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Centereach Civic Association

Brookhaven Town Hall in Farmingville

By Aramis Khosronejad

The Town of Brookhaven meeting on Feb. 1 was a two-hour stint. As is traditional during these meetings, an award was presented. Zariel Macchia, a 17-year-old junior at William Floyd High School, was presented with an award for her plethora of athletic accomplishments as a runner on the school’s cross-country team. 

Following the brief ceremony, Supervisor Dan Panico (R) opened the meeting with a few words of reflection. The supervisor began by saying how “change is difficult”’ and concluded with the empathetic sentiment, “before criticizing a man, you should walk a mile in his shoes.” 

There were no reports for the board, and with that a brief period passed in which several agenda items were considered. 

For general public comments, there were two speakers, both of whom talked about environmental issues further commenting on the cleanliness of Brookhaven in regard to the environment. 

To begin the public comments was Joshua Schultzer, a senior from William Floyd High School, and he was followed was John McNamara. Panico responded to the public comment presentations, “It’s nice to see two people from clearly two different generations who want to do good for the place in which we live and the planet on which we live.”

After the public comments, some of the resolutions discussed were:

  • Councilman Neil Manzella (R-Selden) presented the first resolution of 2024, which is the implementation of a street name change in place of Smith Road in Ronkonkoma in honor of Matthew “Dezy” DiStefano. He was a much loved figure who was a teacher at Sachem High School, and passed away due to cancer. 
  • Resolution authorizing accepting a donation of $550 from Centereach Civic Association. 
  • Resolution authorizing the issuance of bonds to improve Port Jefferson Marina for $864,103. 
  • A series of 10 resolutions were discussed, all of which authorized the purchase of different properties to deal with the problem of runoff and rainwater. Panico explained that this is an ongoing problem across many districts within the town. 
  • Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) declared the month of February to be American Heart Awareness Month in Brookhaven.  
  • Resolution seeking to provide sand to Davis Park on Fire Island as well as other parks. Councilwoman Karen Dunne Kesnig (R-Manorville) was concerned about the large storms being experienced and the dunes that have been erased. Brookhaven has to take measures to protect Fire Island because if not, “we might not have a Fire Island.” 

For more information on this meeting, the live stream is available at: brookhavenny.portal.civicclerk.com/event/2631/media.

 

Centereach Civic Association emblem. Photo courtesy Centereach Civic Association

By Nasrin Zahed

Centereach Civic Association’s first meeting of the year Tuesday, Jan. 9, sought to discuss how the civic intends to conduct meetings going forward, ongoing development projects, education funding challenges and initiatives underscored by community well-being. State Assemblymen Doug Smith (R-Holbrook) and Ed Flood (R-Port Jefferson) along with Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) expressed their commitment to serving Middle Country residents. Their aim to align economic interests with community welfare set the tone for collaborative efforts.

The evening kicked off with civic members addressing the merger of the Centereach Civic Association with the Selden Civic Association meetings going forward. The decision underlines a commitment to inclusivity and a desire to streamline communication channels throughout the Middle Country community. This approach aims at fostering increased participation, particularly for those members who find it challenging to commute to one central location. The dedication of the two civics to creating structured arrangements for joint sessions signifies a commitment to community engagement and a desire to address all areas their influence might reach.

Changes in meeting schedules and the strategic approach to alternating meeting locations between the Centereach Fire Department and the Selden Fire Department were discussed. 

Community member Katherine Yamaguchi took the floor to passionately discuss Contractors for Kids, her heartfelt advocacy painting a poignant picture of the organization’s unwavering commitment to supporting families in their most challenging moments. With a genuine admiration for Contractors for Kids’ mission to provide financial assistance during times of illness, injury or the tragic loss of a child, Yamaguchi eloquently described the impactful initiatives, including upcoming galas and community-driven fundraising efforts. Her narrative highlighted the organization not just as a charitable force but as a symbol of collective empathy and strength. 

The community is eagerly anticipating several upcoming development projects that promise to enhance the overall quality of life in the area. These initiatives span various sectors, including infrastructure, public safety and environmental conservation. Residents can look forward to improved road networks, upgraded drainage systems and the replacement of outdated guardrails, ensuring safer and more efficient travel. 

The commitment to restoring essential services, particularly in education and social services, reflects a dedication to the well-being of families and the broader community. Additionally, the focus on veterans initiatives, mental health services and support for Gold Star families that were discussed underscores a commitment to honoring and assisting those who have served their country. 

The civic association is set to receive a $5,000 refund in relation to the holiday seasons tree-lighting ceremony. The conversation around this financial matter involved deliberations on how to handle the refund, and led to an open discussion with the attending neighbors on how best to redistribute the funds back into the community.

Assemblymen Smith and Flood emphasized the need for increased preservation of Long Island farmland, acquiring development rights and engaging in sustainable aquaculture practices. The upcoming projects align with a vision of responsible growth that prioritizes environmental conservation. 

The assemblymen also discussed their dedication to Long Island schools and the work being done to restore and raise education budgets. With cuts being proposed throughout local school districts by Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) 2024-25 budget, Smith and Flood both shared their commitment to representing communities such as Middle Country in their efforts to get state aid reinstated. The assemblymen went on to discuss how the taxes local Long Islanders pay is not proportional to the return received through state funding in necessary areas.

Overall, the Middle Country community is poised for positive transformations that will contribute to a more vibrant and inclusive future.

A special election for Brookhaven Town Clerk will take place Tuesday, Jan. 17. Above, Kevin LaValle (left) and Lisa Di Santo, respective nominees for the Republican and Democratic parties. Photos by Raymond Janis

Early voting is underway for the next Brookhaven town clerk, and the two major party candidates are making their pitch to the voters.

Former Town Clerk Donna Lent (I) retired in November, triggering a special election for her unexpired term ending in 2025. Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) and community advocate Lisa Di Santo, the Democratic Party nominee, will square off at the polls Tuesday, Jan. 17.

During a joint meeting of the Selden and Centereach civic associations Thursday, Jan. 5, the two candidates were questioned on a range of topics related to the operations of the Town Clerk’s Office. Civic members generated some of the questions with others fielded from the audience.

Introductions

Di Santo is a former social studies teacher who taught students about participation in government. She also served as a trustee of the South Country school board in East Patchogue, where she lives. 

“I have always participated in government, and I feel that I can be an independent voice of reason in the Town Clerk’s Office,” she said. “We have many of the same people filling many of the same positions over and over again. … That leads to a bit of stagnation, and I think it’s time for a fresh set of ideas, a fresh set of eyes, on what’s happening in the Town Clerk’s Office.”

Before entering government, LaValle owned a title agency. He then received a loan mortgage originator’s license and has worked in mortgage banking ever since. The councilman worked on the staff of former Suffolk County Legislators Dan Losquadro (R) and Tom Muratore (R). He was elected to serve Brookhaven’s 3rd Council District in 2013 in an area which includes Lake Grove, Centereach, Selden and parts of Lake Ronkonkoma, Farmingville, Port Jeff Station and a piece of Holbrook. 

 “I think I’ve accomplished a great deal as councilman, but I come before you now, again, to say that as town clerk, I am going to bring a new energy,” he said. “I am going to bring a new work ethic to the Town Clerk’s Office that has not been seen before.”

Duties of town clerk

Both candidates were asked about the function of the town clerk. For Di Santo, the clerk must ensure the accurate recording of Town Board meetings and the efficient filing of legal records, among other tasks. She emphasized the significance of the Freedom of Information Law request process.

“One of the most important things has to do with [being] the appeals officer for FOIL requests that come to the town,” she said. “People who live here and pay taxes should be able to access that information.”

The Democratic candidate also said the incoming clerk must assess and modernize the existing technology in the office. “I have spoken with some people who work in the Town Clerk’s Office and told me that their technology is at least 10 years out of date,” she said. “That is something that is certainly personally scary to me.”

LaValle viewed the clerk’s role as threefold, that is to “secure, maintain and distribute vital records of the residents of the Town of Brookhaven.” He referred to the office as a “vital hub,” servicing residents in the best and worst times.

“I believe the efficiency could be improved in the Town Clerk’s Office,” he said. “Cybersecurity, I think that’s something we can take to another level.”

He viewed the clerk as a service provider rather than a policymaker or revenue generator, noting that empowering and providing the staff with the necessary resources will be critical. “As the clerk, the focus will be about making sure the staff has the tools to be able to do their job,” he said.

Cybersecurity

Addressing the September ransomware attack against the Suffolk County government, LaValle assessed shortcomings within the county’s IT network. He described the need for coordination between departments, recommending the town continues its transition to cloud technologies to avert a similar scenario.

“The cloud is probably the best security that you can have, but we have to stay vigilant and make sure we’re looking at new technologies as we move along to make sure our information stays secure,” the councilman said.

Di Santo concurred that replacing outdated technology will be a priority. She stressed the need to properly oversee the transition to new platforms and work out any technical or logistic challenges that may arise.

“When you have new technology, one of the things that is crucial is to make certain that the staff is comfortable with that technology, that they’re fully trained so that they are able to use that to the best of their ability,” she said.

Staffing

After conversations with staff members, Di Santo painted a bleak picture of the current situation within the Town Clerk’s Office. “The office is actually understaffed,” she said. “Morale is really not very good in the office. You have a lot of turnover, so it’s very difficult to have the best customer service when you have staff changing and needing to be retrained.”

She reiterated that “a fresh set of eyes” from somebody outside government will help identify areas for improvement and generate potential solutions.

LaValle said he would prefer close collaboration with the Town Board, analyzing any barriers to efficient staff operations. He then stated a desire to fund personnel better.

“I want to be able to go in, take a real good look at what is going on in the office,” he said. “Do we need more employees? Should we pay our employees more?”

He also advanced the need to offer a vision the staff can get behind. “We have to work with the employees and build a team concept,” he said. “I want to make this the best clerk’s office in New York state. Without our employees buying into my leadership and what I want to do, that’s not going to happen.”

Resident access

Both candidates addressed the need to decentralize the office, to move services out of Town Hall and into the various hamlets and villages throughout the township. LaValle introduced a multipronged approach, including attending community meetings and building a more prominent multimedia presence.

“I want to be a town clerk going out to various functions,” he said. “A lot of people here see me in a lot of different events. That’s something I’m going to continue to do because I think the outreach of going out to the public and showing them what the clerk’s office does … is fundamentally important.”

He added, “I want to be able to go out and bring back some transparency — new social media platforms, doing videos on Channel 18 talking about what we can do to help residents.”

Di Santo said she has heard from multiple residents that resident access to public records can be slow. She again centered on requests for public information.

“The town clerk is the final appeals officer for the FOIL law,” she said. “In some cases, those requests get bounced from one department to another and the clock seems to run out.”

She added, “People who are residents, our taxpayers, are asking for information from their town, and in many cases it seems that it is being stonewalled. The town clerk has a responsibility to provide that information.”

Open government

Candidates were asked what the term “open government” means and how they would bring town government closer to the people.

“Open government means giving everyone the opportunity to participate at their fullest,” Di Santo said. “I would, as town clerk, try to appeal to the Town Board members to make many of the meetings much more accessible to the many people in the town who work.”

She also proposed bringing the operations of the Town Clerk’s Office to local libraries and other community forums. “The town clerk [could] go into each and every one of those council districts several times a year, appear at the senior centers and the local libraries to have discussions with people,” she said.

Like Di Santo, LaValle stressed he would maintain an active community presence if elected. “I want to go out, I want to be at senior centers, I want to be at civic meetings, I want to be in chambers of commerce, talking about what the clerk’s office does,” he said. “You have to get out there. You have to be a part of the community.”

Brookhaven residents will decide on these two candidates this Tuesday, Jan. 17. Polls open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and residents can report to their regular polling place on Election Day.

 

Two neighboring hamlets joined forces last week to raise awareness for pediatric cancer. On March 6, the Centereach and Selden fire departments  along with the Centereach Civic Association hosted a St. Baldrick’s Day event at the Selden Fire Department’s main firehouse. 

Over 100 Centereach and Selden residents attended the event, and barbers and hairdressers from Rockabilly in Stony Brook and Blondie’s Salon in Centereach were on hand to shave the heads of men, women and children for a good cause. In total, over $23,000 was raised. The night included food, raffles and a performance by Irish step dancers from Mulvihill-Lynch Studio of Irish Dance. 

Rob Wilson, Centereach resident and event coordinator, said he has been involved in St. Baldrick’s event for the past 18 years as either a shavee or a volunteer. 

“We usually host this at the Centereach Fire Department but they are under construction, so our neighbors from the east were gracious enough to host it this year,” he said.

Wilson said they are shaving their heads in solidarity for those who are battling cancer and going through chemotherapy. 

“The money we raise will fund childhood cancer research; we want to give those kids more holidays and more birthdays,” he said. 

Diane Caudullo, president of the Centereach Civic Association, was glad everyone came out for the event. 

“Every year this crowd comes out. This is a phenomenal turnout,” she said. 

Wilson had similar thoughts. 

“We are always together, we are two separate hamlets but one big community,” he said.

On March 22, the Centereach Civic Association hosted a St. Baldrick’s Day event at the Centereach Fire Department’s main firehouse on Washington Avenue.

The night included head shaving to raise money for pediatric cancer, and barbers and hairdressers from Rockabilly in Stony Brook and Blondie’s Salon in Centereach were on hand to shave the heads of men, women and children.

The event also included food, raffles and a performance by Irish step dancers from the Mulvihill-Lynch Studio of Irish Dance. A grand total of $28,608 was raised.

AnnMarie Pszybylski, from St. James, said she was prepared to have her head shaved March 20 at an event at R.C. Murphy Junior High School in Stony Brook to raise money for Alexa, a Murphy student who is a cancer survivor. When she found out the event was only for students, she reached out to the organizer of the Centereach event, Jennifer Bielmeier Dickson, to see if she could get her head shaved there and donate the money to Alexa’s team. The answer was yes.

“These children are the brave ones and the strong ones,” Pszybylski said. “If I was able to help in some small way, I’m thrilled and blessed.”

Pszybylski said when she arrived at the firehouse she met the team Soul Sisters for Sophia comprised of shavees Diane Miller, Liann Dennis, Linda Esposito-Azmitia and  Lisette Robustelli and volunteers Susan Smith and Renata Ptak. The women, who were raising money for a Dawnwood Middle School student named Sophia diagnosed with stage three nasopharyngeal carcinoma in December, invited her to get her head shaved with them. Miller said her team raised nearly $8,000, with Robustelli raising  more than $2,500 of the amount.

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By Rachel Siford

Hundreds of people crowded Mark Tree Road on Sunday for the Centereach Street Fair where they enjoyed the warm weather and a plethora of vendors. The Centereach Civic Association hosted the event.