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trustee kathianne snaden

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Photo by Julianne Mosher

Shortly after the festivities of the Port Jefferson Fire Department Independence Day Parade, residents and visitors gathered near the front steps of Village Hall to watch the swearing in of Team Unity on July 5.

Village clerk Barbara Sakovich kicked off the oath of office by thanking the fire department for hosting the event. 

“Thank you to the Port Jefferson Fire Department for always putting on a fabulous parade and incredible display of patriotism,” she said. “And of course, we thank them for their service to the Village of Port Jefferson by keeping all of us safe.”

Sakovich welcomed the three incumbents and their families to the podium, thanking them for their work “for a common good.”

Photo by Julianne Mosher

Trustee Stanley Loucks was the first up. 

“Stan works tirelessly every day and is the perfectly liaison to the recreation department, as he has a passion for all things recreation, as well as to the Port Jefferson Country Club, which is our treasure here in the village,” Sakovich said. “He works around the clock for us, and he is always the first to volunteer to get the job done.”

Loucks thanked his wife, Peggy, for all of her support, and the community for allowing him to do this all again.

“It’s great to be back up here,” he said. “I want to thank everyone for the opportunity to continue to make this village better than it is now — that’s our goal. We have a lot of unfinished business to do, and I thank you again for allowing me to come back and stand here … and then after I stand here, go back to work.”

Trustee Kathianne Snaden won her second term last month due to her close work with the school district, parking committee, BID and as the commissioner of public safety. 

“She listens closely to our residents and works to bridge communication and cooperation within our community,” Sakovich said. 

With her husband and three daughters by her side, she was filled with gratitude to be standing at the podium.

“Thank you for the opportunity to be up here again and to serve all of you,” she said. “I often get asked, why do you do this thankless job? And to me it’s not thankless. This is the thanks. And this is why I do it — because of all of you. So, thank you for having me here yet again to serve you for two more years. It’s my honor and my pleasure.”

Photo by Julianne Mosher

Sakovich concluded the ceremony with Mayor Margot Garant, who now begins her seventh term. 

“I tell her all the time that she runs a small country,” she said. 

Emotionally taking the oath alongside her father and mother, former Mayor Jeanne Garant, she addressed the crowd with a smile.

Garant said she is now the longest running village mayor, officially surpassing former Mayor Harold Sheprow — who served 12 terms and sat in the crowd — while thanking her supporters for allowing her to do this once again.

“We’re family. We stick together. We work hard, and we support one another,” she said. “I want to thank my core supporters, many of who are lifelong friends, who’ve worked hard to support this administration, and who value, respect, and appreciate the work we do.”

Garant added she couldn’t do this without her team. 

“We are here to work for you to protect and preserve our quality of life,” she said. “And when making a decision, we will always do our best to make sure that decisions bring us closer together in unity, and make us a stronger community.”

The crime scene outside Dunkin' Donuts in the village. Photo from Margot Garant

It was a tragedy, but local officials say all the right protocols were in place which led to the quick arrest of a Port Jefferson Station man in the fatal shooting of 25-year-old David Bliss Jr. of Shirley.

The incident occurred on Wednesday, March 24, at approximately 3:35 p.m., when Bliss was shot in front of 122 Main St. in the village.

According to a Suffolk County Police Department spokesperson, police from the 6th Precinct were on the scene within 2 minutes, 32 seconds after the victim was hit. 

Mayor Margot Garant said the whole incident itself took less than 10 seconds, from the argument between the two men to the duo in the car driving off. 

“Upon learning of the incident, our code enforcement chief and I immediately headed to the scene,” she said. 

But the police were already there, and once the SCPD steps in, they take the reins on any incident. Upon assessment, the police spokesperson said, the detectives on the scene immediately determined that it was a targeted incident.

“Upon arrival at the Port Jefferson shooting scene, police knew the shooter had left the area in a vehicle immediately following the shooting and a lockdown was not necessary,” the police said in a statement to TBR News Media. “Each incident presents specific circumstances that are assessed by responding personnel to determine if a lockdown is warranted and what radius needs to be covered.”

Village trustee Kathianne Snaden said that although some people are curious and are upset over the protocol, the village did everything within their ability to keep their residents and children safe.

“Everybody wants to know why a lockdown didn’t happen, and the last answer is we do not have that authority,” she said. “We confirmed that with our attorney and we don’t have that right.”

Garant reiterated the same, that although people may think the local government has more ability to shut down a village, they do not. 

“As soon as Suffolk is on the scene, it is their game,” she said. “I do not have the authority to put the village in a lockdown situation. Under New York State law, I do not have that authority.”

Thanks to the village’s street cameras, police were able to get a license plate number and began tracking the vehicle which was already headed into Smithtown.

“The police officer on the scene confirmed the community is not in harm’s way,” Garant said. “He said they are tracking the vehicle in Stony Brook, heading to the Smithtown area and this is very much a one-on-one attack.”

And because investigators on the premise knew right away that the shooting was not a threat to the rest of the village, schools were not put on lockdown.

Snaden, who was watching her daughter’s tennis game at the school, got the call from Garant and immediately asked if a lockdown was needed.

“We can’t say it enough — as soon as the call came to me, my first question to the mayor was, ‘Are the kids safe?’” she said. “Margot was standing with Suffolk police who confirmed ‘yes.’”

Snaden, who is also the community liaison between the school district and the village government, began tracking down Port Jefferson Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan who was already aware of the situation and rerouted the buses to avoid Main Street.

“Everybody was fully aware, and the school was already doing whatever protocol they do in these situations,” Snaden said. “Superintendent Schmettan had already, long before, already known about it and was acting on their behalf.”

Schmettan told the mayor that once she heard of the incident and bus reroutes, she communicated with the SCPD and verified that a lockdown was not needed — all within less than 10 minutes of the actual shooting.

Snaden said that upon learning of the incident, students were brought into the building out of an abundance of caution at the discretion of the athletic director and coaches who had kids outside.

“Upon notification of an emergency situation, our district immediately enacts our safety and security plans to help safeguard our schools,” Schmettan said in a statement. 

“These plans have prescribed actions specific to various potential scenarios and are often guided by the unfolding details of the events transpiring. As the safety of our students and staff remain our top priority, we are thankful to our partners in law enforcement and our village officials for their continued partnership with regard to our safety efforts and for their open lines of communication along every step of the way.”

The next day

Garant said that the next day the village had a debriefing and decided to begin using their CodeRED system for situations like this.

Criticisms have been made that the village should have used the system to let residents know what happened, and Garant said normally CodeRED is used for villagewide emergencies, like natural disasters. 

“If we had used CodeRED in this instance, because of the initial information and the lack of information from Suffolk at that point, the CodeRED would have just said that there is police activity on Main Street, please avoid the area, period,” Snaden said. “It wouldn’t have said lockdown.”

She added, again, the village does not have the authority to lockdown. Only the governor or county executive can make those decisions. 

Garant said that the social media hysteria that happened along the way could have caused more harm than good.

“It’s dangerous, because what happened was parents rushed to the school, there could have been a traffic accident, there could have been who knows what,” Snaden added. “The rumors were extremely reckless.”

Some of the rumors claimed that a student from the Port Jefferson School District was the culprit, another was that it was an active drive-by shooter. Both of those claims ended up being false right away, but the threads kept going.

“It didn’t really matter what we did or didn’t do that day,” Garant said. “My job is to keep this community as safe as possible, and not create more chaos or danger to them.”

But Garant said she did have the executive decision to give the community statements on what was going on. 

“This is because of who we are as government officials that we choose to do,” she said. “Because we feel it’s important. We’re not required to have this line of communication with the district.”

Garant added the CodeRED system currently has 4,800 subscribers and, after last week’s event, they will now use it more consistently.

“I think the thing that we learned from this is that we’re going to use our CodeRED and you need to be on our system,” she said. “You can get a text, you can get a voicemail, you can get  an email. And that’s how you’re going to get alerted from us from this point forward.”

Catching the culprit

“The good news is because of their thorough investigation, they caught the shooter within 72 hours,” Garant said. “That’s exceptional.”

Snaden said the cameras that are throughout the village are state-of-the-art devices, which are hooked up to the Suffolk County Real Time Crime Center — the first village within the county do so.

When the code officer was on the scene, a doctor and nurse bystanders were already tending to the victim, as police headed over.

 “There were good people that did help,” she said.

Snaden added that the village has 37 code officers, plus the chief, who monitor the area, and who work alongside the police. Two more hires are planned for this month.

“We have a good working relationship with the SCPD,” she said. “The code officer that was there was the supervisor at the time and secured the scene. He did what you are supposed to do as an officer.”

On March 27, SCPD arrested Joseph Garcia, 19, of 11 Market St., Port Jefferson Station, and charged him with 2nd degree murder. 

He was arraigned on March 28 and pled not guilty. 

The investigation is still ongoing and details about the altercation between the two men have not been released.

The SCPD encourages anyone with information about a crime to report it to 911 or anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 800-220-TIPS (8477).

Stock photo

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.