session will be held at the end.

Finally, the Town of Smithtown Youth Bureau is conducting a Community Needs Assessment Survey from February through April of 2021. Feedback from the brief survey will allow the Youth Bureau to effectively plan programs for the remainder of 2021. All survey participants (students and adults) will be entered into a gift certificate raffle for the month, and the winner will receive a $30 Grubhub gift card. The raffle winner for February’s survey respondents will be announced in March.

For more information on any of these programs, or to register, call the Youth Bureau at (631)360-7595, or view the Youth Bureau’s monthly newsletter here.