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Village of Port Jefferson

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Join us as Governor Kathy Hochul brings big bucks for clean water initiatives, tackling outdated septic systems in Suffolk County. Port Jefferson celebrates 60 years as an incorporated village, and we explore the grand opening of a regional veterans museum in Rocky Point. Turn the page with us for a quick dive into the week’s top stories on The Pressroom Afterhour: Keeping it Local with TBR.

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Conversations over ethics are ramping up in Port Jefferson, where the village board of trustees is nearing sweeping changes to its Code of Ethics.

A public hearing on the code changes took place on Nov. 20, with the village’s ethics counsel, Steven Leventhal, presenting a draft code that would repeal and replace the existing ethics standards within the Village Code. The proposed code changes include three main categories: a code of conduct, disclosure requirements and administration. [See story, “Port Jeff village board, residents mull over ethics code revamp,” Nov. 25, TBR News Media.]

The board reconvened Tuesday night, Dec. 5, for a work session spanning over four hours.

“The primary purpose of tonight’s meeting is to give you, the board, the opportunity to address any questions that you might have to me and to have a discussion and deliberation on any points that need to be resolved,” Leventhal said.

Leventhal and the trustees walked through the code line by line, clarifying and amending various sections of text along the way.

The board will meet again Monday, Dec. 11, for its monthly general meeting. Leventhal pledged to supply the board with a revised version of the draft code, along with a redline version of the text, before the meeting begins.

Residents can continue submitting written testimony to the village clerk until Thursday, Dec. 7.

To view the entire work session, see the above video.

Photo courtesy David Warren

Prepared by David Warren

Barry L. Warren, age 79, of Port Jefferson, former village attorney, passed away on Friday, Nov. 17.

Barry was born in Brooklyn and grew up in a close-knit, loving and gossipy family with a flair for melodrama that both adored and annoyed him. He was a die-hard New York Yankees fan as a kid and worshiped the dirt that Mickey Mantle kicked up with his cleats.

He was voted “Most Sophisticated” during his senior year of high school and claimed to have been on every other page of his yearbook (unverified as of this writing).

Barry came into his own during his college and law school days at Dickinson College, where he met the closest and longest standing friends he would have in his life. Most importantly, it is where he met his wife of 54 years, Laura, with whom he traveled the world, ate their way through the Zagat’s guide, golfed (she was better), shopped for antiques and spent hours in the garden finding new and innovative ways to kill thousands of innocent plants. He completely adored her.

He practiced law at his namesake firm, Cohen & Warren, for over 40 years, served as president of the Suffolk County Bar Association, was a member of the Ethics Committee, taught classes at Touro Law Center, was a member of the Port Jefferson Royal Educational Foundation, served as village attorney and was a former president of the Port Jefferson Historical Society (sometimes referred to as the Hysterical Society).

He is survived by two children, one brilliant, one good-looking, David (married to Beth) and Abigail (married to David Gutierrez). He was a very much adored grandfather — “Pop” — to two granddaughters, Shelby and Adelaide. He was also the cherished brother of Linda Grodin (late husband Jay) and brother-in-law of Marty VanderLind.

Memorial services were held Nov. 21, at O.B. Davis Funeral Home. Donations may be made in Barry’s memory to the Port Jefferson Historical Society, 115 Prospect Street, Port Jefferson, NY 11777.

Steven Leventhal, the Village of Port Jefferson’s ethics counsel, presents proposed ethics code changes during a public hearing Monday night, Nov. 20. Photo by Raymond Janis

Discussions centered around ethics at Village Hall Monday night, Nov. 20.

The Port Jefferson Board of Trustees held a public hearing to consider repealing and replacing Chapter 41 of the Village Code, its Code of Ethics. This ethics code was first adopted by the village board in 1970, according to ecode360, and has seen few amendments since.

Steven Leventhal, the village’s ethics counsel, delivered a lengthy presentation detailing the proposed code changes to the board.

“The primary purpose of the ethics program is not enforcement — it’s not rooting out evildoers,” he said. “Our primary goal is offering guidance to the honest officers and employees of the village.”

Leventhal said that the draft proposal before the board is roughly the same code of ethics adopted by various other municipalities across Long Island and New York state, with some minor local variations.

The proposed code includes three principal categories: a code of conduct, disclosure requirements and administration.

The code of conduct would establish standards for officials and employees, offering guidelines for using public office for private gain, types of prohibited contracts, grounds for recusal, conflicts of interest and investments, gifts and favors.

The section on disclosure requirements outlined how village officials must recuse themselves from particular decisions. Applicants in land use, such as before the zoning and planning boards or Building Department, “must disclose at the time of application the identity of any state or municipal officer or employee that has an interest in the applicant,” the ethics counsel noted.

The section also requires disclosure of clients and customers doing business with the village, with some exceptions to protect confidentiality.

The final section would establish a board of ethics to administer the new code. Leventhal said an effective ethics board must convene at least quarterly, maintaining independence from the appointing authority — namely, the Board of Trustees — and an apolitical nature.

Under the proposed code, ethics board members must be village residents appointed to fixed, staggered terms of service. Under the current language, the board would have enforcement powers to fine up to $10,000 for violations.

During the public comment period, resident Arthur Epp scrutinized the $10,000 figure and questioned the board membership process. He asked the Board of Trustees for a 30-day review period to allow for necessary public input.

Responding, Leventhal advised the village board against overdefining membership criteria to the ethics board, given the village’s relatively low population compared to other municipalities.

Resident Xena Ugrinsky inquired about the process for whistleblowers to submit complaints to the ethics board. Leventhal advised that the board would ideally have counsel or a secretary to receive and process such complaints.

Following these comments, the village board agreed to leave the public comment period open for written testimony to the village clerk until Thursday, Dec. 7.

To read the complete draft of the proposed guidelines, visit portjeff.com/proposedethicscode. To watch the entire meeting, including trustee reports and board resolutions, see the video above.

Students in Earl L. Vandermeulen High School’s AP Environmental Science class and the Environmental Club with teacher Jonathan Maletta, left. Photo courtesy PJSD

Students in Earl L. Vandermeulen High School’s AP Environmental Science class and the Environmental Club took a trip to Rocketship Park in Port Jefferson on Thursday, Nov. 16, as part of a collaborative beautification project between Port Jefferson School District and the Village of Port Jefferson Parks Department.

The district’s athletic director, Adam Sherrard, and the village’s superintendent of parks, Dave Melious, had discussed how Port Jefferson students could give back to the community and promote Port Jefferson pride within the village.

The duo came up with a plan to plant 200 purple and white tulips in front of the basketball courts at Rocketship Park. They were joined by science teacher Jonathan Maletta.

Students in attendance were Olivia Bianco, Anneliese Byrne, Katie Chambers, Eric Chen, Thalia Dorsett, Kyle Erickson, Savannah Florio, Jadie Hernandez, Michael Lipskiy, Madeline Matvya, Noah Mimarbasi, Myeda Nawaz, Gavin Onghai, Alyssa Passarella, Ottilie Philbrick, Brielle Procaccini, Cooper Reale, Mia Savino, Nicholas Smirnov, Carman Stanton, Charlotte Tishim and Julia Weinstein.

Due to walkway reconstruction, Harborfront Park in Port Jefferson is currently closed to the public.

In an exclusive interview, Village of Port Jefferson Mayor Lauren Sheprow offered updates on the park project, outlining the motivations guiding this initiative.

“We wanted to make sure that we could do the whole park with whatever solution we came up with,” she said. “The priority was safety, and then fiscal responsibility was the second responsibility,” leading to the choice of asphalt.

Roger Corcella, project manager for the park, said the preexisting walkways were not adequately maintained, prompting safety concerns from village officials.

He said the walkways were “in desperate need of repair,” noting, “It wasn’t safe to walk anymore, especially if you had any physical issues. It wasn’t [Americans with Disabilities Act]-compliant.”

Corcella added that the village considered various factors before deciding on asphalt for the walkways. He said the village required a material that would be cost-effective, durable, eco-friendly, customizable, ADA-compliant and require minimal maintenance.

He pointed to other municipalities, such as Brookhaven and Babylon, which use asphalt on park surfaces. “This is a very common practice to use this,” he said.

Further defending the choice of material, Corcella noted that asphalt enables Harborfront Park to serve residents as “a 12-month park” due to simple snow removal service.

During the November general meeting of the village board of trustees, former Mayor Margot Garant objected to the use of asphalt over stamped concrete due to environmental and permeability concerns [See story, “Harborfront Park walkways spark debate, former and current Port Jeff officials clash over materials,” Nov. 9, TBR News Media]. Responding to the objections, Sheprow reiterated her public safety concerns.

“We get way too many reports of trips and falls in the community and didn’t want Harborfront Park to be one of those locations,” the mayor said. “Therefore, we had to look at the whole entire park and look at resurfacing the walkways around the entire park.”

“We want to make the park accessible to everybody, and if we put in stamped concrete, we wouldn’t be able to do the whole park,” she added.

To finance the costs associated with the walkway reconstruction project, which totals $248,907, the village board is making use of grants from Suffolk County and the Town of Brookhaven that will subsidize over a third of the overall expense.

“We were looking at $90,000 that would help us pay for this project,” Sheprow said. “Had we not acted immediately, we wouldn’t have received it,” adding, “In order to be eligible for those grants, the understanding was that [the project] would have to be for the entire park. … We needed to be compliant with the requirements of the grants.”

During the interview, Sheprow referred to the practice of “deferred maintenance.” Given the safety concerns identified with the walkways, she concluded that the administration had to act.

“If you don’t address a situation when it first becomes an issue, it becomes an even bigger issue,” she said, adding, “My goal was not to defer the maintenance of the park any longer — to let it become a bigger issue — but to address it immediately.”

Corcella said he aims to complete the walkway reconstruction project by mid-December. To view the village’s full Q&A page on the Harborfront Park project, visit portjeff.com/harborfrontparkconstruction.

Village of Port Jefferson Deputy Mayor Rebecca Kassay is a declared candidate for New York State’s 4th Assembly District. Photo by Jen Romonoyske, courtesy Rebecca Kassay

Just over a week after Election Day, the 2024 election season is already underway.

Village of Port Jefferson Deputy Mayor Rebecca Kassay has exclusively announced her campaign for New York State’s 4th Assembly District. She is running as a Democrat.

The 4th District seat is currently held by New York State Assemblyman Ed Flood (R-Port Jefferson), who unseated former Assemblyman — and Suffolk County Legislator-elect — Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) in 2022, who had occupied the seat since 1992.

Kassay entered the Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees in 2020 and was appointed deputy mayor earlier this year. During her tenure in village government, she has served as trustee liaison to the Building Department and Planning Board; the Conservation Advisory, Six-Acre Park and Tree committees; and was appointed the village’s inaugural sustainability commissioner.

Before entering public life, she worked as a youth environmental volunteer program director at Avalon Park and Preserve in Stony Brook. She is also a small business owner, operating The Fox and Owl Inn bed-and-breakfast on Main Street in Port Jefferson with her husband Andrew Thomas since 2014.

Kassay outlined the motivations guiding her campaign.

“I’m running for the New York State Assembly because we need leaders who understand that governance which truly reflects the voices, needs and concerns of their constituents starts with listening,” Kassay said in a statement. “In the village government, there are no national political party affiliations. I am practiced in working with anybody who is interested in pursuing commonsense, balanced solutions to ongoing challenges.”

Kassay described several quality-of-life concerns as “screaming for representation” in Albany, such as housing scarcity and the unaffordable standard of living in District 4. She said the state government must help create housing opportunities while conforming to the existing suburban character of local communities.

“I know that one-size-fits-all plans and mandates have tried to come down from the state, and while they try to address problems, they’re not suitable for the variety of unique communities within our area,” she said in an interview. “We need to find ways that we can support the creation of more housing opportunities for the middle class while preserving that suburban lifestyle.”

The Port Jeff deputy mayor identified various environmental challenges facing the 4th District, offering to leverage her environmental advocacy background toward climate-resilient policies.

“I really look at climate resilience as something that’s part of almost every dynamic conversation that government is having at this point,” she indicated.

Kassay referred to health care as another policy concern, citing soaring health care expenses as a barrier to entrepreneurship and economic development. “A lot of folks here who might set out as entrepreneurs or small business owners might be held back by health insurance as a barrier, so I really want to work to address that and make that more affordable for small business owners and entrepreneurs, specifically, but also for everyone else who is interacting with the state health insurance market,” she said.

Among other ideas, Kassay said she would use the office to pursue greater public investment in mental health services, target the opioid crisis, apply pressure on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for improved services along the Port Jefferson Branch of the Long Island Rail Road and expand coordination between the state and local levels of government.

Kassay’s current term as village trustee expires in July 2024. She stated she will not seek reelection for village office.

“I really look forward to serving not only Port Jefferson village residents but the residents throughout the district of AD4 from Stony Brook and all the way down to Gordon Heights, using the skills and relationships I’ve built at the village level and leveraging those skills all throughout the district,” she said.

To read Kassay’s entire statement, click here.

Village of Port Jefferson Deputy Mayor Rebecca Kassay is a declared candidate for New York State’s 4th Assembly District. Photo by Marvin Tejada, courtesy Rebecca Kassay

The following is a press release from the campaign of Rebecca Kassay.

Rebecca Kassay, a dedicated community organizer, elected official and entrepreneur has declared her candidacy for the New York State Assembly in the November 2024 electoral cycle. With a proven track record of impactful community engagement, Kassay steps up to represent the communities of Assembly District 4 at the state level.

Kassay dove into local community service as an intern-turned-program director at Avalon Park and Preserve in Stony Brook. Beginning in 2011, she created and directed a youth environmental volunteer program, connecting hundreds of Suffolk County teens with dozens of nonprofits, municipal branches and stewardship projects throughout Long Island.

Kassay and the teens tackled volunteer efforts such as native habitat restoration, species surveys, organic gardening, beach cleanups, trail maintenance and educational signage creation.

Over the course of seven years, she built upon her aptitude and passion for empowering young stewards with practicable, tangible ways to make a difference in their communities. The program was awarded the Robert Cushman Murphy Memorial Award by Three Village Historical Society and recognized by the Brookhaven Youth Bureau.

In 2013, Kassay purchased and restored a historic Victorian home on Main Street in Port Jefferson with her husband, Andrew Thomas. A year later, they opened the doors of The Fox and Owl Inn bed-and-breakfast.

As the inn’s proprietor, Kassay has hosted countless tourists drawn in by the area’s rich history and natural beauty, as well as the family, friends and visitors of local residents and institutions for over nine years. On behalf of her small business, she is a proud and active member of the Rotary Club of Port Jefferson and Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce.

“I am a devoted member of the vast, dynamic community of folks who want to maintain and improve quality of life throughout and beyond the district,” Kassay said. “I am in constant awe at the individuals and groups who consistently advocate for solutions to their concerns and further their worthy goals. By uniting over shared interests and intentions, we as neighbors overcome our differences and rebuild the community’s strength. It will be my greatest honor to represent and support these voices in state-level conversations as well as local actions.”

In 2019, Kassay took her commitment to community action to new heights by creating and filming a documentary series titled “Be The Change with Rebecca.” This immersive series, currently in post-production, adopts a “Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe”-style approach to showcase the power of volunteerism and inspire others to roll up their sleeves to get involved. This experience further deepened Kassay’s understanding of community issues and the importance of both grassroots efforts and government response.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Kassay mobilized her community network and organizational skills to establish and lead a pop-up initiative, Long Island Open Source Medical Supplies. In under three months, a core team of volunteer administrators and hundreds of Long Islanders created, donated and delivered over 40,000 pieces of lifesaving, spirit-lifting homemade personal protective equipment and comfort care items to local essential workers and patients at hundreds of medical facilities, institutions and businesses.

In collaboration with Suffolk County Police Asian Jade Society, Amo Long Island, local Scout troops and many others, LIOSMS also organized a food drive, collecting 2,500 items to stock local food pantries. LIOSMS was recognized with Suffolk County’s 2020 Operation HOPE COVID-19 Responder Award.

Kassay is a SUNY New Paltz graduate with a major in environmental studies and a minor in communications and media. Her community work was recognized by her alma mater with a 40 Under 40 Award in 2017, and she has since returned as a panelist at conferences such as the SUNY New Paltz Women’s Leadership Summit.

Kassay has served as an elected Port Jefferson Village trustee since 2020, and now serves as the village’s deputy mayor. Her consistent incorporation of climate resilience strategies, transit-oriented development practices and heightened community involvement into village conversations has demonstrated her dedication to creating a sustainable, harmonious future. 

She has led successful initiatives to establish a community garden on Beach Street; plan for the revitalization of village parkland; install beach cleanup stations along village waterfront; establish a resident election task force to research term lengths and limits; and form intermunicipal relationships to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of government.

“I’m running for the New York State Assembly because we need leaders who understand that governance which truly reflects the voices, needs and concerns of their constituents starts with listening,” Kassay said. “In the village government, there are no national political party affiliations. I am practiced in working with anybody who is interested in pursuing commonsense, balanced solutions to ongoing challenges.”

Rebecca Kassay’s candidacy represents a continuation of her lifelong commitment to fostering community connections, proactively confronting concerns and advocating for a sustainable and resilient future. Kassay will officially launch her campaign at an event early in the new year.

“I look forward to continuing conversations with new and familiar community partners and rising to serve at the state level, where I can work further for the well-being of my constituents and all fellow New Yorkers.”

For more information or to contact the campaign, email [email protected].

Photo courtesy PJV

The following is a press release from the Village of Port Jefferson:

Apologies for any inconvenience.

Port Jefferson’s Harborfront Park will be closed to the public from Oct. 27 to Jan. 1, 2024 for the replacement of the park’s walkways.

For safety reasons, we ask that the public not visit the park during the ongoing construction.

Look for construction and park reopening updates on social media and on the official village website: www.portjeff.com.

Please contact village clerk Sylvia Pirillo at 631-473-4724 ext. 219, or by email at [email protected] with any questions.

Thank you for your patience while we build a beautified, more accessible and safer Harborfront Park for all our residents and visitors.

File photo

In a unanimous vote by the Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees, Andrew P. Freleng was appointed to direct the village’s Building & Planning Department, effective Nov. 13.

Freleng, of Middle Island, is chief planner at the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning, overseeing the Regulatory Review Unit that analyzes zoning and subdivision referrals on behalf of the Suffolk County Planning Commission. He also supervises the staff to the Suffolk County Council on Environmental Quality, which is responsible for reviewing the environmental ramifications of all actions of the county.

Currently, Freleng is the chair of the Brookhaven National Laboratory Executive Roundtable and vice chair of the Central Pine Barrens Credit Clearinghouse board of advisers. He is a former member of the board of directors of the New York Planning Federation and a past Long Island section director for the American Planning Association. Before coming to Suffolk County, Freleng was chief planner for the Town of Southampton and prior to that chief environmental planner for the Melville-based H2M architects + engineers, an engineering, architecture and planning firm.

In 1999, Freleng was elected to the Port Jefferson Board of Trustees after serving three years on the village Planning Board. As trustee, Freleng was responsible for the Conservation Advisory Council, Parks Department, the Department of Public Safety and adviser to the Board of Trustees on matters such as SEQRA, waterfront and stormwater issues.

Freleng holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Long Island University-Southampton College and a master’s in environmental management from Long Island University-C.W. Post Campus. In 1990, he was accepted into the American Institute of Certified Planners.

“Having someone of Andy’s caliber in this position is a real coup for the village,” said Mayor Lauren Sheprow. “His vast experience will help guide and elevate the department at this critical phase in our growth. In fact, it was Andy, in his capacity as chief planner for the county who authored the professional review of Port Jefferson’s 2030 Comprehensive Plan, further demonstrating his knowledge of and longstanding history with our village.”

The mayor added, “I look forward to working with him and am confident he will hit the ground running. Welcome back, Andy.”