The stakes were high for the Patriots Monday night.
The last time Ward Melville’s girls fencing team faced off against Newfield it won by a single point, which was too close for comfort for head coach Kyle Hempe. With an undefeated streak on the line, the Patriots showed they learned from their mistakes, making a statement with an 18-9 home win Jan. 22.
“They were really fired up at home,” Hempe said. “We know Newfield is the second best team in our league, and they were really coming for it. So we went out, we worked as hard as we could, won a little earlier than we thought we would and we’re happy about that.”
Early wins came in the form of all three weapons. Ward Melville (10-0, 6-0 League II) took the second two of three in each of the first rounds of sabre, foil and épée.
Ward Melville’s Lauren Cappello started things off for the Patriots, putting the first point in the win column. The junior swept her sabre matches, 5-1, 5-2 and 5-2. Fellow sabre specialist Bridget Becchina, a senior, did the same while outscoring her challengers 15-4.
”We knew what we were coming into — I don’t think any of us were too worried — we knew we would have to bring it in each bout,” Becchina said. “I had confidence in the team, we had confidence in ourselves, and knew they have to beat us. We go out there and we just fence, and that usually works.”
Newfield (9-3, 5-2) was toughest in foil. Senior Ally Hu, who finished the day 2-1, took home victories in her second (5-1) and third (5-0) appearances out on the strip.
“[She’s] their strongest fencer, so was very happy with Ivanna Zavala-Arbeleaz, to see her come out with a victory there,” Hempe said. “But Bridget and Lauren are always solid for us in sabre so I’m happy for them and their performances, too.”
Junior épéeist Catherine Cao and senior Julia Duffy also swept their Newfield challengers.
“I’m proud that we came out with the win,” Duffy said. “Newfield gave us a run for our money, but we lean on all of the hard work that we put in, and reap the rewards.”
Junior sabreist Olivia Calise, who had dropped her first two bouts, blanked her opponent, 5-0, in the meet-clinching matchup.
With three meets left before the postseason Hempe said he’s confident going down the stretch, especially since the Patriots won’t be matching up with the Wolverines over that span.
“We’re not as worried, but we’ll go full force,” he said. “We’re happy to be in the position that we’re in.”
Ward Melville is back in action facing Centereach (5-7, 2-5) today, Jan. 25, at 4 p.m. Newfield will host Sayville today at 6 p.m.
Receives innaugural USA Fencing National High School Coach of the Year honor
Jeff Salmon is an accomplished fencer in his own right, but he now he has proof that his prodigies are receiving coaching that is second to none in the United States.
The acclaimed fencer and head coach of the boys team at Ward Melville High School was named the inaugural winner of the USA Fencing High School Coach of the Year award.
“The word honor doesn’t even come close,” said Salmon, a Mount Sinai resident and owner of Mission Fencing Center in Rocky Point. “It’s a cool award, it’s an amazing honor and it makes you reflect on a lifetime of work.”
Eighteen individuals from high schools in six different states were nominated for the prestigious award.
Under Salmon’s leadership, Ward Melville’s teams have continued a winning tradition, including capturing the 2016-17 Long Island championship. The program has maintained a 158-match winning streak that ranks among the most impressive in interscholastic athletics nationwide.
“Jeff’s done so much for the kids here, but promoted the sport throughout Suffolk County, the state and the nation,” Ward Melville athletic director Peter Melore said. “Jeff’s a fantastic coach and he’s been honored in so many ways on local levels, it was time for him to be recognized at the national level.”
The Comsewogue High School graduate who originally competed in foil made the switch to sabre at Penn State University. Although he was a Suffolk County champion and Empire State Games gold medalist while he was a Warrior, the switch proved to work in Salmon’s favor.
“The Penn State team had strong foilers and could use a sabre fencer,” he said. “I was a little disappointed with my achievements in foil, so I was willing to accept the new challenge. It benefited me to switch and I adapted quite well.”
During his years as a Nittany Lion, he trained under Emmanuil Kaidanov, a five-time U.S. national team coach and Wes Glon, an Olympic and World Championship coach. Salmon placed in the top 12 as an individual in the NCAA championships and was one of two sabre fencers chosen for NCAA training at the German Olympic Center in 1987. He was an assistant coach for the Penn State fencing team during two national championship seasons before he brought his expertise to Ward Melville by starting a fencing club in 1995. In 1999, by popular demand, the club became a varsity team.
His athletes are consistently among the top on Long Island, and his team has won 13 league, county and Long Island titles. Salmon has won Suffolk County Coach of the Year honors seven times and USA Fencing Long Island High School Coach of the Year three times, but this is his first national achievement, one that many said they thought was long overdue.
“I wasn’t surprised because I know never to be surprised by what he does. His vast pool of knowledge and understanding of the sport and his nature of innovation is everything you need in a coach.”
— Danny Solomon
“I know he is one of the best coaches in the country, so it is a no-brainer to choose him,” rising Ward Melville senior Danny Solomon said. “I wasn’t surprised because I know never to be surprised by what he does. His vast pool of knowledge and understanding of the sport and his nature of innovation is everything you need in a coach.”
Solomon, who is a county champion, has also won four national championships, including at this year’s Junior Olympics, one international competition and many national and international medals. He is a two-time USA Fencing cadet team member and has gone to the cadet world championships twice.
He credits all of his success to his, at times, intimidating coach.
“I was terrified of him,” he joked. “Imagine being a seventh-grader seeing this huge, scary, bald guy flailing swords around. It would scare anyone.”
But the sabre competitor said things drastically changed over time.
“He is the reason I am the fencer I am today,” Solomon said. “He has definitely pushed me everyday. He can be both serious and friendly, but is always trying to get the best out of you.”
Soon-to-be University of Notre Dame freshman Jack Rohan agreed.
“He always tries his best to relate to his fencers to the point where he is not a coach but a friend,” he said. “He has been a huge contributor to my improvement in fencing and definitely deserves such an award.”
The sabre fencer, who joined the Patriots in eighth grade, was named All-Long Island last year after finishing with the best record in the county (35-3). He also won gold in sabre at the Jeff Wolfe Holiday Tournament.
His older sister Alexa played for Salmon, so Rohan was familiar with his longtime coach, and said he decided to give up focusing on his primary sport, lacrosse, to fence.
“On the Ward Melville team we commonly refer to him as ‘the magic’ since talented fencers may graduate, but he is always able to put together a championship-caliber team,” Jack Rohan said of the decorated coach.
Melore, who stepped in as athletic director a couple of years ago, is proud to have Salmon as part of the program.
“He’s poised, professional, smart, passionate about the sport and really good with the kids,” he said. “He’s a great teacher of the sport. A lot is done in preparation, before and during matches, and he knows just when to give support and strategy to our athletes. It’s reassuring to have a veteran, and rapport is everything. We’re very proud he have this great program and tradition that Jeff built and I feel confident that our kids are getting taught the right way.”
Salmon said the joy he gets in seeing his students achieve their goals means more to him than any award or achievement.
“As the years went on, I found that I had a lot more satisfaction just changing the kids lives and building the confidence in them and having them grow as human beings,” he said. “Certainly the tool is fencing, but I find that that’s been the real joy in the journey.”
He reflected on similar ideas when he gave his acceptance speech, after receiving the award from his former coach Kaidanov.
“Not everyone is going to be an All-American, not everyone is going to be an Olympian, but what we do as high school coaches is take kids that have their hat over their head, their hands in their pockets, and we have them stand up straight and be confident in themselves,” he said. “This sport is hard — really, really hard. Parents really need to understand how hard this is mentally, physically. And that little success that they had makes them the men and women that they become. It gives them the confidence to go on in life — whether they achieve great things in fencing or just get that ‘E’ [lowest fencer rating] that they’ve been wanting so badly. It’s so important.”
Transparency and honesty play a major role in healthy democracies, and now New York State municipalities will have a watchdog tracking their effectiveness, providing feedback publicly to concerned citizens, by concerned citizens.
Last week, Reclaim New York, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established to “educate New Yorkers on issues like affordability, transparency and education,” launched a website designed to rate government accessibility and transparency based on an index of recommendations.
The site is part of the group’s New York Transparency Project, an initiative launched in 2016, which kicked off with 2,500 Freedom of Information Law requests for basic expenditure information to county, town and village governments, as well as school districts across Long Island and the state.
“This is an accountability tool,” Reclaim New York Communications Director Doug Kellogg said. “Anybody who wants to help do something to make government more accessible and accountable, go spend 30 minutes and input ratings.”
The new system allows citizens to grade local governments based on 29 indicators, including whether contracts are posted on the internet, there’s access to expenditure records, notices of meetings and the minutes to the meetings are available and contact information is listed for elected officials. The municipalities will receive an overall, objective grade. The grade will indicate which are transparent and law-abiding, as budget information and records access officers need to be publicly available.
“Anybody who wants to help do something to make government more accessible and accountable, go spend 30 minutes and input ratings.”
— Doug Kellogg
“Citizens can hold their governments accountable at every level if they have the right tools for the job,” executive director for the organization Brandon Muir said in a statement. “This is a truly unprecedented moment for New Yorkers who want to reclaim ownership of their government. Working with this new site they can make proactive transparency a reality.”
To input data, users must register with an email address. When data is put into the system, it is vetted and sited prior to going live to avoid a “wild west” feel, according to Kellogg. The process of imputing data to extract a rating for municipalities has only just begun. Kellogg said it will take time to have an all-encompassing collection of information.
In May 2016, Port Jefferson Village and Commack school district failed to comply with FOIL requests as part of the organization’s Transparency Project.
New York’s FOIL requires governments and school districts respond to records requests within five business days, whether with the information requested, a denial or an acknowledgement of the request. The response needs to include an estimated date when one of the latter two will occur. Denials can be appealed butnot allowed “on the basis that the request is voluminous or that locating or reviewing the requested records or providing the requested copies is burdensome, because the agency lacks sufficient staffing.”
As part of a project it dubbed the New York Transparency Project, Reclaim New York sent 253 Freedom of Information requests to school districts and municipalities on Long Island. It reported on its findings, saying that while many entities complied with state guidelines on processing such public records requests, and after the findings were released, Port Jefferson Village and Commack school district eventually complied with the requests.
Entities that it said complied included Suffolk County; Brookhaven, Smithtown and Huntington towns; Belle Terre and Lake Grove villages; and the Port Jefferson, Kings Park, Huntington, Smithtown, Mount Sinai, Miller Place and Rocky Point school districts, among others.
To become an evaluator for the website or to view data, visit www.reclaimnewyork.org and click on the Transparency tab.
Long Islanders deserve better than excuses from politicians, and bureaucrats. It’s time they took the lead on making government more open. That’s why Reclaim New York launched our transparency project.
Using the Freedom of Information Law to open spending records from governments across Long Island is the first step toward ensuring all citizens can hold their local government accountable.
This effort may ruffle some feathers. It seems this happened with Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant. Rather than just fixing Port Jefferson’s FOIL failures, we saw a smoke screen.
On March 7, we filed a FOIL request for the 2014 village expenditures, since this public record is not posted on the village website. We intend to share this information publicly to empower citizen-driven oversight of government.
The documents did not arrive.
Excuses don’t make up for not following the law’s timelines, or completing a FOIL request late. The law provides for extensions; a government simply has to ask for it. When this doesn’t happen, the FOIL is considered denied.
The mayor recently claimed we never filed an appeal and didn’t reach out to the village. Both statements are incorrect. The appeal is documented, and was sent on April 11, to the mayor’s own address, exactly as Port Jefferson asked.
We simply followed the law, as anyone can see at our transparency project portal: NYtransparency.org. If the mayor does not like FOIL’s requirements, she should attack the law, not Reclaim New York.
To be clear, the village has now sent the records. But more than 75 percent of Long Island localities fulfilled their legal obligations on time. We’d like to work with the village to improve their transparency process.
Here’s how we can make that happen: The village can post the names and contact information for the Records Access Officer, and Records Appeals Officer online. These designations are required by law, and this would clear up confusion.
When a FOIL request is denied, or ignored — as in this case — the law allows for an appeal, sent to the Appeals Officer.
If the village says the mayor fills this role, and tells a FOIL filer to use a particular email address to submit an appeal to her, the mayor should not publicly claim she hasn’t received an appeal and blame it on the sender.
Additionally, ensure village employees understand the time limits for FOIL requests.
The first response, within five days, should acknowledge receipt and indicate when the request will be completed. If you need more time, request an extension.
In the initial response to Reclaim New York, the village said they would outline production costs for fulfilling the FOIL request. Then they stopped responding to our requests without providing a clear timeline.
It’s important to note that it’s not the filer’s responsibility to follow up with calls, though in this case Reclaim New York did. But the law does require that a village respond within 10 business days to an appeal.
The ultimate transparency goal for any government: proactively posting information in a searchable format online.
Every citizen should be able to see how government is spending public money. There’s no need to wait for someone to ask. Provide this information openly, and Port Jefferson will truly be leading the way toward open government.
Brandon Muir is the executive director for Reclaim New York.
Both sides of a disagreement over public records have dug in their heels, insisting over the last few days that the fault lies with the other.
Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant originally expressed regret over a report from nonprofit group Reclaim New York — which focuses on government transparency and finances, employment and the economy — that said both her village and the Commack School District had failed to properly respond to requests for public records through the state’s Freedom of Information Law. But shortly afterward, her office sent a letter to TBR News Media responding to Reclaim New York’s claim that its appeals for spending information were ignored, saying, “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The Reclaim New York office has since confirmed receiving more than 1,200 pages of documents on Tuesday morning from the village, fulfilling that public information request.
New York State’s Freedom of Information Law requires governments and school districts to respond to records requests, commonly known as FOIL requests, within five business days, whether with the information requested, a denial or an acknowledgement of the request that includes an estimated date when one of the former two will occur. Denials can be appealed, and agencies are not allowed to deny a request “on the basis that the request is voluminous or that locating or reviewing the requested records or providing the requested copies is burdensome because the agency lacks sufficient staffing.”
As part of a project it dubbed the New York Transparency Project, Reclaim New York sent 253 Freedom of Information requests to school districts and municipalities on Long Island. It reported on its findings, saying that while many entities complied with state guidelines on processing such public records requests, on Suffolk County’s North Shore both Port Jefferson Village and the Commack district did not.
Entities that it said complied included Suffolk County; Brookhaven, Smithtown and Huntington towns; Belle Terre and Lake Grove villages; and the Port Jefferson, Kings Park, Huntington, Smithtown, Mount Sinai, Miller Place and Rocky Point school districts, among others.
Reclaim New York spokesperson Doug Kellogg also said Commack denied part of the FOIL request, “making big chunks essentially useless,” and that Port Jefferson Village at first was “underprepared” to properly respond to its request for 2014 information on vendors, including what the village made purchase orders for and who it made checks out to.
“Port Jeff never worked with us from there, they just ignored the appeals and our phone calls,” Kellogg wrote in an email last week.
Village Clerk Bob Juliano challenged that claim last week, noting that the same day his office received the FOIL request via email, on March 7, he acknowledged receipt. He said the treasurer was working on compiling the information, estimating it would be done by the end of May.
Commack School District spokesperson Brenda Lentsch also responded on May 20 saying that the district answered a first FOIL request, then received a second that required private information be redacted and would have come at a cost of $0.25 per page, which the district communicated to Reclaim New York.
Garant’s initial email response to the TBR News Media story was that she was “beyond disappointed” that she did not know about the FOIL request to the village.
“I would have made sure the clerk provided everything necessary in order to prevent such a bad blemish on the integrity of my administration to be pronounced in my own local paper,” she said. “I have now demanded that the clerk and the treasurer work nonstop to provide the necessary documents ASAP.”
She followed up with a letter that called Reclaim New York’s request “a blatant transparency test” that asked for extensive information: “Several village employees have had to spend significant time away from their duties serving the village in order to gather these records. So far, approximately 4,500 pages of documents have been identified and are in electronic format and the work goes on.”
The mayor said Treasurer Dave Smollett worked with the nonprofit on two occasions “to help them tailor a more focused request which would better meet their needs,” but the group “never attempted to work with the treasurer to fine-tune the request” or followed up to check its status.
“Is our village to be punished because it strives to provide comprehensive responses to records requests?” she wrote in her letter. “Would it have been better to provide a quicker response with fewer records and missing documents just to be able to say we responded?”
Reclaim New York noted an appeal email sent to the mayor’s office on April 11 that said the group had not heard back on its FOIL request, and Executive Director Brandon Muir challenged the mayor’s contention that his group attacked the village in a statement this week.
“Reclaim New York’s Transparency Project treats every municipality the same,” he said. “It’s designed to create more open government for the people of our state.”
He said he hoped the village would work with Reclaim New York to provide the spending information it requested.
“People deserve to see how their local government spends their money,” Muir said. “It’s an important step toward holding officials accountable, and giving people more confidence in government. We don’t see how anyone could argue with that.”
I am writing in response to statements made by Reclaim New York in a recent article in the Port Times Record (“Report: Long Island public agencies fail to comply with FOIL requests,” May 18). Reclaim New York, the self-anointed guardians of public transparency, claim the Village of Port Jefferson ignored “the appeals and our phone calls” to release public records on vendor information and purchase orders. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We accepted Reclaim’s request in March. It was not a simple inquiry for documents, but a blatant transparency test sent to every government agency on Long Island. They requested every single vendor, its address, payment listing, check numbers, banking routing numbers, etc. The village treasurer did contact Reclaim staff on two occasions and asked for clarification on their blanket request to help them tailor a more focused request which would better meet their needs. Reclaim’s representative never attempted to work with the treasurer to fine-tune the request. Several village employees have spent significant time away from their duties in order to gather these records. So far, approximately 4,500 pages of documents have been identified and are in electronic format and the work goes on. Other municipalities have provided thin responses to Reclaim’s request for vendor records. Is our village to be punished because it strives to provide comprehensive responses to records requests? Would it have been better to provide a quicker response with fewer records and missing documents just to be able to say we responded? I think this would defeat the very purpose of public transparency.
Contrary to how they misled our local newspaper, Reclaim did not reach out to us to check the status of their records request after it was accepted, nor have they ever submitted the legally required appeal challenging the timing of our response. Had Reclaim simply picked up a phone or emailed me or the village clerk, they would have learned that we have been working on a detailed and comprehensive response to their request, more accurate and more complete than what many other municipalities have provided. This was an agenda-driven fishing expedition and it is unfair to criticize our village as part of their statewide campaign.
As the mayor, I have always pushed for increased transparency on the village budget and public records. Our record on this issue is unmatched. We should not be punished for providing more transparency. I ask that in the future, Reclaim reach out to us before they attack our village in the press and on social media.
Margot Garant is the mayor of Port Jefferson Village.
Two North Shore public agencies did not comply with records requests during a large-scale look into government transparency, Reclaim New York has reported.
The nonprofit, which focuses on government transparency and finances, employment and the economy, sent Freedom of Information requests to school districts and municipalities throughout Suffolk County, as well as Nassau County and locations in the lower Hudson Valley, as part of its transparency project. In its report, Reclaim New York said that while many entities along Suffolk’s North Shore complied with state guidelines on processing such public records requests, both Port Jefferson Village and the Commack school district did not.
New York State’s Freedom of Information Law requires governments and school districts to respond to records requests within five business days, whether with the information requested, a denial or an acknowledgement of the request that includes an estimated date when one of the former two will occur. Denials can be appealed, and agencies are not allowed to deny a request “on the basis that the request is voluminous or that locating or reviewing the requested records or providing the requested copies is burdensome because the agency lacks sufficient staffing.”
Reclaim New York spokesperson Doug Kellogg claimed that Commack denied part of the FOIL request, “making big chunks essentially useless,” and that Port Jefferson Village at first “said they could not send an Excel document, which would show they are underprepared.”
“Port Jeff never worked with us from there, they just ignored the appeals and our phone calls,” Kellogg wrote in an email this week.
Although an official from the Commack school district did not return a request for comment, Port Jefferson Village Clerk Bob Juliano challenged the accusation against his department.
In an interview on Tuesday, Juliano said Reclaim New York sent his office an email on March 7, asking for 2014 information on vendors, including what the village made purchase orders for and who it made checks out to. He said he responded the same day and the village treasurer’s office is still working on compiling the information, estimating it would be done by the end of May.
“We weren’t ignoring them,” Juliano said, asserting that the two groups had not communicated since March 7 because Reclaim New York hadn’t followed up with his office.
‘It’s clear we can’t blindly trust our politicians to do their jobs with integrity and protect public dollars, so it’s up to us to watch them.’
— Brandon Muir
The village clerk noted that because Port Jefferson is currently closing out its fiscal year, that process is delaying things.
Reclaim New York started the New York Transparency Project as a response to recent public corruption cases and the state’s “affordability crisis,” according to a press release. The project’s goal is to make records requests to thousands of local governments statewide and teach taxpayers about the FOIL process.
“That’s when we will see more conflicts of interest, more political favors, more waste, more fraud and more abuse exposed,” Reclaim New York Executive Director Brandon Muir said in a statement. “Overspending and public corruption happen when politicians don’t think anyone is paying attention. … It’s time people saw how their money is really being spent.”
According to the nonprofit, it sent Freedom of Information requests about spending information to 253 entities on Long Island, 57 of which were ignored, denied or not properly completed. Although a couple of North Shore entities were included in that list, many did comply, including Suffolk County; Brookhaven, Smithtown and Huntington towns; Belle Terre and Lake Grove villages; and the Port Jefferson, Kings Park, Huntington, Smithtown, Mount Sinai, Miller Place and Rocky Point school districts, among others.
“There are people who really need to know that Commack and Port Jefferson have work to do, and they aren’t being open with their tax dollars,” Kellogg said in an email.
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