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Supervisor Vecchio

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Members of the Smithtown Youth Bureau hard at work. Photo from Stacey Sanders.

Smithtown is well aware that a community can’t prosper without happy and healthy kids, which is why it continues to give its young people a voice in how things operate.

Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) announced the appointment of four residents to the Youth Advisory Board, a group of 19 high school students and nine adults from across the town who work alongside the Smithtown Youth Bureau and advise the town board on ways to address and accommodate the needs of young people in the community, at a public meeting Jan. 3.

The newly appointed members, Esther Jung, Julie Delaney, Denise Massimo and Kathleen Knoll Ehrhard, were accepted through an application on the town board website. As part of the process, each candidate had to write a brief letter to Vecchio detailing what they would like to accomplish in terms of youth matters and why they believed they would be valuable assets to the town.

For Jung, a 16-year-old junior at Commack High School, an issue she’s passionate about is her generation’s overattachment to technology, which she said she hopes to find a solution to in her time on the Advisory Board.

“Everyday at school I see students on their phones in class and I think the community would benefit if we brainstormed on how to limit teens and adolescents from consuming their time with technology,” Jung said. “We could have a more face-to-face conversation with people and go back to where we were once before.”

Each of the new members’ terms commenced Jan. 1, 2017, and will run through Dec. 31, 2019.

According to town code, Smithtown recognizes its youth deserves special attention and assistance in dealing with their needs, and the Youth Board acts as the voice of Youth Bureau policy.

With a third of its members under the age of 21, the board is certainly a fitting representation of its target demographic.

“These are young people that know how to interact with other young people,” Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) said. “They go to schools to help out, are involved with various local activities, and serve as liaisons between the town board and young people. I see it as a great interaction and we’re very proud to have them.”

Members meet once a month to develop and coordinate activities that help make the lives of their families and other children better and encourage community participation.

Just in the past year, the Advisory Board worked together with the Youth Bureau to bring Global Youth Service Day to multiple school districts, celebrating and mobilizing those in Smithtown under 21 who have improved their communities through service, as well as a Safe Summer Nights Pool Night at the Smithtown Landing Country Club for grades 6 and up. The board has developed community education seminars and empowerment programs for students focusing on a range of important topics, like the dangers of underage drinking.

A fundraising campaign was held to provide school supplies to kids in need as well as a food drive for Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry. Working predominantly with schools, volunteers help the bureau provide enrichment programs, intervention programs for kids experiencing difficulties or exhibiting behavioral issues, substance abuse prevention programs and anger management programs.

Stacey Sanders, executive director of the Youth Bureau and secretary of the Advisory Board, said the board has a needs assessment committee, a youth empowerment committee, a social media committee and a board training committee.

“The board helps keep the supervisor and [town officials] aware of the needs and beliefs of what’s needed, what residents are actually feeling — adults and youth — and the problems faced in the community,” she said.

Alexis Davitashivili, a junior at Commack High School who joined the Advisory B`oard in September, said her favorite initiative so far was when she and other student volunteers went to a local grocery store and placed approximately 1,100 stickers on alcohol cases to try and put a stop to underage drinking. The stickers read “Your Actions Matter! Preventing underage drinking is everyone’s responsibility.”

“It’s important for young people to get involved in their community because they’re kind of the faces of the community,” she said. “Although older people are involved, not all younger children listen to adults. Hearing things from a teen or someone close to your age is going to have more of an affect on them and the community as a whole. It might even help the adults open their eyes, like ‘oh if a child can do it, so can I.’”

If you’re a high school student or adult interested in joining the Youth Advisory Board, call the Youth Bureau at 631-360-7595 for more information.

A scene from this month’s annual Smithtown Festival Day, where residents enjoyed the sunshine and perused the various activities across Main Street, which was shut down to make room for the event. Photo by Greg Catalano

On your mark, get set — no.

Smithtown officials are taking another look at the way the town approves festivals, parades and similar events that close major roadways in different parts of the town. Before Tuesday’s special Smithtown Town Board meeting, Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) and Town Clerk Vincent Puleo discussed complaints both of their offices have received after recent events closed portions of Smithtown, citing negative effects on business and residential life.

“It discombobulates people,” Vecchio said, citing one recent grievance to his office about a town event putting a damper on business. “This is a beautiful town, but this is not the first complaint we have received. I think we need to revisit the process.”

St. James resident Scott Flugman prompted the discussion via a letter he penned to Vecchio’s office, citing traffic issues barring his ability to get around town during an outdoor race event in his town on May 31. He said it took him nearly an hour to drive his son home from a friend’s house, who lives roughly 10 minutes away.

“This is a dangerous and grave inconvenience and should not be allowed to happen again,” the letter said. “We could not pick up our children, we were late to their sports and other activities and we were put at risk for a potentially serious traffic accident. Please have more consideration for the impact on the community when planning these races in the future.”

Currently, the town lists a parade, a run or a similar event in the correspondence section of its Town Board meeting agenda. The events are read aloud at two consecutive meetings, and the public can weigh in. But Vecchio said that process only targets residents who actually tune in to each agenda item at any given meeting.

“We have two readings. But there is no time in between for anyone to say, ‘Wait a minute,’” Vecchio said.

Puleo echoed the supervisor’s sentiments on the limited avenue for residents to become aware of a given event being approved.

“If they’re not looking at the meeting, they’re not going to know there is an event,” Puleo said. “My office gets complaints all the time. If you’re the affected person, and that’s not your thing to look at what’s going on in town, you could be blindsided.”

In the last six Town Board meetings, there have been first or second readings for 12 separate events labeled as parades, runs, walks or festivals, according to agendas from those respective meetings.

Puleo said it was suggested that his office help install signs throughout town to alert business owners and residents of upcoming events, but he said it would be difficult to figure out where to put a sign and when.

A potential solution, Puleo said, could be to more frequently utilize areas of the town typically closed on the days these events often fall, like Saturdays and Sundays. The clerk recommended to the Town Board that future events be moved to spots like the Hauppauge Industrial Park, or the Kings Park Psychiatric Center.

But Tony Tanzi, president of the Kings Park Chamber of Commerce, said he disagreed with such a strategy, as various events are planned with the intent to bring more people to Smithtown’s downtown areas. He acknowledged that events in his neck of the woods, like Kings Park Day, might have a negative impact on business temporarily, but the purpose was greater than that day’s cash flow.

“I can see the point with some people that sometimes events can be disruptive. As a business owner, it really does have a big impact on sales,” Tanzi said. “But if the goal is to entice people to visit your downtown, I don’t see how [relocating] helps.”

As a possible solution, Vecchio said the town might want to consider limiting the kinds of events it approves to allow solely Smithtown-based organizations or town residents as hosts. He argued there would be a lesser impact if the events excluded non-residents.

“The squeaky wheel is getting the grease,” Puleo said at the meeting. “Whether it’s Smithtown or not, the impact on the residents is still the same.”