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Rudy Sunderman

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Over the last month, elected officials on both the county and village levels have been trying to tackle reckless bicyclists on the road.

Suffolk County

Last week, Suffolk County voted on a new bill aimed to give bicyclists distance with a new 3-foot passage rule — the first county in New York State to implement the law.  

According to the new legislation, “The operator of a vehicle which is overtaking, from behind, a bicycle proceeding on the same side of the road shall pass to the left of such bicycle at a distance of at least 3-feet until safely clear thereof.”  

Violators can face fines not to exceed $225 for a first offense, $325 for a second offense and $425 for any subsequent offense. The minimum distance requirement, however, will not apply on roads that have clearly marked bicycle lanes.

Authored by Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), it was originally in response to a bill sponsored by Legislator Rudy Sunderman (R-Mastic) which aimed to ticket and condemn bike riders who popped wheelies, swerved into traffic or biked while intoxicated across Long Island.

Hahn said she filed her bill, and abstained from Sunderman’s, to focus more on education for drivers and bike riders, as well as keeping veteran bicyclists safe. 

“I filed a bill that looks to fix the problems that existed,” she said. “I felt there were problems in the one that passed a few weeks ago.”

Sunderman’s bill was originally passed by the Legislature in February but was vetoed by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) earlier this month. 

“We believe this legislation is overly broad and that current law provides the necessary tools to address this issue,” Derek Poppe, a representative with Bellone’s office said in a statement. “We remain committed to working with the Legislature address safety concerns around bicycling practices.” 

On March 16, the Legislature approved Hahn’s bill, and Sunderman’s veto override failed the same day. 

Hahn said that the county was named by Bicycling Magazine as the most dangerous county in the country for bike riders and has since continuously been in the top 10.

“There are approximately 350 accidents a year in Suffolk County,” she added.

The vote brings Suffolk County closer to becoming the first county in the state to adopt a 3-foot-rule requirement. 

“I think it’s just really important that people know they have to give bicyclists room when they pass them,” Hahn said. “They might not hear you and the tires of a bike cannot handle roadway obstacles the same way a car can.”

Hahn noted that things such as sand, sticks, leaves, trash, a storm drain or pothole can be life-threatening to bikers. 

“A car can handle those, no problem, but a bike tire makes those obstacles potentially deadly,” she said. “Sometimes the cyclist needs to swerve a little bit and this 3-foot buffer gives them space.”

The bill will now go to the county executive for a separate public hearing and his signature within the next 30 days.

“I am thrilled,” she said. “This is a real concrete step to improve safety, and at the same time it makes a statement that we care about our residents on the road.”

The Village of Port Jefferson 

Village officials have been tirelessly enforcing their own rules when it comes to reckless bicylists. 

Signs like this will be posted throughout the village encouraging visitors to call code when they see disorderly behavior. Photo from Kathianne Snaden

Last year, when outdoor dining began, there were concerns over individuals harassing diners and drivers while they popped wheelies and swerved into traffic on Main Street. 

They began enforcing a code created in 2019, with new training, to keep residents and visitors safe. 

Mayor Margot Garant said a new bicycle task force has been unveiled, encouraging business owners and residents to call code enforcement when something doesn’t look right. 

“Our code specifically looks toward curbing the behavior of the individual riding a bike down the middle of the street or sidewalk in a dangerous and reckless manner,” she said. 

With rules penned by trustee Kathianne Snaden, the bicycle task force is comprised of Snaden along with a representative of the Suffolk County Police Department, the chief of code enforcement, Deputy Village Attorney Richard Harris, the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce and members of the business community. They simply ask, “If you see something, say something.”

The “see something, say something” campaign encourages business owners to keep their eyes peeled on issues throughout the village, and to call code immediately before the problem accelerates. That way the code officer can talk with the individual and give a warning before someone gets hurt.

“This time of year, we don’t see the issue,” Snaden said. “But the minute warm weather hits, it becomes an issue.”

And the last few weekends have shown how popular Port Jefferson is when the sun is out, and a light jacket is needed. 

Signs are posted up throughout the village, like this one seen here. Photo from Kathianne Snaden

“I want everyone to be aware if bicyclists are doing the right thing, obeying the traffic laws, we welcome them with open arms,” the trustee said. “We want to be ready to intervene before it becomes a problem — we’re not going to intervene if there is no problem.”

Along with the campaign, the village has begun using officers on bikes and has instituted a designated officer to patrol on foot throughout Main Street. Snaden said there will always be someone on duty, with no absence in shift changes. 

“I’m confident to date we have bridged that gap,” she added. “The communication is now there. We work as team to dissuade any potential issues.”

If dangerous behavior is happening within the village, readers are encouraged to call code at 631-774-0066.

The original article did not mention the chamber and business owners who are part of the task force. They have been added to the online copy.

File Photo

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) with the support of the Republican Caucus has requested a Certificate of Necessity (CN) from County Executive Steve Bellone (D) to reauthorize the red-light camera program in Suffolk County through a mandated referendum. 

“Let the public decide if this program is saving lives or costing the taxpayers their hard earned dollars,” said Trotta.

His fellow Republicans echoed this sentiment.

According to Trotta, a $250,000 study, prepared by L. K. McLean Associates, did not provide the data that the Suffolk County Legislature was seeking to thoroughly determine if the red-light camera program should be extended for another five years. In addition, the report noted that accidents increased 60 percent at red-light camera locations, yet the consultants argued that the program should continue. 

Republican legislators Tom Climi (R-Bay Shore), Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), Steven Flotteron (R-Bay Shore) and Rudy Sunderman (R-Mastic Beach) support Trotta’s resolution to have a mandated referendum on the November ballot.

“This bill is a yes or no to sign the contract for renewal of the red-light cameras,” said Kennedy. “We have been told that we can work on issues once the contract is signed. We all know that all issues are defined upon contract signature, just look at the roughly 15 million we had to pay out when our County Executive decided to breach the signed contract at Ronkonkoma Rail Road Station for solar panels.”

The GOP Caucus leader Tom Climi has said that his seven-member caucus will vote unanimously to end the program. 

“The results speak for themselves: more than a thousand additional crashes at red-light camera intersections involving thousands of drivers, all put at risk of injury or worse, all subjected to vehicle repair costs and increased insurance rates, with no reduction in fatalities at these intersections,” Climi said. “Rather than taking photos and video at these intersections, pretending to make them safer, we should engineer these intersections to actually BE safer.” 

Trotta had encouraged the public to speak at the Sept. 4 meeting of the full Legislature  and to speak in support of his referendum. The meeting, which was held at the Williams Rogers Building, Legislative Auditorium, 725 Veterans Memorial Highway, Hauppauge, began at 9:30 a.m. and by 3:30 p.m. the issue had not yet come up for debate and residents were still waiting to speak for their allotted three minutes during the public portion. 

Trotta has encouraged anyone with questions to call him at 631-854-3900.

Democrat leaders were unavailable for comment before going to press. Bellone’s office did not respond to questions about the program.

The results of the Sept. 4 meeting were unavailable before press time.  By early evening, county legislators ultimately voted along party lines in a 11-7 vote to extend for five more years the red-light camera program. 

A photo from Rudy Sunderman's website

On July 16, Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) announced the indictment of Suffolk County Legislator Rudy Sunderman (R-Mastic Beach), who has served in the 3rd District since January 2018.

Sunderman, 49, is being indicted for alleged perjury, ethics violations and other offenses in connection with his work as the former district manager of the Centereach Fire District that continued after he become legislator. An independent investigation by the Suffolk County Board of Ethics was referred to the district attorney’s office.

“This was a violation of the very laws that Legislator Sunderman has sworn to uphold,” Sini said. “These laws are in place to prevent potential conflicts of interest for lawmakers, prevent corruption and protect the integrity of ethics investigations.”

Prior to his election to the Suffolk County legislature in November 2017, Sunderman was employed as the district manager for the Centereach Fire District, earning approximately $175,000 a year, and as the district secretary for the Center Moriches Fire District, earning approximately $20,000 a year. On Dec. 6, 2017, Sunderman received an opinion from the Suffolk County Board of Ethics that continuing to serve in these roles while serving as a legislator would constitute a violation of the Suffolk County code’s prohibition on dual office-holding. Sunderman resigned from his position with the Center Moriches Fire District, according to the DA’s office.

Sunderman is alleged to have attempted to circumvent that ruling by creating a shell company in his wife’s name, Now That’s Fire Management, Inc., and arranging for the Centereach Board of Fire Commissioners to hire him through that company for $10,000 per month. Between Jan. 2, 2018 and June 30, 2018, despite the Board of Ethics’ determination, Sunderman allegedly continued to perform the duties of a district manager for the Centereach Fire District, including personally signing more than 600 vouchers and other official documents as district manager for the Centereach Fire District. Vouchers and purchase orders that Sunderman signed as “DM” or “District Manager” included those that authorized $60,000 in payments to Now That’s Fire Management, which is a violation of state municipal law regarding conflicts of interest, according to the DA’s office.

Following receipt of a complaint, the Suffolk County Board of Ethics began an investigation into Sunderman’s employment with the Centereach Fire District. On Oct. 29, 2018, during a deposition in connection with the investigation, Sunderman allegedly perjured himself on numerous occasions, including denying that he received any income from his continued work for the Centereach Fire District. Bank records obtained by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office showed that Sunderman was a signatory on Now That’s Fire Management’s corporate bank account, that the account was used for Sunderman’s personal expenses and that the county legislator had personally engaged in more than 100 transactions and spent thousands of dollars using a debit card issued to him on that bank account.

Sunderman also allegedly denied under oath managing fire district staff members after January 2018. Evidence developed over the course of the investigation showed that Sunderman continued to manage employees and represent himself as “District Manager” until he resigned from the position in June 2018, after the Board of Ethics began to investigate his conduct.

On April 23, 2019, Sunderman allegedly intentionally failed to disclose his outside employment and income as well as his wife’s income from the Centereach Fire Department on a financial disclosure form filed with the Suffolk County Board of Ethics for the 2018 reporting year.

Thomas Doyle, chairman of the Centereach Fire District board of fire commissioners, said the board was informed of the indictment July 16.

“The Centereach Fire District is cooperating with the Suffolk County District Attorney, and we refer all questions regarding this case to his office,” Doyle said. “The board of fire commissioners will have no further comment on this matter at this time.”

Sunderman is charged with five counts of perjury in the first degree; offering a false instrument for filing in the second degree; violation of the prohibition on dual office-holding under Suffolk County code; violation of the prohibition against conflicts of interest under general municipal law; and intentional failure to file an accurate financial disclosure statement under Suffolk County code.

Sunderman was arraigned on the indictment July 16 in front of Suffolk County Court Judge Anthony Senft Jr. and was released on his own recognizance. He is due back in court Aug.13, and if convicted of the top count, Sunderman faces a maximum sentence of two and one-third to seven years in prison.