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Councilwoman Joan Cergol

File photo

A Town of Huntington official resigned over an alleged “vulgar” email sent to other staff members about another employee. This comes after board members questioned his two-week suspension last week.

The office of Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) confirmed that Public Safety Director Peter Sammis resigned from his position Feb. 10 in the middle of a two-week unpaid suspension.

In a Feb. 4 statement, Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) said she was contacted by members of the press who asked her to comment on “inappropriate and unacceptable behavior of a town department head.”

She said she was informed by a journalist that a department head sent an email to two male employees Nov. 26, 2019. The email, from his town account, contained “vulgar and sexual reference about a female town employee.”

“The town supervisor and town attorney subsequently confirmed the information was accurate but could do little to assuage my outrage over having learned about it in this manner and failed to provide satisfactory answers as to the many questions I have over its handling and eventual questionable disciplinary action,” she said.

In a statement last week, Lupinacci said the town could not comment on personnel matters.

“The town’s policy regarding not commenting on personnel matters is one that is very important and in place to respect the interests of all parties involved in any particular situation,” he said. “As a result, we intend to continue to honor that policy and not discuss the specifics of the matter referred to in recent media reports. That being said, we believe it is important to note that the matter at issue came to the town’s attention through its normal oversight procedures and not through a complaint from any employee. The matter was addressed with the employee involved in a manner consistent with town practice.”

In her statement last week, Cergol said she expected answers to various questions including why, as a Town Board member, she wasn’t notified of the incident and why wasn’t the department head suspended immediately after the discovery of the November email. She also questioned whether the employee’s email account was reviewed to see if there were any other emails that violated the town’s email policy.

“The manner in which this incident was handled, its lack of transparency and apparent departure from Town of Huntington protocol demand further investigation and satisfactory answers to the Town Board,” Cergol said at the end of the statement.

After Sammis’ resignation, Lupinacci said in a statement that the town takes such incidents “very seriously” and provides “mandatory training for all employees to address and help prevent these types of situations.”

“The employee was dealt with harshly, immediately, and in a manner consistent with the advice of our director of personnel and outside labor counsel, who also advised that the Town Board’s involvement in disciplinary action was not warranted,” he said. “I would remind my colleagues that outing the alleged subject of the email, and not respecting her privacy, was completely inappropriate and initiated the victimization of this employee, who was not aware of this incident before town officials ran to the press with it, which is exactly the reason why it is our policy not to comment on personnel matters.”

On Feb. 12, state Sen. Jim Gaughran’s (D-Northport) office announced in an email he would introduce state legislation “that will strengthen reporting requirements for sexual harassment complaints and violations of the Human Rights Law.”

Northport power plant. File photo

When the Town of Huntington’s planning board originally authorized in 1965 a site plan for the Northport power plant’s first generating unit on the shores of the Long Island Sound, the impact on the greater safety, health and general welfare of the community was an overarching concern. In fact, the town’s approval stipulated that plant operators were required to submit emissions reports to the town, which were subject to regular review by town officials. 

Today, the plant has expanded to four units, and while the town is still searching for records, officials do not know the last time the plant submitted an emission report from on-site monitors for a review. Town attorney Nick Ciappetta said the town is reviewing whether or not it has monitoring authority. The EPA and DEC, he said, have jurisdiction over plant emissions. 

Some lawmakers firmly disagree, and State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) is calling for action. 

“The town has had more power than it’s realized,” he said. “It should take whatever action it needs to take.”  

Gaughran said he regularly drives past the plant and smells foul odors. Last year, he requested a state health investigation after learning that graduates of Northport High School Class of 2016 were diagnosed with leukemia and lymphoma, after community members said they want to know if the plant’s emissions are a factor. 

State health department investigators have now expanded their study to look at cancer rates in a broader population to look for patterns. (See story on Page A3) With that investigation underway, Gaughran finds it prudent to take steps to better protect the community. 

Town Council member Joan Cergol agrees. 

“If the Town, in its rezone of the property, or any of its agencies or boards in the 1960s imposed conditions on LILCO to protect the health and safety of Huntington residents, then it stands to reason that its successors should be bound by the same,” she said.

It is unclear what action if in any will be taken, but some are saying additional precautions would be prudent. 

Danielle DeSimone is one several young adults diagnosed with leukemia from the Northport High School Class of 2016, who received a bone marrow transplant and is now in remission. She said she would absolutely support any policies that would better protect the public’s health. 

“May no more families be faced with this burden unnecessarily,” she said in an email. 

As the state’s health investigation continues, and as the town bears the additional burden of fighting LIPA and National Grid, spending $4.2 million to date, many people are looking at the plant with a discerning eye. 

According to the DEC, the Northport Power Plant emissions are in severe violation of state and federal the air pollution standards for nitrous oxide and VOCs, which contribute to ozone. When inhaled, ozone chemicals react chemically with many biological molecules in the respiratory tract, the EPA reports, leading to adverse health effects.

It’s difficult to know whether or not a specific environmental toxin will cause a particular individual to develop cancer or other diseases, according to a 2003 report “Cancer and the Environment” published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

But significant sources of VOCs are chemical plants, gasoline pumps, oil-based paints, autobody shops, and print shops. Nitrogen oxides result primarily from high temperature combustion. Significant sources are power plants, industrial furnaces and boilers, and motor vehicles, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation Permit Review Report from February 2019.

In response to inquiries,  National Grid spokesperson Wendy Ladd said, “we submit our emissions report to the EPA and NY DEC.”

The DEC states that ozone is a regional air pollutant and most human and economic activity in the NYC metro area contribute in some way to ozone exceedences. 

“If the DEC finds any facility poses an imminent threat to public health or the environment, the agency works to address the situation immediately,” said DEC spokesman Kevin Frazier.  

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that the Town Attorney Nicholas Ciappetta said that the town had no authority over emissions monitoring.  The town is actually still reviewing the matter. (updated 1/29/2020)

Dogs will be permitted into Huntington’s Heckscher Park begining Jan. 1. Photo by Media Origins

On Jan. 1, the Town of Huntington will begin a three-month pilot program to allow leashed dogs in Heckscher Park, subject to certain limitations. If the trial period is successful, the pilot will extend in three-month increments to gather data from use of the park in different seasons.

The program is the result of a town board resolution, sponsored by Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D), developed in response to a petition that circulated this past summer calling for better access to the park for dogs and their owners.

Greenlawn resident Karen Thomas helped draft and circulate the successful petition campaign this past summer.

“Over 2,500 dog owners have spoken and the Huntington board listened,” said Thomas.

Cergol announced her position on opening up the park to dogs on a trial basis in a Sept. 5 Times of Huntington news article. The resolution she drafted was unanimously approved at the town’s Oct. 16 board meeting.

“The relationship between dogs and humans continues to evolve, and it is becoming increasingly common to see dog owners and their canine family members together in public places,” Cergol said. “I am excited that we are about to extend this option at Huntington’s downtown signature park and look forward to our partnership with [the nonprofit Long Island Dog Owners Group] in ensuring the pilot program’s success.”

LI-DOG is a nonprofit advocacy group looking to increase access for dog owners to public spaces. It’s president, Ginny Munger Kahn, was designated as the lead public education campaign coordinator.

“Our job is to make sure all the dog owners know that it’s in their best interest to follow the basic guidelines,” she said. “Overall, respect other park users. That’s the key.”

Specifically, this means keeping dogs on a leash less than 6-feet long and under control. No retractable leashes are allowed, and people are limited to no more than two dogs per individual. People are also expected to clean up after their dogs once they do their business. People, Kahn said, are good with this part.

“People have precedence over dogs on the path,” Kahn said. “Step off the path onto the grass as people pass by unimpeded.”

Heckscher Park’s trails, which are more narrow than other town pathways, suggest that this is an important part of the guidelines to remember.

Cergol formed an advisory committee that includes representatives of her staff, various town departments, LI-DOG and the town’s Citizens Advisory Committee on Persons with Disabilities to create the educational program. The group has met twice and has developed program guidelines from those gatherings and individual conversations.

The committee has so far planned to post signage at various spots in the park, including all the major entrances. A video to be aired on the town’s government access television channel and on its social media pages and LI-DOG’s pages will demonstrate what is allowed and what is not. They’ve also developed informational cards to hand out to dog owners in the park.

“We believe ultimately having leashed dogs in the park is a really good thing,” Kahn said. “For one thing, dogs influence socializing among people who don’t know each other.”

They also deter geese, which are fouling the parks pathways.

 

Employees from John’s Crazy Socks with members of Huntington town board

Huntington Councilwoman Joan Cergol, at the Aug. 6 Town of Huntington board meeting, gave special recognition to Melville-based online retailer John’s Crazy Socks, which was cited recently as a winner of a national accounting firm’s Entrepreneur of the Year awards.

The company was founded two years ago by Huntington residents Mark X. Cronin and his son, John, upon John’s graduation from high school. John had said he wanted to go into business with his father, and they settled on one capitalizing on John’s fondness for unusual socks.

Mark and John Cronin with Councilwoman Joan Cergol

From humble beginnings, the firm has grown into one that produced $5.5 million in revenue in its second year, selling 2,300 varieties of socks and receiving more than 20,000 online reviews. A hallmark of the company is its dedication to having a social impact. More than half of its workforce has differing abilities, including John, who has Down syndrome.  Through videos, social media, school tours, work group and speaking engagements, the Cronins demonstrate what persons with differing abilities can do.

The company also pledges 5 percent of its earnings to the Special Olympics and donates money from its Awareness and Charity sock lines to other charity partners, including more than $300,000 for the National Down Syndrome Society, the Autism Society of America and the Williams Syndrome Association, among other groups. Mark and John Cronin have spread their message of maximizing potential and social consciousness through speaking engagements across the United States, Canada and Mexico.

In June, the accounting firm Ernst & Young presented John’s Crazy Socks with one of its 2019 New York Region Entrepreneur of the Year awards, in the Mission Drive category. The awards recognize entrepreneurs and leaders of high-growth companies for innovation, financial performance and their impact on the world.

“Their workplace is absolutely amazing,” said Cergol, who visited it a few months ago. “John and Mark Cronin are truly inspirational as role models for successful business plans and corporate responsibility. We have known this for some time, and it is exciting to see that they are receiving national recognition for their work. I wish them even greater success in the future.”

Photos from Town of Huntington