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Town of Smithtown

The Town of Brookhaven and Suffolk County Sheriff Department honored frontline workers, including the town’s Health and Human Services Department and its contracted food workers from Florian Foods. Photo from TOB

It would be impossible to commemorate every government worker in a single article, but the massive number of people busting their back in the midst of the pandemic helped an immeasurable number of residents when the worst was underway, whether they were custodial staff cleaning buildings for people to work in, or post office workers delivering mail, there are innumerable people the community owes their thanks to. 

In this case, it was a collective of government workers from the federal government on down whose job it was to keep those of us in pandemic hot zones up to date. For that, local municipalities depended on small communication offices to relay the most up-to-date and accurate information to both government and citizens, while residents were aided by public safety and food programs for homebound seniors. 

Communications

In any battle or crisis, those on the ground will tell you what helps most is having the latest information possible.

Lisa Santeramo, assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs under Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), was at the lead in getting the information from New York State on down to the local governments on Long Island. Her office included Theresa Santoro, a Miller Place native who was in charge of reaching out to Suffolk, and Andrew Mulvey, who was in charge of Nassau.

Lisa Santeramo, assistant secretary for the state intergovernmental affairs office, worked alongside Theresa Santoro and Andrew Mulvey to get up-to-date info about the pandemic out to local municipalities. Photo from Santeramo

Santeramo was just coming back from maternity leave at the end of March but suddenly, as infections grew and places started to shut down, the small intergovernmental office was a focal point for every county, town, village, as well as the dozens of civic and chamber of commerce organizations for learning about new regulations, protocols, closings and reopenings. For months, Santeramo said her office was performing multiple daily calls with different groups from town supervisors to village leadership. They were also sending out constant email updates to inform what changes were happening, even during the middle of the day.

“On Long Island, we have these nuances we have to work through, such as all the different layers of government,” she said. “I joked with electeds that we were spamming their inboxes, but more information is better.”

It was a constant rush of sending information up and down the chain of government. Down the line was Nicole Amendola, the director of intergovernmental affairs for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). Amendola rose through the ranks to become director in April, and where she and others in the executive’s office worked long hours to supply local government with the latest information.

Amendola, who reiterated it was a team effort, said that along with her communication work, she was also on the side of making sure different bodies such as fire departments or hospitals were getting the PPE or resources they needed.

“Things were changing so rapidly, not even from the state but even from the federal level, so we had to make sure that we were able to communicate properly and efficiently to all levels of government,” she said. “The work, definitely, was very, very top heavy in terms of hours in the beginning of everything because there was just so much we didn’t know and understand, and things were literally constantly changing.”

Once new regulations and lockdowns were underway, any new information coming in from the governor’s office was immediately poured through. Both state and county offices watched every one of the governor’s daily press conferences to make sure they could get that info to local government. 

Even with such things as trick-or-treating for Halloween, Amendola said they made it their jobs to let people know what was permitted and what was not. When people complained about what was or wasn’t allowed to open and which businesses were included in which reopening phases, their office also sent those complaints back up the chain as well.

Others in local governing offices made consistent remarks to TBR News Media on the good job both Santeramo and Amendola’s offices did during this hectic time. Their near-daily updates on COVID-19, what regulations and what restrictions may have changed, was a huge boon for people struggling to make heads or tails of what they needed to do. 

Now that numbers are spiking, both offices are on constant calls about what may or may not be coming down the pike. And with vaccines also in play, a new kind of communications blitz is incoming.

“I never thought I’d have to deal with people’s safety,” Santeramo said. “But this year and the work we did, it will be the most important work I think I’ll ever do in my life.” 

Public Safety

The year 2020 is going to go down in the record books locally not just because of the pandemic but because of other major events throughout the year. The May killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd sparked waves of protests throughout the country, including several largely peaceful demonstrations on Long Island. Interactions between law enforcement and protesters in Suffolk were mostly harmonious, but in a few places the reaction to those protests grew into a hotbed of misinformation and rumor, especially in the Town of Smithtown. While officials tried to quash those rumors, it was the Smithtown Department of Public Safety that was in the middle of the storm, both figuratively — and it turned out later in 2020 — quite literally.

The Town of Smithtown Public Safety Department made several water rescues during the summer 2020; just one of a few complications to a complicated year. Photo from Thomas Lohmann Jr.

Thomas Lohmann Jr., director of the town public safety office, said when the pandemic first hit, their office was in charge of restricting who could and could not enter town buildings, as well as handling the distribution of PPE throughout Smithtown. While other offices were being cut or shut down, Lohmann’s, with his 55 or so sworn officers and 50 additional civilian staff, was seeing a rapid need for more assistance.

“Everybody here really had to step up and work,” he said. “The communications section, which not only do they dispatch — we also serve three fire departments in the township — and they were extremely busy handling alarms for COVID-19 calls.”

Once things started to reopen, they were there in the local community enforcing restrictions on beaches and in parks. This year, with more boaters out on the water, they completed several water rescues. In enforcing compliance, Lohmann said it was not so much about shutting down businesses as much as talking with owners face-to-face to get them to meet restrictions.

“We recognize the businesses were faced with challenges, and from early onset what we focused on was voluntary compliance,” he said.

During Tropical Storm Isaias in August, the town safety office also became engaged in the work of checking up on people who lacked power. The year 2020 has been fraught with challenges, but for many law enforcement out there, as COVID numbers have risen dramatically in the past two months, the work does not stop.

“We can’t hang a shingle and say we’re shutting down,” Lohmann said, “We’re doing everything we can.”

Government Meal Programs

When the pandemic was at its zenith in late March and early April, the thousands of people who relied on government meal programs found themselves at an even greater loss, unable to get out of the house to even go to the local deli. As senior centers and government offices closed, the many people responsible for getting people food did not back down.

The Suffolk County Office for the Aging works with towns throughout Suffolk in their weekly meal programs. Holly Rhodes-Teague, who heads up the office, is not only in charge of a network of meal programs throughout the 10 towns, she had to keep up with case management, home care, transportation and home repair to allow older adults to remain at home while the pandemic raged outside.

The Town of Brookhaven and Suffolk County Sheriff Department honored frontline workers, including the town’s Health and Human Services Department and its contracted food workers from Florian Foods. Photo from TOB

Before COVID hit, the office was helping to arrange meals for around 2,700 seniors in congregate programs and home deliveries. Once the shutdowns occurred, that jumped to 4,200 people. To this day, those numbers have only slightly dropped to a little over 4,000 folks who depend on these daily meals.

“We were able to transition overnight to adding onto home delivery — we took the current program and made it into a grab-and-go type program for meals,” Rhodes-Teague said. “It was amazing how fast they did that. They didn’t skip more than a day.”

And it wasn’t just food. Through the towns, Holly-Teague said they managed to give out items like hand sanitizer and toilet paper, especially when such items were vacant on store shelves. In between everything, her office was calling elders, some of whom are over 100 years old, to just check up and see how they were doing. In one instance, a caseworker could not get a hold of one of their clients after August’s tropical storm. After visiting the elder at home, the caseworker found the electricity was gone, and the person’s life support had gone out.

“All our people stepped up to the plate,” she said.

In the individual towns, the separate Meals on Wheels programs were suddenly inundated. Laura Greif, Smithtown’s senior citizens program director, said the number of seniors they service doubled during the beginning stages of the pandemic, to over 320 meals a day. What made the situation harder was they had half the staff on, and half off. Other staff within the town came through to help instead. With the Smithtown Senior Center closed to visitors, she said they were making over 2,000 calls to elder folk within the town to check up on them regularly.

Once things calmed down, she said her crew even started taking some seniors food shopping. She thanked everyone who worked with her.

“In the beginning it was difficult as we were half-staffed,” Greif said. “Without such an amazing staff and town, it would have been difficult to get it all done. We’re very happy to do this much-needed service.”

Alison Karppi, commissioner of Housing & Human Services at the Town of Brookhaven, said before the pandemic they were supplying meals to 130 homebound seniors, plus those in their congregate program. Once the senior centers closed, that number jumped to over 500 seniors a day. Additionally, the town’s senior citizen division delivered 208 boxes of food to residents in need through Suffolk County’s food insecurity program.

It would take a whole host of Brookhaven employees to reach every single one of those who needed food every day, and not just those from HHS. Workers from other town offices such as the parks department would become drivers to get meals out to seniors spread throughout over 500 square miles. Karppi said unlike other municipalities that were forced to make meals cold, thanks to the town’s cafeteria in Town Hall and its food contractor, Florian Food Service, Brookhaven was regularly sending out warm meals to its seniors. 

Making sure the food stayed warm took a whole lot of effort on the part of multiple employees, and Karppi wanted to thank all those drivers whose constant work provided such a necessary service, as well as Dawn Marcasia, who created the route list for drivers every day of the week. Delivering meals also served as a way to check up on seniors, and when there was no response at the door, that information was passed onto the senior citizen division.

Through all of that, the town workers helped deliver over 75,000 meals to seniors at their homes from March through December. 

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) expressed how this service has been critical, even as we’re still not out of the woods yet.

“This pandemic is far from over, we’re at least another year anywhere back to where we were before,” he said. “This has been a lifeline to so many of these people.”

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An aerial view of Smithtown captures the Smithtown Main Street area. Photo from Town of Smithtown

By Chris Cumella

Updates on the Town of Smithtown’s upcoming master plan were at the forefront of discussions during the Town Board meeting held virtually Dec. 15.

The board and H2M Architects & Engineers collaborated during the meeting as a means of addressing the town’s Comprehensive Plan, a development project in the works of improving facilities, outdoor spaces and town amenities.

A draft of the Comprehensive Plan — a town infrastructure revival over several different areas in the vicinity — was presented by H2M planning representative Jeffrey Janota. He said it was “an enjoyable project, and I want to thank all the residents that came during the public outreach.”

He explained that the Comprehensive Plan was designed to revamp specific downtown areas of Suffolk County that the Town Board deemed necessary. Among those locations being considered in alignment with the Comprehensive Plan were Smithtown proper, Kings Park and St. James.

Those downtowns will be the main demographics for new placements of office spaces, increased retail stores and transit-oriented development, according to Janota. The necessity of reviving the downtown areas come in response to public opinion.

In downtown Smithtown, 34% of polltakers see the community as average, 32% below average and 17% thinking it is poor. Downtown Kings Park and downtown St. James saw similar results.

“The public came out and met with us, and want to make sure that their concerns are heard,” Janota said.

When presenting the topic of improving Smithtown’s mobility, a survey outreach was utilized again to receive direct answers from the community. A majority, 75% of those surveyed, said they wish to see improvement in biking and walking conditions. Other major factors in mobility improvement included adding more parking spaces, increasing streetscape amenities, better traffic signals and lights, and more.

As Janota recapped how the town could enhance existing park amenities, he suggested adding additional play elements such as jungle gyms and swing sets while maintaining the current ones to withstand upcoming brutal weather conditions. H2M’s statistics detail that 12% of Smithtown residents use the parks for the playgrounds and swings.

In addition to keeping the youth content, H2M would set their sights on attracting residents who use parks for outdoor recreational activities by improving pathway quality and building new ones. Their data tells that a larger portion of citizens, 17%, make up those who use the parks for walking and running for exercise.

Based on a New York State recreation guide survey, the Town Board’s greatest number of requests were directed toward the need for expanded and modernized amenities along with revamped facilities in parks, such as parking and restrooms.

As well as preserving the existing parks, H2M unveiled their plans to create new ones, and presented a map of five scattered pinpoints soon to be outdoor spaces. On the list were proposed parks at Half Hollow Road in Commack; Donald Drive and Hillside-Gramercy Gardens in Kings Park; also 3rd Street and Astor Avenue in St. James.

Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) encouraged Smithtown residents to be active in their board meetings by responding to the board’s outreach programs when possible.

The Town of Smithtown Town Hall. File photo by Phil Corso

Smithtown town officials presented its 2021 tentative budget of $107.6 million to residents last week during a virtual public town hall meeting. A budget vote is scheduled for November.

“2020 has certainly been a whirlwind throwing challenges our way that are expected to continue throughout 2021,” Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said during the meeting. “It has made our jobs as municipal managers much more difficult in both overseeing the operating results for 2020 and projecting the budget for 2021.”

He said that early on in the pandemic, the town “weathered the storm” and created adequate reserves to keep things intact and continued to complete advantageous projects including the Lake Avenue Business District, among others. “The economic benefits of these projects will last long into the future, allowing for generations to come benefit greatly,” he said. 

Wehrheim added that this year the town decreased overtime and decided to cut discretionary spending by 15%. 

“If we should experience this again, we can promise you that town board, myself and our town employees will be ready after all the town endures.”

— Ed Wehrheim

The upcoming budget claims it will maintain municipal services while trimming payroll and increasing property taxes on the typical non-village home less than 1%. 

“In 2020, we looked to reducing expenditures by reinventing our own ways of doing business and created new opportunities to make up for the pandemic-related shortfall,” the supervisor said. “This enabled me to deliver a budget it stays within a mandated allowable New York state tax cap limitation this year of 1.5%, which is becoming increasingly more difficult for municipal managers.”

Some highlights included an overall decrease in salaries accounting for a little over $600,000. 

“Due to the retirement incentive we instituted during the pandemic, we did not utilize any fund balance to balance this budget,” he said. “It is a structurally balanced budget.”

Wehrheim said that overall taxes increased by less than 1% with the exception of residents within the St. James water district who experienced a slightly greater increase due to the water mains along Lake Avenue. The Lake Avenue Project cost $8 million, and includes a dry sewer line that officials home could connect to a sewage treatment plant at the Gyrodyne site near the town’s Brookhaven border. 

The 2021 tentative budget meeting broke down expenses by type. The bulk of expenses at 34% goes towards salaries, 30% to contractual agreements, 29% to employee benefits, 5% to debt service and 2% to equipment. 

It also states the Town’s General fund will see an increase of $22.57 for a home assessed at $5,500 or 3.74%. The same residence will see a reduction in their highway taxes of $4.51 or 3.61% for a net increase of $18.06 per residence valued at $5,500 or 2.48% increase. 

Residents not within village boundaries will see taxes increase by $10.48 for a home assessed at $5,500 or 0.81% higher. Wehrheim said no use of fund balance in any of those funds were used to balance the budget.

After officials broke down the plan, residents voiced their concerns. Members from the civic group We Are Smithtown brought up issues surrounding the Lake Avenue Project, the Master Plan and questions involving the town’s School Age Child Care Program. 

The group criticized that the budget seemed to show the town was profiting off of the program with the tentative budget showing revenue exceeded expenses by $548,264 in 2019. However, it shows that the program is expected to operate at a $226,846 loss this year, and that revenue is expected to exceed costs by $100,000 in 2021. 

James Bouklas, president of the group, argued that the Town of Smithtown brings in $1.413 million in revenue for the program each year, yet the budget shows the program’s cost is $828,000 – a profit of almost $600,000 yearly.

“If you look at the cost, you can see it’s pretty comprehensive,” he said. “This is not its own fund, it’s part of the general fund … In my opinion, it’s pretty comprehensive. There’s not a lot of shared services.” 

He added that the group called for an accounting for every dollar coming into the program. “All profits should be refunded to the families of the program,” Bouklas said. 

Patty Stoddard, a Nesconset resident and board member of the group, said this program is essential to working parents and should be accounted for. 

“This is a program that is a lifeline for working parents often work long hours to be able to afford to live in Smithtown and send their kids to excellence,” she said at the meeting. “This is not the first time we’ve addressed issues with this program. It came to our attention earlier this year that many childcare workers in the towns program were earning less than minimum wage. We pressured the town into doing the right thing and the town agreed to increase wages.”

However, Town Comptroller Donald Musgnug said the budget does not break down the program’s cost provided by other town departments including payroll, insurance, accounting and Parks and Recreation. 

“If you add them to the direct costs, would greatly diminish what you’re perceiving to be, quote, a profit,” he said. “We don’t measure profit and losses within a governmental entity. We’re not viewing it as a business per say. We’re not trying to make money off of that, and the fact of the matter is between 2020, because of the diminished revenues, we’re anticipating a loss of $227,000.”

Despite the problems 2020 caused for everyone locally and across the country, Wehrheim said he hopes the town will never have to witness circumstances like this again. 

“If we should experience this again, we can promise you that town board, myself and our town employees will be ready after all the town endures,” he said.

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Kings Park restaurant owners and Smithtown election officials celebrate businesses receiving new propane heater lamps. Photo from Town of Smithtown

By Julianne Mosher

With the changes in how customers shop and dine across the region, PSEG Long Island wanted to step in and help.

Relish in Kings Park, above, was one of the eight restaurants gifted outdoor propane heaters thanks to the grant given to local chambers from PSEG Long Island. ‘I’m so excited that we were given them,’ manager Kristy Ludeman said. ‘It helps keep everyone at night warm and the guests are really enjoying it.’ Photo by Julianne Mosher

John Keating, manager of economic development with PSEGLI, said that the company began its Main Street Revitalization Program about two years ago with the goal to bring business back downtown. But because of the COVID-19 crisis, PSEGLI saw an opportunity to help out during the changing times.

“We saw a lot of areas were looking at outdoor dining and outdoor shopping,” Keating said. “It has become a lifeline for them to stay in business.”

The Chamber of Commerce Main Street Revitalization Award grants up to $5,000 to chambers and business improvement districts to help purchase durable goods that support outdoor commerce.

“It’s our small way to help businesses thrive,” Keating said.

To date, PSEGLI has paid or preapproved grants for 20 Chambers or BIDs in towns and villages across Long Island — from Sag Harbor to Great Neck — totaling nearly $100,000.

Keating said that when a chamber or BID is approved, the funds are based on a reimbursement process.

“We want to make sure the money goes to durable material that supports outdoor shopping,” he said. “Once approved, they can make the purchase, send us the receipts and then we reimburse them.”

And many of the local chambers have either applied or are considering it. The Town of Smithtown announced last week that the Kings Park Chamber of Commerce was awarded the grant and was then gifted new outdoor propane heaters — the first chamber to do so.

Diane Motherway, executive director of the Kings Park Chamber of Commerce, said that she was surprised to hear that they were the first to use the money for heat. Other recipients used the funds to purchase outdoor tables, chairs, umbrellas or planters, but Kings Park saw what was already implemented and decided to add to what shops have established outside.

“Some restaurants were set up already,” she said. “So, we were trying to think of ways to help since that was taken care of.”

That’s when they thought of the heaters, especially since Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) made an announcement Sept. 17 extending the temporary outdoor dining permit to Dec. 31.

“We’re trying to do our part in any way that we can,” Motherway said.

It was announced that the Nesconset Chamber of Commerce is also a recipient of the award and will be using the funds to gift outdoor heaters, as well.

“We’re trying to help businesses through their chambers,” Keating said. “It’s been a very positive experience because most chambers don’t have a lot of funds to work with — this was something that they could help make a difference.”

Keating added that 90 percent of the Long Island economy comes from small business, so the pandemic caused stress for small shops.

“Our end game is keeping more businesses surviving during the pandemic,” he said.

National Night Out attendees in Brookhaven enjoy the Centreach Pool Complex. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) recent announcement that the state would allow public pools to reopen at the discretion of local municipalities was received as good news for residents in Suffolk County who rely on such facilities for recreational use and to cool off the summer heat. For local town governments, they will have to consider not only the safety of patrons but also whether they still have the resources in place to operate their pools. 

The Dix Hill pool could potentially reopen depending on a debate within the Town of Huntington. Photo from TOH

Two weeks ago, in a joint press release, town supervisors from Babylon, Brookhaven, Islip, Smithtown and Huntington said they would close their pools to avoid further potential coronavirus spread. 

Since then, at least two municipalities on the North Shore may be reconsidering their initial decision. 

Huntington spokesperson Lauren Lembo said in a statement that it is something the town “has been discussing after the successful reopening of the beaches.” At this time, the town hasn’t officially announced anything on pools reopening yet, but Lembo added that a safety plan and staffing resources are currently being assessed.

Huntington town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) also weighed in. 

“Based on the successful phased reopening of our beaches with new safety measures in place, we are more confident now that we can provide an equally safe and fun experience at the Dix Hills Pool this summer, which will be open for our summer camps,” he said in a statement. “We are considering plans to open the pool to residents only in the coming weeks.”

Brookhaven’s public pools will remain closed, according to town spokesperson Kevin Molloy. Though the town’s spray parks will reopen later this month. 

In Smithtown, spokesperson Nicole Garguilo said officials want to see the number of COVID-19 cases in the town continue to decrease before they make any potential decisions. 

“We want that metric to continue to go down —there is a lot involved in reopening our pools,” she said. “If it is safe enough, we would consider it.”

There are a number of issues they would have to address. Smithtown’s three public pools are all located at Smithtown Landing Country Club. 

Garguilo said in addition to implementing the proper safety precautions they would need to assess if they still have the available resources to operate all three pools. 

“For us, it’s making sure the recreation director has those resources, he has to go out and get 

lifeguards and pool operators to staff these pools,” she said. “We might have enough staff for only two pools.”

Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, said municipalities will have to go about their reopenings differently. 

“Not all pools have the same footprint, some have more space than others,” she said. “To keep people safe, towns might go to reduced occupancy.”

Nachman said there is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread to people through the water used in pools. Proper operation and disinfection should kill the virus that causes COVID-19. 

Despite that, the infectious disease expert reiterated that patrons still need to proceed with caution. 

“If you’re with your family, stay together, spread yourself out from others and stay six feet apart. Do not crowd around the pool,” she said. “If you’re sick or feel sick do not come to a public pool.”

Nachman also mentioned that if you plan on bringing food to be careful, as it is another source of infection. 

“Everyone has to do their part, we are all part of community protection,” she said. 

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Long Islanders marching down Smithtown’s Main Street June 7 wanted residents to hear their cries — “Black Lives Matter.”

Protesters began to rally Sunday afternoon in front of Stop & Shop slightly east of the town’s iconic Whisper the Bull statue. The protest that was originally scheduled for 2 p.m. was switched to 4 p.m. the night before, and while some still came early, the crowd grew to more than 1,000 as the hour approached 4.

Protesters holding signs that read “Black Lives Matter,” “Say Their Names,” “If You Don’t Care, You’re the Problem,” “The Names Change But the Color Doesn’t,” and more were mostly greeted with drivers honking support and even some passengers sticking their arms and heads out of car windows and sunroofs to show their own signs.

Around 5 p.m., Suffolk County Police Department officers began blocking off Main Street with vehicles. Officers both on foot and bicycles lead the protesters eastward from Stop & Shop along the town’s main corridor.

Along the way, just as they did in front of Stop & Shop, the protesters yelled “Black Lives Matter,” “No Justice, No Peace,” “Take Your Knee off My Neck,” and shouted the names of victims of police brutality, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

As they approached the train station and Katie’s bar where counter-protesters stood waving American flags, the BLM group stopped, and although words were exchanged, including obscenities, no violence ensued at the spot.

The BLM protesters then proceeded to Smithtown’s Town Hall where they stopped to chant for a few minutes. Officers then continued escorting them to the intersection of Main and Route 111, where some protesters took a knee. Then participants headed back to the Stop & Shop parking lot, and officers helped with traffic control as many left Smithtown at the same time.

Town of Smithtown spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said the rally was a peaceful one, and she complimented the SCPD for a wonderful job.

SCPD reported that during the protest one male was treated for minor injuries at the scene, but they did not disclose how the injuries occurred. Fourth Precinct detectives, 4th Squad and Suffolk County Hate Crimes Unit are also investigating another incident involving alleged violence against a protester. A person calling himself Alejandro, who said he lives close to Smithtown, posted to Instagram, under the name ivpokko, that after the protest he was attacked by people antagonizing him and others at the march. Another rally is scheduled in response to the alleged incident in Smithtown June 9 at 6 p.m. by the train station. An attempt to reach Alejandro through social media for a comment was unsuccessful.

Before the protest, town representatives and the SCPD met with organizer Caitlyn Matos-Rodriquez to ensure that the event remained peaceful.

A week before the protest a flyer promoting the event circulated through social media. The flyer depicted marchers holding up their fists in the classic black power symbol, though it also depicted fires from Minneapolis and included the words “Bring your spirit in all its inferno.”

Many Smithtown residents and business owners feared that the protest would become violent, prompting a few proprietors to sit outside of their stores during the event, while other business owners handed out water to those who were participating.

In an interview with TBR News Media before the protest, Matos-Rodriguez said there had been much misinformation on social media about her and the planned protest. Because of the misinformation and rumors, she had received multiple violent threats to her and other protesters from residents.

“I have never condoned violence on this protest,” she said. “My goal of this protest is to bring our voices into segregated towns of Long Island. Our roots on Long Island rival next to Jim Crow [laws] of the south — you can see that by the geography of Long Island alone.”

Matos-Rodriguez added the point of the protest was to help open up more job opportunities, real estate opportunities and credit building opportunities for marginalized people of color.

For more photos, visit www.tbrnewsmedia.com.

Updated June 8 at 4 p.m. to add additional information on alleged attack.

Suffolk County legislature's online meeting May 19.

“Hello?” “Can you hear me?” “Would that person please mute their mic?” “We can hear your dog barking/child yelling/lawn mower going …” and on and on.

These are comments well known to anybody who’s been paying attention to government meetings, of municipalities large and small, in this time of pandemic. When Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed an executive order which temporarily nixed the requirements for local governments to hold in-person meetings, many organizations quickly had to come up with some sort of workaround to still hold their legally required meetings, though staying as socially distanced as possible while still remaining open for public view.

The Town of Brookhaven during its most recent online meeting.

Zoom meetings, YouTube Live video, these are the new tools for conducting government business, but not all are equal in just how “open” these meetings are.

New York Coalition for Open Government, a small nonprofit organization, known until recently as Buffalo Niagara Coalition for Open Government, came out with a report May 12 grading different levels of government on their transparency, with all meetings being held online. The New York State Committee on Open Government, which is run from Albany under the Department of State, has opined that governments would still have to host visible livestreamed meetings to conform to both the governor’s executive order and the current Open Meetings Law. Some governing bodies have interpreted the governor’s order to mean a body could meet without allowing public access. The coalition organization instead points to opinions by the committee and people from the governor’s office that says agencies and all local governments should allow access to livestreamed meetings.

Kristin O’Neill, assistant director for the state Committee on Open Government, said in a phone interview that local governing bodies “must afford remote access to the meeting while the meeting is going on.” This does not have to be a video livestream, but it must allow the public the ability to listen to that meeting. She said it is not enough to post a transcript or video after for the public to listen to or read.

The nonprofit’s report found only four of 21 governments surveyed from all of New York state had met all their criteria, including having all meetings livestreamed, having videos/audio posted online after the meeting and having all meeting documents posted online prior to the meeting.

The coalition included another metric though it’s not required by the Open Meetings Law, specifically asking whether a government was soliciting public comments that are heard and/or seen during the meeting.

The open government coalition president, Paul Wolf, an attorney in upstate New York, said he feels it’s important for local governments to be judged on their willingness to listen to the public, despite it not being required by law.

“All right, there’s a pandemic going on, but you” can still hear from the public and hear their concerns,” he said. “[We had] some pushback and controversy on grades, but you have to somehow rank people and and have some calculation who’s doing good.”

Suffolk County and the Town of Brookhaven were given “B” rankings by the committee, noting both were not addressing public comments in their meetings. As of their last meetings in May and early June, both town and the county board meetings still were not enabling public comment.

“It’s good to push for this stuff, and that seems to be one of few ways to get elected officials’ attention that seems to prompt some change,” Wolf said.

That’s not to say it hasn’t been difficult for local government to make the adjustment to online meetings. Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) said the governing body had to figure things out on the fly. The last time all legislators were together for in-person meetings was March 17. He added it took time to get proper guidance from the state regarding hosting meetings. So far during the pandemic, the legislature has only allowed comment during public hearings.

Town of Smithtown’s online meeting May 21.

Calarco said some legislators have made comments that current meetings have not been sufficiently open.

“I get that, and it is important for us to be transparent, but we have been trying to do it as effectively as we can,” he said. “For local government [having public comment] is an integral part of how our meetings operate — for residents to have ability to speak to us in public fashion.”

The next general meeting, June 9, will be the first time in two months the legislature will have a timeslot for public comment. People can visit the legislature’s website at scnylegislature.us and scroll down to the link for submitting public comment.

Brookhaven, on the other hand, is looking more toward a time when they can host in person meetings again, according to town spokesperson Kevin Molloy. He said Brookhaven has had to work through technical difficulties, but is complying with the law and the parameters of the governor’s executive order, adding there were no current plans to createa a public portion during online meetings.

The town allows for comment on public hearings, which can be submitted either in writing or with the person joining the town’s online meeting in video form. Molloy said the town has tried to push back non-time sensitive public hearings until later dates.

We’re certainly trying to improve it, that means improvements in technology and the board is always trying to improve access to public,” Molloy said.

Despite this, different levels of government, including school districts, have found varying levels of success keeping their meetings open and responsive to the public.

TBR News Media has run through all school districts, villages and towns in our coverage area to check if its meeting four simple criteria. The point is not to degrade some and promote others, but to offer a means of comparison and give examples for how they can improve their openness to the public. Because of this, we have eschewed a letter grading system for our local governing bodies.

Port Jefferson Village is allowing for public comment via chat on YouTube but, as it has done in the past, has only hosted public portions every other week. Though this may have worked until now, the circumstances of the pandemic mean it may be time to change that policy.

School districts were perhaps the most consistent among municipalities for providing documentation and at least some communication of meetings and inquiries from residents. The Comsewogue school district has hosted a bevy of online options for students and district residents, including a website dedicated to offering stress relief for students, multiple Zoom meetings directly with students and a video of the budget hearing. However, the district has not posted any of its online board meetings after the fact to its website.

Grading Criteria (according to New York Coalition for Open Government)

  • Are meetings being live streamed?
  • Are meeting videos/audio posted online after the meeting?
  • Are all meeting documents being posted online prior to the meeting?
  • While not required by the Open Meetings Law, are local governments soliciting public comments that are heard/seen during the meeting?

Suffolk County 3/4 (As of June 9, this changed to allow a public comment period)

Meetings are being livestreamed through county website

Meetings video/audio/documents available after meeting

Meeting documents available before meeting

Public are allowed public comment only during public hearings

Town of Brookhaven 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed and can be accessed by cable Channel 18

Meetings video/audio/documents available after meeting

Meeting documents available before meeting

Public are allowed public comment only during public hearings

Town of Smithtown 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed

Meeting video/audio/documents available after meeting

Meeting agenda available before meeting

People are allowed public comment only during public hearings

Town of Huntington 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed

Video and documents are available after meeting

Meeting agenda available before meeting

Public are allowed public comment only during public hearings

Village of Shoreham 2/4

Meetings are held by Zoom with notifications sent to residents

Video/audio of meetings not available after meeting

Some documents are available before meetings, but agendas are not

Public can make comments during meetings

Village of Belle Terre 3/4

Meetings are held via Zoom with notifications sent to residents

Meetings video/audio is not readily available post meeting

Meeting documents are posted before meetings are held

Public is available to make comments during regular meetings

Village of Port Jefferson 4/4

Meetings are being livestreamed

Meetings videos/audio/agendas posted online

Meeting documents posted before meeting

Comments being posted through YouTube then addressed by board, but only every other meeting

Village of Old Field 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed with links sent to residents via Zoom

Meetings audio/video not posted online though minutes are

Meeting documents not posted before meetings

Trustee meetings regularly allow two public comment periods

Village of Poquott 3/4

Meetings can be accessed via dial-in code

Meeting video/audio of latest meetings not available

Documents are posted prior to meetings

Public is able to make comments during meetings

Village of Head of the Harbor 3/4

Residents can access meetings via links through notices

Meeting video/audio not available online

Documents are posted prior to meetings

Public is allowed comment during meeting

Village of Lake Grove 2/4

Meetings are being livestreamed via Zoom

Meetings audio/video not posted online

Documents are posted prior to meetings

Could not determine if public can comment during meetings

Village of Nissequogue 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed

Meeting video is available after meeting

Documents are not posted before meeting

People are allowed public comment during meeting

Village of the Branch 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed via Zoom

Meetings video/audio is not posted to the website after the meeting

Documents are posted to the website prior to meetings

People are allowed to comment during public portions of the meeting

Village of Asharoken 4/4

Meetings are being livestreamed via Zoom

Meeting minutes/agendas available after meeting

Meeting agendas are available after meeting but not video

Agenda available before meeting

Residents can ask questions prior to or during meeting

Village of Lloyd Harbor 4/4

Residents can listen in to meetings

Notices are present prior to meeting

Meeting agendas are available after meeting

Residents have been told they can comment during meeting

Village of Northport 4/4

Meetings are being held over teleconference call

Meeting audio not posted online after meeting

Agendas posted to website prior to meeting

Website says residents can ask questions of board via the web page

Shoreham-Wading River School District 4/4

Meetings are held publicly online via Zoom

Video of meeting posted after date held

Agendas are posted before meeting

Residents can comment during meetings

Rocky Point School District 2/4

Up until budget hearing, has not been having public board meetings online

Audio of meetings available on website

Board agendas posted prior to meeting

Public not able to comment on meetings up until budget hearing

Miller Place School District 3/4

Meetings held via Zoom

Video/audio of meetings not posted after meeting

Agendas posted prior to meetings

People may comment during meetings via chat

Mount Sinai School District 4/4

Meetings livestreamed via Zoom and on Facebook

Video of meeting posted afterward

Agendas posted prior to meetings

Questions from audience addressed during meeting

Port Jefferson School District 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed

Meetings audio/visual/documentation available post meeting

Meeting agenda available before meeting

Public is not able to make comments during meetings

Comsewogue School District 2/4

Public has access to meetings via livestream

Meeting audio/video not available post meeting

Documents are available prior to meeting via BoardDocs

Questions are not being addressed at meetings

Middle Country School District 3/4

Meetings livestreamed from Google Meet

Meeting video is available post meeting

Documents are available prior to meeting via BoardDocs

The district has dispensed with public input

Three Village School District 3/4

Meetings are not being livestreamed

Meeting video available after meeting

Documents are available prior to meeting

Questions are not being addressed at meeting

Smithtown School District 4/4

All meetings are streamed live via Facebook

Videos available after meeting

Documents available before meeting via BoardDocs

Public can submit comments prior to meetings

Hauppauge School District 4/4

Videos streamed via Facebook Live

Videos available after meetings

Documents available on website

Residents can ask questions via Google Docs attached linked to the agenda

Commack School District 4/4

Meetings are publicly streamed through the district website

Meeting videos are available after meeting
Meetings documents are available prior to meeting via BoardDocs

Members of the district can ask questions via email,

Kings Park School District 4/4

Meetings are publicly available via Zoom

Meeting videos are available after meeting

Documents are available via BoardDocs

District allows for comments on call during prearranged comment period

Elwood School District 4/4

Meeting videos streamed live to YouTube

Meeting agendas available via BoardDocs

Videos are available after meetings

Questions are answered during latter section of meeting

Huntington School District 4/4

Meeting videos streamed live via Zoom call

Meeting video is available on the district website

Meeting agendas are available via BoardDocs

Residents can ask questions during Zoom meetings

Harborfields School District 4/4

The district livestreamed meetings via Vimeo

Agenda is available prior to meeting on district website

Video is available after the meeting dates

Residents can ask questions via email, and questions are answered at a determined time in the meeting

Northport-East Northport School District 4/4

Meetings are being livestreamed via IPCamLive

Videos are available after meetings

Agendas are available beforehand via BoardDocs

Questions can be sent via email and addressed during meeting

Cold Spring Harbor School District 4/4

Meetings are being livestreamed via Zoom

Videos of the boards hearings are available at the district’s YouTube page

Board agendas and documents are available at its meeting portal page

The board advises sending questions via email, which are addressed during the meeting

This article has been amended June 16 to update information about the Suffolk County legislature.

Since Sunday, protesters in Huntington rallied against racism and police violence after the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd. Another protest took place June 4 with more the following day. Photo by David Luces

Despite officials saying practically all protests in Suffolk County have been peaceful to this point, unfounded rumors of potential violence are still being spread through social media, causing concern while protesters continue to call for an end to racial injustice and police violence.

Throughout the week, a flyer promoting a protest in Smithtown made its way through social media. The flyer depicts marchers holding up their fists in the classic black power symbol, though it also depicts fires from Minneapolis. It includes the words “Bring your spirit in all its inferno.” The location of the protests lists the Stop & Shop at 291 West Main St. just east of the bull statue and was set for June 7.

Residents online, in both Smithtown and neighboring townships, have taken that image and dialogue surrounding the protest to mean it would somehow involve violence. The main person promoting the protest, who on Twitter and Instagram goes by the name @plasticbagnomad, commented that it is planned to be “a peaceful demonstration. We are not advocating for violence at all.”

Her real name is Caitlin Matos-Rodriguez, of Central Islip, and she said there has been much misinformation on social media about her and the planned protest. Because of the misinformation and rumors, she has received multiple violent threats to her and other protesters from residents.

“I have never condoned violence on this protest,” she said. “My goal of this protest is to bring our voices into segregated towns of Long Island. Our roots on Long Island rival next to Jim Crow [laws] of the south — you can see that by the geography of Long Island alone.”

Referencing the general segregated nature of Long Island’s townships (Smithtown is over 90 percent white, according to census data), she added the point of the protest is to help open up more job opportunities, real estate opportunities and credit building opportunities for marginalized people of color.

The Town of Smithtown released a statement Wednesday about some of the undue anxiety from the community at large, not just about the mentioned protest, but about “a number of rumors, hoaxes, photos of fake advertisements for paid anarchists, and false posts of looting, night time demonstrations and other fictitious posts [that] have flooded social media, inflaming unbecoming verbal response and panic amidst a pandemic.”

The town said it is working with police and local fire districts to “ensure that any and all demonstrations in our community are done in a peaceful, lawful manner, ensuring the safety of all involved.” 

Smithtown spokesperson Nicole Garguilo said residents were subjected to “a storm of false information,” including that bricks were being placed around the county to be used by protesters or even rumors that the Macy’s clothing store was being looted.

The Sunday protest and its organizer was a victim of that misinformation, which resulted in violent threats to her and any other protesters. Though now with the town and police having communicated with Matos-Rodriguez and other protest leaders, Garguilo said all will work to make the protest will be peaceful.

“This is a young woman who is motivated to express her first amendment right to assemble,” Garguilo said. “We’re are going to all be there in what we hope to disarm any community angst that’s out there with Caitlin. We want to make sure her message gets out clear.”

More people in surrounding communities have worked to clarify that it would remain peaceful. Julio Taku Jr., a Huntington resident and journalism student at Stony Brook University, said he and other community activists saw the reaction to the Smithtown protest and have sought to clarify what’s happening.

In a written statement he shared with TBR News Media, it said Matos-Rodriguez is in contact with town officials and Suffolk County Police to ensure a safe and peaceful demonstration.

“Local law enforcement from the 4th precinct will also be on hand to ensure the safety of all the demonstrators seeking to respectfully express their First Amendment right under the United States Constitution,” her statement read. “We stand in solidarity with the black community and wish to honor and support them in the best way possible. Black Lives Matter.”

The destination and route for the march is still to be determined before Sunday. A new poster for the protest sets the time at 2 p.m., but Garguilo said the time was being moved to 4 p.m.

In community Facebook pages, mentions of protests have been responded to with posts that suggest residents will resort to violence to stave off violent protests in their communities. So far all protests on the North Shore of Long Island have been reported as peaceful. While there have been nearly daily rallies in the Huntington area for the past several days, for eastern Suffolk in the TBR News Media coverage area, the closest rallies have taken place in Setauket, Port Jefferson Station and Riverhead, some involving hundreds of people peacefully protesting alongside a police presence.

On Wednesday, June 3, police posted to its Facebook page that there were rumors circulating around social media about piles of bricks being left at specific locations, as if to incite violence, and of bricks being thrown at cars below overpasses, but the department has not received any credible information towards those reports.

In Suffolk so far the only arrests of protesters were two people in Shirley June 1. Police said they responded to about 70 protesters who were marching down toward the 7th precinct along William Floyd Parkway, shutting the road from north of Sunrise Highway to the Seventh Precinct. Road closures stretched from Sunrise Highway to the Long Island Expressway. Police said the two people didn’t listen to police about staying in a designated area. 

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said in a video posted to the police Facebook she thanked the protesters while citing department initiatives with diversity training and other practices to reduce police violence.

“I want to recognize the protesters who have got their message out in a peaceful manner — we are listening,” she said.

This post will be updated with additional information regarding the protest or from Town of Smithtown.

This post was updated June 6 to relay updated times of the Smithtown protest. 

From left, Supervisor Ed Wehrheim with James Cotgreave, his wife Jackie and children Chase and Sophia. Photo from Town of Smithtown

James Cotgreave, a lifelong resident of the Town of Smithtown and founder of Cotgreave Insurance Agency, was presented a proclamation from the Town of Smithtown by Supervisor Ed Wehrheim for donating over $10,000 worth of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to local law enforcement and healthcare professionals over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic on May 14. 

On May 15, Cotgreave joined with the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) on the same day at Saint Catherine of Siena Medical Center where they distributed his latest donation of 2500 disposable gowns.

“A few weeks ago, I reached out to Jim to ask if he could help me fundraise for another round of PPE gear for our front line heroes,” said Supervisor Wehrheim. “Jim took it upon himself to completely fund and distribute the disposable gowns. He has been at the forefront of assisting first responders and healthcare workers since early March … never asking for thanks or recognition and always looking for more good to do.” 

Over the course of the last two months, Cotgreave has donated approximately $10,000 worth of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to shield those on the front lines with the safest equipment to treat patients, protect the community, and themselves. 

In addition to his recent donation of disposable gowns, Cotgreave has donated and distributed 5000 face masks to the Police Benevolent Association, Suffolk County Deputy Sheriffs and to the healthcare workers at St Catherine’s of Siena Medical Center. Cotgreave has also assisted local food establishments by purchasing $1,000 worth of meals to feed hospital staff within the township.

The Miller Place Teachers Association along with Tuscany Gourmet Market organized a soup donation to Mather Hospital. Miller Place alumnae, Sammy Schaefer and Nicole Ellis, are among the people on the front lines. Photo from MPSD

By Rita J. Egan and Kyle Barr

With so much going on day to day, with people stuck at home and fearing for the future, there are consistent hopes provided by the men and women doing more to help the people most in need. Whether it’s people making masks for essential workers or meals for hospital employees on the front lines, we asked local officials, business and civic leaders who they would like to thank during this time of crisis.

New York State

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) wanted to thank both those on the front lines and the “unsung heroes.”

“I want to thank each and every one in our community who has been on the front lines of this battle,” he said. “Doctors, nurses, first responders and all of our volunteer firefighters have been fighting a war that they never expected. Their efforts are truly heroic, and we owe them a debt we may never be able to repay. But equally as notable is the work of our unsung heroes — retail workers, postal employees, cleaners, truck drivers, restaurant employees, delivery people and every single person who continues to show up every day to help make sure we have food on our table, gas in our cars and electricity in our homes. This is an effort that requires so many to work together and these men and women are the ones who will lead us to victory over this virus. We say thank you for all you do for all of us.”

Rocky Point residents the Palifka family have been putting up signs saying “Rocky Point Strong” on people’s front lawns, as a simple way of keeping spirits high. Photo by Jane Bonner

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) is thankful for several local residents.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to the members of our community who, week after week, have shown up for their jobs — our health care workers, first responders, grocery workers and all the others who have provided the crucial services we need to get through this shutdown. Through their courageous commitment to service, essential workers have enabled the rest of us to do our part by staying home.”

Englebright was grateful also for those doing their part at home. 

“For those of us at home, it is hard to reconcile that staying put is actually doing something important,” he said. “But by working from home, helping our children with their schooling, social distancing and wearing masks when out in public, our responsible behavior has worked to flatten the curve and slow down the transmission of the coronavirus. So, my gratitude goes to everyone who responded so admirably to the challenge before us. Your collective actions combined with others around the state have literally helped save thousands of lives.”

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) said it’s difficult for him to just name one person or one group of workers.

“Everybody’s different and everybody, in different ways, has done so much incredible work,” he said.

He said in addition to medical and nursing home professionals, it’s important to remember the volunteer firefighters and EMS workers.

“They’re basically volunteering to put themselves in harm’s way,” he said.

He also credited police officers who have had to assist more so in ambulance calls during the pandemic.

“They are busier than they have ever been before, but it’s less with crime and more with dealing with so many health emergencies,” he said.

Gaughran added that medical calls are more involved than before as additional protocols need to be followed to protect first responders from COVID-19.

He said he has seen so many restaurant owners doing remarkable work too, donating food to nearby hospitals and firehouses.

“Some of these businesses are operating almost on their last dollars, just using it to help people,” he said.

Suffolk County

Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) had health care and front line workers as well as residents on her mind when giving thanks.

“I would like to thank the doctors, nurses, aides, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, techs, phlebotomists, dietary workers, custodians, mechanics, grocery workers, restaurant workers, car mechanics, moms, dads, grandparents and daycare teachers and aides who have sacrificed their personal health and safety during this time as essential workers,” she said. “I would also like to thank all of those that continue to wear masks, maintain at least a 6-foot distance from others, sneeze and cough into the crook of their arms and wash their hands frequently. These little efforts protect not only them and their families from COVID-19 and other viral and bacterial infections, but they protect us all! Stay strong, stay safe!”

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) also had an array of people to thank.

Bagel Express employees custom made and donated 50 feet of hero sandwiches spelling out “thank you” to health care workers at Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo from David Prestia

“During this unprecedented pandemic, it has been wonderful to see our neighbors coming together to support and help one another,” he said. “All of our essential workers (first responders, health care providers, postal and delivery people, store clerks and many more) deserve our gratitude for the sacrifices they make each day to do their job to help keep us safe and healthy. It is important to recognize everyone stepping up to make a contribution, from students sending kind messages — to sewing groups and seamstresses making and donating face masks — to restaurants/food establishments donating meals — to the libraries and businesses making PPEs and hand sanitizers — to nurseries donating plants to residents and health workers — and to the newspapers and media outlets keeping us informed. The work of those on the front lines is truly heroic and I can’t thank them enough.”

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) wished to thank Heritage Trust and the Mount Sinai Congregational Church for their food drives, which each raised thousands of food and toiletries items that will go to those who need it. She also thanked essential workers including law enforcement, health department and Department of Social Services.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said she’s grateful for a range of people.

“Like so many others, my gratitude goes first to our health care and frontline workers,” she said. “Their courage and devotion is the brightest star in this dark time. I’m grateful that people in our community are staying home, following social distancing guidelines, and wearing face coverings in public so we can all help slow the advance of this invisible enemy. We all have that essential role to lower the toll COVID-19 takes by being responsible.”

Hahn also pointed out the importance of mental health professionals. 

“I am grateful too for the mental health professionals providing counseling, guidance and emotional support for domestic violence victims, as well as the many among us who are struggling to hold on to hope and the tattered shreds of what was a normal life just a few short months ago,” she said. “As someone with a social work background, I know for certain that these caring individuals are critical to the wellbeing of our community. We need their skills and their caring hearts now more than ever.”

Hahn added that the community has played an important role to help fight the pandemic. 

“From people making masks for others, delivering food to seniors and neighbors in need, to journalists bringing us the facts and stories or the lost and to the families teaching their kids at home, I see bravery and love everywhere,” she said. “It gives me hope that we will come through this stronger than ever.”

Children across the county have been writing and drawing encouraging messages in chalk. Photo by Stefanie Werner

Suffolk County Legislator Susan Berland (D- Dix Hills) thanked not only those on the front lines but also her staff members and many others. 

“During this most unprecedented time, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all essential workers,” she said. “You are on the front lines providing us the goods, services, care and protection we need to keep moving forward. A special thank you to the members of the Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees who prove time and time again that their willingness to serve the residents of our county knows no bounds. I would also like to thank my staff for their hard work during long days that often become long nights. Their commitment to serving the constituents of the 16th Legislative District and all residents of Suffolk County is most admirable.”

She also had praise for the residents of the district.

“Thank you for demonstrating what makes Suffolk County the best place to live,” she said. “As a community we have shown that we are in this together, and surely, if we can get through this together, then we can get through anything together.”

Brookhaven Town

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said she has been holed up in her house since the start of the pandemic, only having one kidney and knowing it’s a potential comorbidity. Still, she said she has seen a tremendous amount of community support, such as from Rocky Point residents Quentin Palifka and his mother Alicia who have been putting up signs saying “Rocky Point Strong” on people’s front lawns, as a simple way of keeping spirits high.

Otherwise, both she and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) pointed to Lighthouse Mission, which despite all the constant pressure and expanding need has kept up its mission to give food to those who need it. In April, the town gave Lighthouse Mission the green light to start delivering food and toiletries directly to homebound residents. With volunteers which has included a few elected town council members, they have been delivering upwards of 100s of meals a day, Romaine said.

Margaritas Cafe in Port Jefferson Station, along with the owners’ other franchise The Cuban in Patchogue, is just one of many examples of businesses supplying food to hospital workers during the ongoing crisis. Photo from Facebook

The supervisor also looked to thank the town personnel who are delivering close to 425 hot meals to seniors who were in the town’s congregate nutrition program. That is 425 meals each and every day.

“People feel like somebody still cares,” Romaine said.

Along with that, he also thanked all the people who are continuing to operate the many food pantries in the town of Brookhaven. 

“They are doing God’s work — they are helping people in desperate need,” he said. “Nobody should go hungry.”

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she was thankful for many “hometown heroes.”

“I am incredibly thankful for the essential workers who are diligently providing support to individuals and families, including those most vulnerable, in our community during the COVID pandemic,” she said. “Without their commitment, none of us could be safe. In addition to our outstanding health care and medical professionals, I would like to highlight and thank the janitors, custodial, and maintenance staffs that are keeping our essential facilities and businesses running, as well as the grocery workers, the United States Postal Service and the many delivery drivers who continue to ensure that we receive the food, medicine and other supplies that we need during this time. A final thank you goes to all those hometown heroes in our community, too numerous to name, who have stepped up to fill a community need during this challenging time.”

Smithtown

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) had many to thank from restaurant owners to residents and community organizations that have taken the time to help out others to his fellow “partners in government” at the federal, state and county levels. Most of all, he wanted to show town employees his gratefulness.

“None of this would be possible without the hard work and dedication of the town’s department directors and our labor force who stepped up in every way, during this pandemic,” he said. “The department leadership has worked through this entire pandemic, without time at home to be with their families. Our Senior Citizens Department teams and volunteers have pushed through exhaustion to deliver weekly meals for over 200 homebound residents. Our parks department has worked tirelessly to keep town buildings and grounds sanitized, while helping us to deliver PPE supplies to local frontline workers and facilities. And most of all, the job that our Public Safety department has done over the last two months has been nothing short of extraordinary. They did not get to rotate out of the schedule and work from home like all other departments. Public Safety has managed our Emergency Response, patrolled our parks, assisted SCPD, enforced social distancing requirements and all executive orders from the state. They have done an exceptional job, in an impossible situation and we all owe them a debt of gratitude.”

Huntington

Town of Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinaci (R) also had a number of community members to thank.

Susie Owens of St. Charles Hospital delivered a special message to her colleagues in chalk. Photo from St. Charles Facebook

“While it goes without question that all frontline workers deserve our heartfelt thanks, special recognition is due to the volunteers who have come out of the safety of their own homes, out of retirement, or who have traveled to Long Island from less affected areas of our country to put their lives on the line to participate on our front lines,” Lupinaci said. “From fire, rescue and EMS volunteers, to retired volunteers serving alongside our doctors and nurses, and military service members who are supplementing the efforts of our local front lines — our thanks can never be expressed fully enough. As we plan to kick off National Nurses Week on May 6, I’d like to thank Theresa Sullivan, whose Huntington Hospital Meals initiative delivered thousands of meals and raised over $150,000 to thank medical professionals and staff at Huntington Hospital over the several initial weeks of the pandemic, giving a boost to our doctors and nurses, who have found themselves in the difficult position of filling in, bedside, for the families of isolated patients during overwhelming, non-stop shifts. I encourage everyone who is still working and collecting a paycheck to join me in donating to the Northwell Health COVID-19 Emergency Fund to support our amazing nurses!”

Three Village

Jonathan Kornreich, president of the Three Village Civic Association and a member of the district’s school board, said he would like to thank the teachers.

“These people have devoted years to learning their craft and developing the skills to be effective in the classroom, and they suddenly find themselves engaged in a practice very different from what any of us could have predicted,” he said. “And yet, they have risen to this challenge with compassion, with great effort and yes, with newly developed skills.”

Kornreich said that even though school is not in session in the usual ways, Three Village Central School District teachers are working harder and longer than usual “and in ways that have challenged them professionally and personally.”

“I think that many parents have a newfound appreciation for what’s involved in getting developing minds to focus on learning,” Kornreich said. “I’m thankful that the kids of Three Village have a warm, dedicated and professional teaching staff to keep the wheels on this thing as we head into an uncertain future.”

Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, said she is thankful for Three Village residents.

“They just keep giving and giving freely,” she said. “It’s just extraordinary.”

Rocky Point community members and the VFW Post 6249 arrive at the Long Island State Veterans Home to show support despite horrible losses suffered inside. Photo from Facebook

Rocchio said she has witnessed a huge number of philanthropic acts during the pandemic that it’s hard to narrow it down to just one. The WMHO along with Stony Brook Village Center restaurants created a health care meal program and are currently donating meals to Stony Brook University Hospital. Rocchio has been touched by the number of residents who have been donating funds to help with the mission. More than 9,000 meals have been donated to health care workers.

“It’s such a wonderful place to live,” she said.

Port Jefferson/Port Jefferson Station

Barbara Ransome, executive director of the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, thanked A Cake in Time and its owner Sherry Sobel, who after a donation to help her business, took that money and made cookies and then made arrangements to have them delivered to the underserved. She thanked other individual businesses including the Fifth Season Restaurant, with owners John and Deb Urbinati and Steam Room manager Vinnie Seiter who have been supplying lunches and dinners to the Welcome Friends Kitchen without any compensation.

Indu Kaur, who with The Curry Club’s Feed the #HealthCareHeroes Campaign has been raising money and donating meals since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis back in March. They have donated 2,000 meals thus far and hope to continue our work and feed the homeless shelters, and families that lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

Carolyn Benson, a musician and singer, partnered in The Journey Home Project to support veterans through the pandemic. People can go to www.carolynbenson.us to buy a shirt which now through May 31 all proceeds are going to The Journey Home Project, which assists nonprofits aiding vets.

Front Porch Photographer Andrew Theodorakis of Yellow House Images has been taking front porch photos and setting up a Gofundme page to then donate that money for meals for the underserved through the PJ Chamber.

Rebecca Kassay of Suffolk County Creators of Covid-19 Medical Supplies and her team of volunteers have been making facial masks by the hundreds.

Debbie and Jerry Bowling, the owners of Pasta Pasta, have been cooking countless meals donated to charitable causes, hospitals, women shelters.

Legislator Sarah Anker joins the Island Heart Food Pantry, which operates out of the Mount Sinai Congregational Church, in a food drive. Photo from Anker’s office

Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce Community Liaison Joan Nickeson named several chamber and non-chamber community members alike, including Jennifer Dzvonar, owner of Bass Electric and president of the chamber who helped purchase nearly $700 in groceries for the needy in the community; Jackie Kirsch, of PJS, who has been making masks for a variety of organizations since March; and Toni St. John of PJS, who is sewing as part of Facebook page Operation Headband making the straps hospital workers use to hold masks to their face, taking the stress away from their ears. St. John is also one of the costume designers down at Theatre Three.

She also wished to thank Debra Quigley, a trained Literacy Suffolk volunteer — who while in-person Comsewogue Library ESL classes have been cancelled, she has managed to offer ESL classes virtually through the library. 

“Our parents in this community are diversified,” Nickeson said.

Smithtown

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) had many to thank from restaurant owners to residents and community organizations that have taken the time to help out others to his fellow “partners in government” at the federal, state and county levels. Most of all, he wanted to show town employees his gratefulness.

“None of this would be possible without the hard work and dedication of the town’s department directors and our labor force who stepped up in every way, during this pandemic,” he said. “The department leadership has worked through this entire pandemic, without time at home to be with their families. Our Senior Citizens Department teams and volunteers have pushed through exhaustion to deliver weekly meals for over 200 homebound residents. Our parks department has worked tirelessly to keep town buildings and grounds sanitized, while helping us to deliver PPE supplies to local frontline workers and facilities. And most of all, the job that our Public Safety department has done over the last two months has been nothing short of extraordinary. They did not get to rotate out of the schedule and work from home like all other departments. Public Safety has managed our Emergency Response, patrolled our parks, assisted SCPD, enforced social distancing requirements and all executive orders from the state. They have done an exceptional job, in an impossible situation and we all owe them a debt of gratitude.”

Port Jefferson/Port Jefferson Station

Barbara Ransome, executive director of the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, thanked A Cake in Time and its owner Sherry Sobel, who after a donation to help her business, took that money and made cookies and then made arrangements to have them delivered to the underserved. She thanked other individual businesses including the Fifth Season Restaurant, with owners John and Deb Urbinati and Steam Room manager Vinnie Seiter who have been supplying lunches and dinners to the Welcome Friends Kitchen without any compensation.

Indu Kaur, who with The Curry Club’s Feed the #HealthCareHeroes Campaign has been raising money and donating meals since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis back in March. They have donated 2,000 meals thus far and hope to continue our work and feed the homeless shelters, and families that lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

Thank you signs outside Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

Carolyn Benson, a musician and singer, partnered in The Journey Home Project to support veterans through the pandemic. People can go to www.carolynbenson.us to buy a shirt which now through May 31 all proceeds are going to The Journey Home Project, which assists nonprofits aiding vets.

Front Porch Photographer Andrew Theodorakis of Yellow House Images has been taking front porch photos and setting up a Gofundme page to then donate that money for meals for the underserved through the PJ Chamber.

Rebecca Kassay of Suffolk County Creators of Covid-19 Medical Supplies and her team of volunteers have been making facial masks by the hundreds.

Debbie and Jerry Bowling, the owners of Pasta Pasta, have been cooking countless meals donated to charitable causes, hospitals, women shelters.

Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce Community Liaison Joan Nickeson named several chamber and non-chamber community members alike, including Jennifer Dzvonar, owner of Bass Electric and president of the chamber who helped purchase nearly $700 in groceries for the needy in the community; Jackie Kirsch, of PJS, who has been making masks for a variety of organizations since March; and Toni St. John of PJS, who is sewing as part of Facebook page Operation Headband making the straps hospital workers use to hold masks to their face, taking the stress away from their ears. St. John is also one of the costume designers down at Theatre Three.

She also wished to thank Debra Quigley, a trained Literacy Suffolk volunteer — who while in-person Comsewogue Library ESL classes have been cancelled, she has managed to offer ESL classes virtually through the library. 

“Our parents in this community are diversified,” Nickeson said.

North Shore Brookhaven Civics/Chambers of Commerce

Civics have also noticed the massive amount of support generated by local residents. Bea Ruberto, the president of the Sound Beach Civic Association, thanked Rose Mayer and her daughter Lily, who as their own organization, The LilyRose Collective, are making masks along with Facebook group Long Island Love for police and other essential personnel. 

“We’re (the Civic) planning to donate to help her do this,” Ruberto said. “We’re also going to be asking the community at large to donate fabric, etc., and she will give us the masks to donate to whoever needs them.”

Health care workers at Stony Brook University Hospital crowd together after the flyover April 28. Photo by Kyle Barr

Chambers also wanted to respect the multiple strides businesses have made in the community despite the strains and stresses from lost business. The Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce thanked Dan Reinwald of Tilda’s Bake Shop who donated pastries, donuts, rolls and bread to Mather as well as Hope Academy at Little Portion Friary in Mount Sinai in appreciation of medical professionals and security staff. 

Tom O’Grady of Tuscany Market, who partnered with the Miller Place Teachers Association and organized soup and food donations for Mather Hospital,wanted to recognize our medical professionals.

Roy Pelaez of Island Empanada donated empanadas to the Suffolk County Police Department to show appreciation for our law enforcement. 

Joe Cognitore and the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249, escorted by Peter Oleschuk, Rick Mees and the North Fork Cruisers, took to the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University to pay tribute to the staff and volunteers serving there as well as to remember and honor deceased heroes. 

Eufrasia Rodriguez of Justice 4 Autism has been donating masks to ambulance drivers, nurses at Stony Brook, Good Samaritan Hospital, Pilgrim State and Southside Hospitals along with local businesses like Spiro’s, Fantasia Bridal and Bakewicz Farms.

Tino Massotto of Cow Palace donated complete dinners to St. Charles Hospital’s ER Department and ICU as well as Good Shepherd Hospice.

Michelle LaManno of C.P. LaMannos Have a Pizza in Miller Place donated salads and pizza pies to Mather Hospital, and Michelle and Stelios Stylianou of Studio E hosted free virtual art classes for the community.