Friday, September 30, 2005

Show Us The Money. . .

. . .Or, How To Spend 100 Million Dollars Without Even Trying

Michael P. Mulhall of Point Lookout is a self-avowed Republican County Committeeman. Not that there's anything wrong with that. According to RCA (Republican Committeemen Anonymous), admitting the problem is the first step toward recovery. [Just kidding. Gee, you folks are sooooo overly sensitive.] Seriously, its good to be involved. Misguided, but still involved. Hope remains alive.

Anyway, we first learned of Michael P. Mulhall, Republican Committeemen (for today. By tomorrow, he might resign. "Is." "Was." You know how it goes.), by way of a Letter to the Editor he wrote to the local Herald newspapers, ostensibly as a potshot at Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi.

You see, Mr. Mulhall, the Republican Committeeman, believes that Greg Peterson would be the better choice in November based, if nothing more (and there appears to be nothing more to Greg "and your parks are lousy too" Peterson), on Greg being the more fiscally responsible of the two. [Yes, it was topsy-turvy day at Republican Headquarters in Westbury.]

Forget that Tom Suozzi is, flaws and foibles aside, due both accolades and kudos for bringing our County back from the brink of financial suicide. Forget that the Nassau County GOP brought us to the depths of financial despair in the first place. And forget, if you can, that Greg Peterson wants to take us back to that Nassau of old. Then again, don't forget it. There's simply too much at stake to allow nostalgia for the "good old days" of Hoovervilles to cloud our judgment on Election Day.

No, it wasn't Mr. Mulhall's (did we mention he's a Republican Committeeman? Wait, that was yesterday.) incredible play on Peterson's fiscal prudence that prompted this piece. After all, we expect nothing less than themes from bizzaro world from the Borgs who oil the Mondello Machine with money earned through our sweat and toil. It was something else Mr. Mulhall said in that Letter that caught our eye.

You see, according to Mr. Mulhall, when Greg Peterson prematurely left the office of Hempstead Town Supervisor to become Chief of Nassau County OTB just weeks (days?) after his re-election, he left for his anointed successor, Rich Guardino, a $100 million surplus. Greg never did mention a $100 million dollar surplus, that we recall, and Rich told us we were $50 million in the black, but we will make the presumption that Mr. Mulhall, as a Republican Committeeman, knows what we don't - that the Town of Hempstead had a $100 million dollar surplus when Greg Peterson packed his bags at Town Hall for the last time.

So, what happened to half of that $100 million from the time Greg gave up his office for the appointment of his successor until the day Rich Guardino stepped in? We didn't see any rebate checks, returning the people's money to, er, the people, did you? Did Greg take $50 million with him to OTB? "That's $50 million of Joey's Boy to win in the first!" Did we get any tax breaks with this wealth of money in the bank? Nope. Every year since this windfall, the Town - in one or more of its sleight of hand incarnations - raised our taxes. They called it "holding the line." We call it chutzpah!

As Kate Murray was ushered into office (yet another appointee to an elected post. Not that there's anything wrong with that!), the bellows of that Town of Hempstead has a 50 million dollar surplus still echoed throughout the land. Once Kate was elected in her own right, however, we suddenly stopped hearing about the $50 million, let alone the $100 million Greg Peterson is said to have left in Rich Guardino's hands. Gone. Forgotten. What $50 million? Fuggetaboutit!

Where did the money go? Kate cut taxes? Yeah, right. An increase every year, including a 12.8% hike in 2005. Could be Kate spent the $50 million on postage. Or maybe it went to buy turkeys at Sanitary District 2. Who knows? $50 million doesn't go as far as it used to. One tank of gas, if you're lucky.

And it wasn't really $50 million or $100 million or anything like that. After all, you must remember that Kate has "no control" over much of what goes down under color and title of the Town of Hempstead. So, that $50 million, $100 million, whatever, really trickles down to some $3 and 67 cents disposable (through Sanitary District 6) income. Barely enough for carfare. Time for another tax increase, because that "fiscally responsible" shortfall is just around the corner!

What bothers us - even more than the fact that a $100 million surplus seemingly vanished before our eyes (or behind our backs) - is that nobody seems to notice, let alone care. Hey, we misplace our lunch money and we go crazy looking for it. But 100 million dollars? What gives with that?

Fiscal responsibility. Accountability. Transparency. That's what it all boils down to, doesn't it? That's what Michael P. Mulhall, Republican Committeeman, is telling us. We say, believe him! And, having reaffirmed your faith, take just a moment to ask, "WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO THE TOWN OF HEMPSTEAD'S 100 MILLION DOLLAR SURPLUS?"

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Surreal Life At The Franklin Square Library

Party Loyalists Descend On Public Library ~ Many, No Doubt, For The First Time

"So THIS is what the inside of the Franklin Square Public Library looks like?"

We truly expected to hear these words out of the mouths of at least a few of the nearly 100 Machine-tooled operatives who came out, at the evident call of the Republican party leadership, to support the Franklin Square Library Board's decision to bar a public official - a member of the Democratic Party - from conducting a public forum in a public place.

The irony was apparently lost on these folks when they protested, most vocally, the sin of electioneering and politicking at a public forum by, well, electioneering and politicking at, ah, a public forum. [They couldn't well say they were against free speech, could they?] Indeed, the political ploy was as transparent as the GOP's glass house from which they readily cast stones at the outside world.

Query whether some of those in attendance - who, quite likely, never before attended a Library Board meeting - knew exactly why they had been summoned to the Franklin Square Library. The call comes in, and they march lock-step. Good soldiers all!

If the subject matter - free speech, the right to peaceably assemble, the ban of an elected public official at a publicly funded facility - wasn't so serious, the scene at the Franklin Square Library might have been comical.

Okay. It was comical. Even the members of the press rolled eyes when the usual suspects from the GOP camp rose to dapperly defend Don Clavin's (Town of Hempstead Receiver of Taxes and Republican candidate for Nassau County Comptroller) non-partisan dissemination of information, while demonizing the dastardly doings of Harvey Levinson (Chair of the Nassau County Board of Assessors and Democratic candidate for Town of Hempstead Supervisor), whose forums on the reassessment held at libraries around the County were summarily characterized as little more than political infomercials.

About the only thing missing from this bizzare burlesque show was an appearance by Greg Peterson, complaining that Harvey Levinson let the paint peel off the wall at the Assessor's office. Ah, but who needed Greg - or Kate, for that matter, as she would surely have "no control" over the Library Board's decision - when you have an ill-informed cadre at the ready to agitate, to instigate and to regurgitate what has become the platfrom of the Nassau County GOP -- "If we can't talk about the issues with clarity and resolve, we just won't let the opposition get a word in edge-wise!"

As humorous, in a sad-sack way, as the Machine's automitons could make of this event - and they were laughable, indeed - the most poignant moments of the evening came when members of a local Jewish Center, some who had survived the Holocaust, rose to speak. Softly, without the boisterous overtures of the planted hecklers to drown them out, they spoke not so much about Harvey Levinson's forums on the reassessment and their need to know, but rather, on the rights of all public officials, indeed, all people, to speak and to be heard. There was no mention, per se, of political suppression or the tyranny of the majority, but the message came through all the same - loud and clear.

Perhaps the best line of the evening came from Franklin Square resident Jerry Urick. Urick, the President of Franklin Square Kiwanis, a former law enforcement official, and, as he told those gathered in the packed community room, a registered Republican, scanned the crowd. Recognizing the faces as party regulars, many known to him personally, Urick stood deadpan and said, "This looks to me like roll call at Sanitary District 6!" Jeers followed. "That's not true," came an adamant shout.

All right. Sanitary 2. [Did anyone count the cars in the municipal lot across the street from the library bearing the word "Official" on their plates, or inquire why so many of these vehicles were being utilized after regular business hours? No worries here. No time sheets are kept. And we've got you covered for gas...]

Seth Bykofsky, the Co-Chair of The Community Alliance (and no stranger to Franklin Square residents), briefly addressed the Library's Board of Trustees, asking the Board to trust in the prowess of the people who attend public forums such as the one that Harvey Levinson had planned to hold. "All of us here - Democrats, Republicans, Independents - are capable of discerning information imparted to us as either for the public benefit or as political self-promotion. Give us the benefit of the doubt, and believe that we are smart enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. Let the people speak!"

We will say, the evening spent at the Franklin Square Public Library can best be summed up by the exchange between Don Clavin and Harvey Levinson as they made their way out of the building. Clavin berated Levinson for saying that one of the Library Board's members (Thomas Scanlon) IS a Republican Committeeman. Levinson retorted, "What, did he resign as a Committeeman a week ago?" Clavin shot back. "Come on, Harvey. We're both lawyers. You know if we were before a judge that would never hold up."

Ah. The hair-splitting distinction between IS today and WAS yesterday. That may indeed hold up in a court of law, Don, but in the court of public opinion, where the mere appearance of the impropriety (taking into consideration the abundant circumstancial evidence) may be much worse than the actual deed, it was, is, and hopefully will be, more than enough to sway the jury.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Harvey Levinson's Income Tax versus Kate Murray's Property Tax

Let's Blame It All On The Receiver Of Taxes ~ After All, He's Got The Money!

To hear the GOP tell it (evidence those annoying TV spots and the Town of Hempstead Supervisor's press releases), Harvey Levenson, Chair of the Nassau County Board of Assessors, is single-handedly responsible for those outrageous property taxes. "First he gave us the Reassessment, now he wants to give us an income tax..." The nerve of that guy!

Of course, anyone armed with even basic information (which precludes about 95% of the electorate) understands that Harvey Levinson is not responsible for the Reassessment. The Reassessment at full market value was ordered by the courts, and actually began during the tenure of the previous Assessor, Charlie O'Shea. Indeed, O'Shea got the boos and, ultimately, the boot by voters for what turned out to be the administration of the reassessment process that can only be likened to FEMA's response to Katrina. Wrong man for the wrong job, we suppose.

While the Assessment is now at full market value - with most houses in Nassau falling within the range, if not below actual market value - during Harvey Levinson's tenure, the "Assessed Value" or "Level of Assessment" was actually lowered from 1% of full market value to 1/4 of 1% (o.25%) of full market value. In other words, for most homeowners, the Assessed Value has gone DOWN! [See Sample Notice, for illustrative purposes.]

So, if Harvey Levinson and the Board of Assessors REDUCED the Level of Assessment, why do our taxes keep going UP?

While the solutions to the property tax crisis may be complex, the reason your property taxes rise year after year is quite simple - its the TAX RATES!

No, the Assessor does NOT set tax rates, prepare budgets, or collect taxes. The marketplace determines the full market value of your house. The Department of Assessment establishes an Assessed Value - period.

Who, then, does set the TAX RATES, which determine how much tax you pay per $100 of Assessed Value? The County (approximately 20% of your tax bill), The Town and Town Special Districts (approximately 20% of your tax bill), and your school district (approximately 60% of your tax bill).

To blame Harvey Levinson for high property taxes is akin to blaming Don Clavin (the Town of Hempstead Receiver of Taxes, who COLLECTS the taxes for the County, the Town, the Special Districts and the School Districts) for high property taxes. You can say it, but like those TV ads, it simply isn't true.

As for the proposal to replace the SCHOOL portion of the regressive property tax (tied only to the value of one's house) with a nominal income tax (linked to one's ability to pay), it is but one among several possible solutions put on the table for discussion. We can stick with the current property tax system, and see our school taxes DOUBLE before the decade is out, or we can act now to change the system to something that is more balanced and fair - providing relief to everyone from our college grads to our seniors, and capturing that "hidden population" - the renters - for whom we bear what is truly an unconscionable tax burden.

We all agree that an income tax alone would not be a tenable "fix" for the school tax mess. We need to eliminate waste and consolidate efforts. There must be shared receipts from the taxes generated by commercial enterprises. And Long Island must, at long last, get its fair share of State Aid from Albany. [There can be no excuse, let alone reason, why Long Island school districts receive in the neighborhood of 16% in State Aid while upstate school districts garner some 60%.]

As for trimming the fat at the County and Town, again, consolidate, eliminate, and run a tighter, leaner ship. The County has, with some notable bumps, started down that road. There is, admittedly, a long way to go. The Town has yet to follow suit, and there is little indication of a willingness to take any path other than that which has been traveled for the past 100 years or so.

The property tax and its ramifications is not a Democratic or Republican issue. Neither is finding a solution to a crisis that is quickly reaching the breaking point.

To be fair, Kate Murray didn't create the property tax any more than Harvey Levinson is responsible for the reassessment. Those TV commercials are no more than campaign fluff - the Swift Boats of our time. On the other hand, the Town Supervisor, through both her control of Town tax rates and the lack of control (real or professed) of the tax rates set by the Special Districts, does increase our tax burden. [In 2005, this burden was increased on the Town level by some 12.8%, purported surplus notwithstanding.]

As for what to do about the ever-skyrocketing property tax, other than to blast Harvey Levinson, Supervisor Murray is strangely silent. Whatever became of, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem?"

Come to think of it, wasn't it Town of Hempstead Receiver of Taxes Don Clavin who revised the look of our Tax Statements so that we can now see quite plainly where every penny of our tax dollar goes? What was muddled is now crystal clear. Why, when we didn't have a clue as to where our tax dollars were siphoned off to, life was simpler, times were easier, and the price of gas was cheaper. Its all Don Clavin's fault. Don Clavin, and those nasty Nassau County Democrats. Yeah, that's the ticket!
- - -
Read Lawrence C. Levy's column in Newsday, Time for Honest Debate of Property Tax Options.

The Town That Time Forgot

From Jurassic Park to Town Hall Plaza
Measuring Time At Hempstead Town Hall ~ Years, Decades, Eons

The following, excerpted from recent testimony before the Hempstead Town Board, chronicles one community's ongoing endeavor to move the Town to action:

Town time, as we all know, can rarely be measured chronologically. It must be viewed as Anthropological, spanning the epochs, change no more visible to the naked eye than the melting of the glaciers.

I take you back some 500 million years, to about the time the first vertebrates appeared on Earth, and West Hempsteaders first asked Town officials to take action to close the Courtesy Hotel.

Fast forward to 367 Million years ago, about the time of a mass extinction during the Devonian Period, roughly coinciding with the appearance of Scott Banks and Dorothy Goosby on the Town Board.

We move on – a mere 250 million years ago - at the dawn of the Triassic Period, roughly when then-Councilman Joseph Kearney told West Hempsteaders that “the closure of the Courtesy is imminent.”

And it was only some 2 million years ago, with the rise of Homo Habilis and the adoption of the Wooly Mammoth as Town Mascot, that Joe Ra, who had evolved into the post of Town Attorney, postulated that a Condemnation Proceeding to close the Courtesy was out of the question - A theory which, by the way, until only recently, had been accepted and adopted by every Town Supervisor, including Ms. Murray. Indeed, as late as June of this year - AFTER the Supreme Court ruled in the Eminent Domain case that “buoyed” Town officials - Ms. Murray, citing “adverse tax consequences,” told residents, “the option (of Condemnation) would not be welcomed in West Hempstead.”

Obviously, we’ve come a long way – full circle, some might say. While Creationists may differ on the timeline I’ve presented here this evening, suffice it to say that it has been far too long – whatever the measure of time – for the Town to act, and act responsibly – in bringing closure to a community’s continuing nightmare...
- - -
Time, of course, is relative -- most of those relatives being employed by the Town of Hempstead.

Newsday ponders whether times have changed from, say, 50 years ago, when you had to be a registered Republican in order to get a job with the Town of Hempstead. [SEE Hempstead's Preferred Party?]. Sure times have changed -- now you not only have to be a registered Republican, you have to be a Republican Committeeman (or a former Nassau County Comptroller, who lost at the ballot box, but still has the support of every TOH taxpayer).

Time is on our side? Ah, not really. . .

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Supervisor Kate Murray Invites. . .

Murray-Mail-Meter Rolls Forward

"Supervisor Kate Murray Invites..." is getting more play in mailboxes around our Town than that famous rotund silhouette in Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

No split-second cameo for Kate. No sir, its full screen all the way!

The latest Murraygram wending its way into 200,000-plus Town of Hempstead households - yet another "pet-friendly" missive - reads, "Supervisor Kate Murray invites you to protect your furry friends at Hempstead Town's Rabies Clinic..."

Funny thing is, we don't even have a dog. A trained cricket and three blind mice (all sitting Commissioners at the local Sanitary District), but no dog requiring protection from distemper.

Yes, let dog owners know about this important inoculation (write, if you must, to registered license-holders, or post, as you have, through other available medium), but please, STOP WASTING TAXPAYER DOLLARS ON SELF-PROMOTING MAILINGS SENT UNDER GUISE OF PROTECTING OUR FINE FURRY FRIENDS!

The Murray-Mail-Meter - an unofficial tabulation of postage spent by the taxpayers to pay for Town mailings that cross the line from public benefit to political promotion - now stands at $388,800.00. [The Community Alliance has been keeping tabs only since May, 2005.]

Like we said, its your money!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

What's That We Smell?

First It Was The Town's Garbage, Now Its The County's Sewage ~ The community Alliance Asks, "Who's Watching The Potty?"

If what goes down behind the dumps at the Town of Hempstead's Sanitary Districts isn't bad enough, we now have an expose, from the Long Island Press, as to deplorable conditions at Nassau County's Cedar Creek Water Pollution Plant - Conditions that pose a risk to the health and safety of workers and residents alike.

We take Hempstead Town Supervisor, Kate Murray, to task for the Town's professed lack of "control" over its Sanitary Districts. So, too, do we ask Nassau County Executive, Tom Suozzi, under whose watch the sewage treatment plant operates, "just who's in charge here?"

Whether it is "no control" at the Town, or "no idea" at the County, the resulting public outrage and condemnation must be the same. From Sanitary Districts to Sewage Treatment Plants, The Community Alliance wants to know, "Is anybody looking out for us?"

The feature article, as appeared in the September 22, 2005 edition of the Long Island Press, is reprinted below with permission of the paper.

Disastrous Sewage Plant Threatens Health
A Long Island Press Exposé
Christopher Twarowski 09/22/2005 12:02 am

Makeshift catch basins direct flowing rainwater through battered, crumbling ceilings. Workers trudge through moats of raw and semi-treated sewage to repair damaged equipment. Water rises around high-voltage electrical boxes. There's mold. Disease. Flooded tunnels. Open manholes. Chemical spills. Exposed wiring. Human waste.

"Looks like New Orleans," says Christine Marzigliano, aghast at the scene unfolding before her eyes.

But it is not New Orleans. It's right here in Wantagh, at the Cedar Creek Water Pollution Control Plant, as revealed in shocking undercover videotapes obtained by the Long Island Press. Marzigliano, chairperson of the Cedar Creek Health Risk Assessment Committee, a grassroots watchdog for the sewage treatment plant, was responding to room after room of abject disrepair and decay of the most unsavory nature.

After the Long Island Press showed him the tapes, which were shot clandestinely by workers, Jerry Laricchiuta, president of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) Local 830 of Nassau County, said: "This is unacceptable," and immediately demanded access to the plant for himself and a handful of deputies and county officials, including the union's industrial hygienist. On Wednesday, Sept. 21, they toured the plant, which opened in 1973, and were even more horrified. "We went to one room where there was dried up sewage on the floor, then there was bugs and spider webs all over the wall," Laricchiuta says. "It was disgusting."

According to the video and eyewitnesses, there is severe decay of the ordinary kind: peeling paint, chipped plaster, insects, mold and mildew. There are signs of institutional carelessness: shoddy electrical work, open manholes and grates, garden hoses draped to and fro and jerry-rigged catch basins to contain dripping water and chemicals.

Then there is the sewage. All over the place. It covers the floor in some of the highly tracked tunnels that run throughout the expansive facility. It touches 2,000-volt electric panels. Some of it has solidified and blocks drains, creating stagnant cesspools.

Irony of ironies, staff toilets have no water, and are clogged with dried and aged human feces.
"It's a disaster," says a plant worker. "Every day we cannot believe that this place still runs."
Conditions inside the 32-year-old plant are, according to union officials and other knowledgeable witnesses, in gross violation of local, state and federal regulations.

"You have water around electrical devices, so someone can be electrocuted," explains Tim Corr, a CSEA administrative assistant in charge of member health and safety, who toured the plant Wednesday after the Press showed him the tapes. "You certainly have a slip-and-fall hazard. You have confined space areas. You have mold problems."

Workers and others say that the deteriorating facility, which treats about 60 million gallons of the South Shore's wastewater every day, is at a breaking point. Indeed, on two separate occasions in recent weeks the plant has spilled sewage into the Atlantic waters off Jones Beach, according to a handful of current workers, all of whom requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.

"It's going to come to the point where we're not going to be able to treat sewage anymore," says one employee, "If something goes wrong in the lead building where all the sewage comes into the plant and it can't be fixed right away, you're going to flush your toilets and you're going to have all your sewage backing up."

On Sept. 9, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) received an anonymous call reporting sewage washing up on Jones Beach, according to DEC spokesman Bill Fonda. The DEC notified Hempstead bay constables and the Jones Beach State Park police, who investigated the following day and reported finding nothing, Fonda says. But the bay constables say they have no record of the incident or any investigation on their part. That's not the type of issue bay constables deal with, a spokeswoman explained.

But plant employees tell a different story. They say that a mechanical breakdown occurred while they were cleaning the massive, overloaded final tanks in the week after Labor Day.

"The pins all sheared, and the pumps kept pumping," explains an insider. "And instead of filtering the stuff that was going out, it all went through, out to the pipe." The pipe in question runs beneath Jones Beach and another 2.5 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean. The outflow is normally the water that results from the sewage treatment.

So it's perhaps no surprise that earlier this week, on Sept. 20, a DEC inspector dropped in at Cedar Creek for a "reconnaissance inspection" (routine inspections are once a year). According to the DEC's Fonda, the inspector did find overflow spilling from the final tanks, as well as seal leaks on some sludge treatment pumps. But as near as the inspector could determine, the sewage had been contained inside the facility.

"There are some issues at the plant," Fonda says, adding that the agency will issue a report and give the plant a schedule for fixing the problem. The maximum fine for a sewage spill would be $37,500 per violation per day, but Fonda explains that the agency often gives warnings and lets the facilities use money to fix their problems rather than pay government fines—after all, it's taxpayers who eventually foot the bill.

Evidence of the second potential spill was first noted by officers with the Nassau County Police Marine/Aviation Bureau, who were patrolling the sea around the 6-mile pipe in a helicopter—part of their regular duties, since the pipe can't be seen from shore. According to Nassau County Police Officer Vincent Garcia, an unusual flow coming from the pipe induced the cops to call a supervisor at the plant, who, according to Garcia, said that a "diffuser at the end of the pipe was off" and that no spillage occurred. There was no further investigation.

But in this case, too, plant workers tell a different story. Inside the plant after the police called in, workers rushed around taking samples, trying to find the problem.

"We knew things weren't looking good," says one. "You can see that sh*t is floating where it's not supposed to be. It was at the end of the treatment and it looked like the beginning of the treatment, that's how bad it was."

If the spills are unproven, however, the conditions inside the plant are not. Cedar Creek insiders may joke about the "Cedar Creek trots," diarrhea that all workers can expect to get, but the risks to their health are no laughing matter. Robert Campo, Local 830's union president for the Department of Public Works (DPW), says sore throats are among many known health problems shared by plant workers.

"This is terrible. Certainly you have hepatitis problems," grimaces Corr, of the CSEA, while viewing one of the videotapes. "Hopefully these guys have their shots."

In fact, according to Campo, workers' vaccination shots were put on hold by plant management. Workers allege that this is typical; they say they are regularly denied basic safety equipment, such as protective masks for when they're working with deadly chemicals.

They also say they have been complaining about the unsanitary working conditions at the Cedar Creek facility for years, to county officials, legislators, news outlets and oversight agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), but to no avail. They describe rush cleanups that take place whenever OSHA inspectors are coming. Laricchiuta, who was elected union president only a few months ago, says his office has been hearing about problems at Cedar Creek and, to a lesser extent, Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant, from employees via numerous anonymous and non-anonymous calls—at first just one or two a week, but more recently as many as one a day.

Bay Park was ranked one of the worst-run facilities in the New York/New Jersey area for violations including failure to submit reports and discharge of excessive pollutants. The report, conducted by the national nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, used data from the federal Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Permit Compliance System from 1995 to 1999.

The overarching problem, the workers say, is inadequate maintenance, an outgrowth of budget and staff cuts.

"Certain areas of the plant are down mechanically because we're just so worn out and they won't give us overtime. We only have eight hours in a day and there's so much equipment broke and we can't keep up," says a longtime employee. "So what's happening is you're getting a buildup of sludge here that's getting here that shouldn't come here because we have nowhere to put it."
Cedar Creek and Bay Park are owned by Nassau, but Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi had no idea about the appalling conditions, according to a spokesperson, and other administration officials similarly denied any knowledge of the plant's problems.

Mainly, the proverbial buck in this case stops with Richard Cotugno, superintendent of both plants. Cotugno started his career in Nassau County as a sewage treatment plant operator trainee at Bay Park. How he became supervisor isn't entirely clear. The union and others affiliated with the plant say he was appointed; the county says he merely gained enough seniority. The Press was informed by Peter Gerbasi, Nassau's deputy county executive of parks and public works, that Cotugno would not return our calls. Gerbasi spoke for him.

Both Gerbasi and Dena Miller, deputy commissioner of public works, denied there were any spills or internal problems at the plant and defended Cotugno.
"Rich runs a tight ship," Gerbasi says. "There are absolutely no violations."
It's a remarkable statement, given the evidence found in the videotapes. The administration and the union appear to have come away from the Wednesday morning tour with remarkably divergent experiences. Miller denied having seen any health or safety hazards. Laricchiuta found a disaster area.

Plant officials are supposed to notify the county health department and DEC if there is ever a spill outside the plant, and immediately launch a hazardous waste cleanup. Workers say this is never done and allege constant cover-ups.
"Cotugno would never call in a spill," he adds, "because if he would have called it in, there would have been an investigation and he would not have looked good."

Fonda of the DEC says that Cedar Creek seems to have earned mostly "satisfactory" ratings so far.

Marzigliano's watchdog group was formed in 1991 over public health concerns about odors emanating from the facility. The two buildings closest to the facility are Mandalay Elementary School and Seaford Harbor Elementary School. Cotugno takes the watchdog group—a handful of concerned citizens—on a tour of the plant twice a year.

Marzigliano says she and her organization are also supposed to be notified any time there is a spill or a problem at the plant, and that she used to hear of incidents two or three times a year, but that she wasn't informed about any of the problems in the videotape. She says she frequently asks Cotugno if there are any issues at the plant, even offering to raise funds though her group. Her last meeting there was in May.

"He said, 'Everything's fine,'" she says.

That, workers say, is also typical of current management, which they claim does everything in its power to hide the plant's problems, including pressuring staffers not to report spills or leaks. They describe Cotugno as vindictive and threatening.

Marzigliano, who was horrified by the videotape, plans to demand legislative hearings and an independent investigation.

"Every process in the plant has to be taken a careful look at to ensure that the sludge in this county is being properly processed," she asserts.

Laricchiuta says union officials will return to the plant this Friday, Sept. 23, in an effort to make a comprehensive list of violations, which will then be sent to OSHA as well as CSEA's headquarters in Albany. The union also intends to go over the list point by point with County Executive Suozzi and demand results. As early as next week, the union could file health and safety grievances against the county. He also promises to examine the alleged intimidation tactics employed by management to keep workers quiet.

"I'm being told that our employees are being stifled from showing these violations and reporting these violations, and they're being intimidated, coerced and threatened by the superintendent," says Laricchiuta. "Whatever legal resources or whatever we have in our power, we're going to use against that kind of bully management."

Corr urges members who witness specific violations but are afraid to report them to OSHA for fear of retribution to file their complaint through the union. Union leaders will put their own names on the form instead of the employees'.
Gerbasi says this shows the union "reacting to a small group of disgruntled employees who rather than working to make things better would rather create crises that don't exist."

The Press showed the video footage to a former high-ranking plant official.
"You have no idea how upsetting this is," he said, his voice fluttering with heartache. "It will take millions and millions of dollars to fix this place."
Throughout the Press investigation, it became evident that Cedar Creek staff members take pride in their work. They speak of statewide competitions they used to win throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. A large display of their many trophies in the hallway of the plant's administrative building proves this.
But those sparkling trophies do little to boost morale today. These days, the only trophy workers seek is a clean facility. Now that these festering ills have been exposed to a little public sunlight, they just might get it.

© 2005 Long Island Press. Reprinted with permission.
Click here for Cedar Creek Update, as reported by the Long Island Press.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Same Old Garbage In Town's Sanitary District 2


Sanitation Workers Working 4-5 Hours a Day, Four Days a Week, for Full-Time Pay. District Spends Millions Each Year On Insurance, Much Of It Unnecessary

Customers in the Town of Hempstead's Sanitary District #2, which collects garbage in Baldwin, Roosevelt, and South Hempstead, are "grossly overpaying" for garbage collection compared to residents of other areas of Nassau County, Comptroller Howard Weitzman said today.

The Comptroller, issuing an audit of the independent sanitary district, said that the district wastes millions of dollars every year on administrative expenses, including unnecessary and overpriced insurance sold to the district by a no-bid broker, cars and trucks for top staff, and gifts for employees, while allowing sanitation workers, in effect, to work part-time jobs for full-time pay.

"The commissioners of this garbage district, operating for the most part outside of the public view, spend extravagantly on contracts that were entered into without competition and on perks for themselves and their top managers. Meanwhile, at a time when high taxes are residents' number one concern, homeowners in Baldwin, Roosevelt and South Hempstead are overpaying for their garbage collection by millions of dollars every year. That's the bottom line," Comptroller Weitzman said.

District residents spend about $12 million a year (including disposal fees paid to the Town of Hempstead), or $734 per property owner, to obtain curbside garbage pickup and disposal, the audit found. In other areas of the Town of Hempstead where the Town itself provides garbage pick-up, the cost per parcel is only $603. And in the Port Washington garbage district, the subject of a recent Comptroller's audit, the cost per parcel is only $252.
"If the same rates were applied to District 2's customers, the district could save millions each year on its garbage collection costs," Comptroller Weitzman said.
If Hempstead were to service District 2's customers, based on the town's current cost per parcel, the cost would be approximately $9.9 million, a savings of $2.1 million a year. If District 2's costs were as low as Port Washington's, the Comptroller said, the cost would be only $4.1 million, a savings of nearly $8 million a year.

The report is the latest in a series of audits by the Comptroller of so-called "special districts" in Nassau. There are more than 140 town-created independent taxing authorities in the county, providing services such as garbage collection, water or street lighting, but which have had little or no oversight by the towns or any other governmental authority prior to the Comptroller's audits.

Comptroller Weitzman said, "Our previous audit of Sanitary District 1 in the Five Towns area was hampered at every turn by uncooperative district managers, yet it was able to uncover massive mismanagement and waste of taxpayer funds. District 2's managers were, by contrast, open and straightforward with us during the audit process, and they indicated they have begun to make certain changes recommended by the auditors.

"Nevertheless, these districts' wasteful practices speak to the larger issue: There are too many special governmental districts in Nassau County, adding to residents' property tax burden. Because these districts operate with virtually no oversight, we should not be surprised to find that some of them spend taxpayer funds freely, without appropriate financial checks and balances. And we should not be surprised if district residents end up overpaying for services." The audit found that District 2 has poor financial controls and does not competitively procure many of its contracts, whether for technology purchases, insurance, financial services, or legal services.

"One of the more outrageous policies we uncovered," Comptroller Weitzman said, "is that the district routinely allows sanitation workers to leave after a half-day of work, despite a collective bargaining agreement that defines their workweek as 40 hours:10 hours per day, four days a week." An analysis of time clock records revealed that the average workday in District 2 is four to five hours per day, four days a week, for a total of 16 to 20 hours a week. Despite actual hours worked, the workers are paid a full-time salary.

"As a result of its total reliance on one insurance broker, the district also carries more insurance than necessary, and pays more than necessary for the insurance it does need," Comptroller Weitzman said. In 2004, District 2 spent $2.2 million for insurance recommended by its insurance broker, the Louis Koch Agency of Baldwin. The district apparently has not conducted any competitive process for insurance services and has dealt exclusively with Koch since 1978. Insurance costs represented 25 percent of the district's total expenses in 2004. The broker recommends how much insurance the district needs, then provides it, while receiving commissions that are pegged to the premium amounts from the insurance carriers - "a conflict of interest," Comptroller Weitzman said.

Over the two-year audit period the district's insurance purchases, recommended by the broker, included $1.9 million for employee health insurance. If the district had insured its employees using the New York State Health Insurance Plan (NYSHIP), as it is entitled to do and as Nassau County does, its health insurance cost would have been approximately $1.3 million, a savings of nearly $600,000 over just two years.

"Most municipal employees consider NYSHIP coverage the Cadillac of health insurance," Comptroller Weitzman observed. "This district bought a Rolls, and stuck the taxpayers with the bill." In addition to the commissions the Koch agency received, the district paid the agency additional fees totaling $117,500 during the audit period, mostly to monitor the district's workers' compensation program and reduce its costs. "Instead of lowering the premium costs, however," Comptroller Weitzman said, "the costs for the workers comp program increased 53 percent from 2003 to 2004."

The audit also found that:

~ Ford Explorers and pick-up trucks are provided to 11 supervisory-level employees for their personal use, supposedly to enable them to respond to emergencies during off-hours. The district could provide no evidence that the individuals in question responded to emergencies or conducted any regular work outside of normal business hours. The district pays for all gas and maintenance on the vehicles, but there are no systems in place to monitor mileage and gas usage.

~ No time records at all are kept for the district's 20 top managers and commissioners. In 2001, the district bought a building for $180,000 with money from its contingency fund, without informing the community or including the real estate purchase in the district's budget. The district claims this real estate purchase was not financed, yet it reimbursed the contingency fund with funds obtained through a bank "equipment lease/purchase agreement." The agreement, which was supposed to pay for equipment, not real estate, was negotiated with the assistance of a Koch-related firm, Advanced Management Strategies, LLC, which received a $20,000 fee.

~ The district relies overly on its independent audit firm, R.S. Abrams & Co., L.L.P., both to conduct and review its financial affairs. Comptroller's staff found that the district does not have adequately maintained books and records to support its financial statements and does not employ personnel with adequate financial and accounting expertise to evaluate and approve the auditor's actions. Comptroller Weitzman said, "We saw very clearly in the case of the Roslyn schools what can happen when there are no financial controls and an outside auditor has too much influence over the district's finances."

~ Thousands of dollars were spent during the audited period for employee gifts and perks, including Thanksgiving turkeys for employees, holiday decorations and parties, food and flowers.

~ The district treats its two attorneys as full-time employees, apparently so that they can receive district-paid health insurance benefits, yet it does not report their "full-time" employment to the NYS Retirement System. Both attorneys maintain private practices, and documents clearly indicate that they are consultants on retainer.

~ The five district commissioners are paid $7,500 per year. The commissioners are treated as full-time employees, with full health insurance and other benefits, and are reported to the State Retirement System as full-time employees, except for one commissioner who already receives a state pension and retiree health benefits. Neither the commissioners nor the two attorneys have a defined work week, and no records of their time at work are kept. District practice for all other employees is that part-time employees do not receive benefits. The district lacks formal employee benefit policies and appears to practice favoritism in providing such benefits, the audit found.

The report is the fourth audit of independent sanitary districts to be released this month by the Comptroller. On September 8, Comptroller Weitzman released audits of Town of Hempstead Sanitary District #1 (Five Towns area), and garbage collection districts in Syosset and Port Washington. While Port Washington's service was found to be efficiently operated, significant overspending and lapses of management control were found in the other two. A fifth audit, of the Town of Hempstead's 6th Sanitation District, will be released in the next few weeks.

Sanitary District 2 has approximately 121 employees and provides service to 15,255 residential and 1,150 commercial properties. The audit covers the fiscal years 2003 and 2004.

The full audit report of Sanitary District 2 can be read or downloaded by clicking on the link below.

( ~ 251 kb, 43 pages, pdf file - Adobe Reader® required )

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Parks Is Parks

Guest Bloggers, Tom Suozzi, The Nassau County Exec, And Bruce Piel, Chair of PARCnassau, Dig In On Park Clean-Up

From the County Executive:

Dear Neighbor,

Let's stop the litter! We have cleaned up the County's government, now let's clean up the County.

On Saturday, October 22nd, we are organizing a major cleanup in our County's largest preserves and we need your help. On that day we will be focusing on Cow Meadow Preserve in Freeport, the Massapequa Preserve in Massapequa, Mill Pond Preserve in Wantagh, Roosevelt/Rev. Mackey Park and Preserve in Roosevelt, Tackapausha Preserve in Seaford/Massapequa, Tanglewood Preserve in Lakeview, Garvies Point in Glen Cove, Welwyn Preserve in Glen Cove, Stillwell Woods in Syosset and Sands Point Preserve in Sands Point.

Phase 1 of our Nassau County Parks Come-Back Campaign has been a major success. The comprehensive renovation work of our largest park facilities is complete and the public response has been fantastic. We are now in the process of Phase 2 of our Parks Come-Back Campaign and we need your help.

The Parks Department has been hard at work all summer long fixing the trails, putting down new plantings, as well as doing much more hard work, however, we need your help in removing litter and other debris.

If you are interested in joining me, your neighbors and the Parks' staff on Saturday, October 22nd at 9:00 a.m., please call 516-572-0218, e-mail me (through the website) at, and let us know where you would like to be situated that day.

Thank you for your interest and I look forward to seeing you on the 22nd.

Tom Suozzi
County Executive
- - -
And now, a counterpark, of sorts, from Bruce Piel of PARCnassau:

We sent out the following e-mail on August 8th concerning the politicization of volunteer cleanups in Nassau County Preserves and Passive Parks:

"County administration has directed Park Department management including individual park directors to solicit, importune, suggest and otherwise pressure Park User and Advocacy Groups to schedule volunteer cleanups of county parks for October of this year. How convenient, just before the election!

You know how this works, well meaning citizens gather for community service, the parks department drops off some rakes, shovels and plastic trash bags and like locusts, incumbent politicians flock to the scene wearing their designer jeans, hold a shovel or rake for 15 minutes and get their photo op for campaign literature. They also take credit for the cleanup with minimal acknowledgement of the taxpayers who do all the work.

While we fully support citizen volunteers and involvement in county parks, this blatant misuse of community service we find abhorrent! Our county parks do need some TLC from people who care since most of those same politicians do not. So what we are asking all PARCnassau groups to do is to schedule cleanups for county parks one or two weeks AFTER the election. Not only will this de-politicize this activity but conditions for manual labor in the parks improve.

Mosquitos, ticks and other little "nasties" have begun to die off lessening the chance for West Nile Virus, Lymes Disease and overall discomfort affecting the volunteers, though everyone should dress appropriately anyway. The weather should be cooler, foliage should be less making the locating and collecting of trash easier and more efficient.

So please, do volunteer for park cleanups, not for the politicians in October, but in November for the community those parks serve. See you then."

Well, the administration is moving ahead on this bad idea under the direction of Ian Siegel, CE Suozzi's aide de camp. It is scheduled for Saturday, October 22nd (just before the election) and involves 9 facilities. Interestingly 5 of them already have volunteer groups that have been maintaining them all along. In addition, no such coordinated effort has been used for the past 3 years, so why now? The answer is obvious. Using well meaning citizen volunteers for political gain is, we believe, wrong. We urge the county and park administration to reschedule all cleanup activity for after the General Election on November 8th.

Bruce Piel,
Park Advocacy & Recreation Council of Nassau (PARCnassau)
246 Twin Lane East
Wantagh, NY 11793-1963
(516) 783-8378
- - -
Editor's Note: While we hear where PARCnassau is coming from, let's not discount the good efforts of community volunteers, the real work horses who have kept our parks and public facilities up and running, particularly during the Gulotta years, where care was nonexistent, and maintenance was a four-letter word.

Though there remains much to be done in terms of the beautification and physical improvement of our County parks - and in particular, those parks categorized as "passive" - even PARCnassau must admit that the Suozzi administration has made quantum leaps, examining the situation both in light of the utter neglect of the previous administration and standing on the merit of the Nassau County Parks Come-Back Campaign.

Are the projects politicized? You bet. Long on photos and short on action? No question. That's been a way of life since the camera and the press release were invented. Put on a hard hat, pick up a shovel, smile for the camera, and move on to the next venue. Is this right? Of course not. Add it to the list of things in this life that are simply unfair.

There needs to be a balance between public relations and the public good. Unfortunately, we are not quite there just yet.

As for postponing park clean-ups scheduled in the summer and fall until after Election Day, were we in Florida or the Carolinas, we might agree. To wait until winter in New York to clean-up our parks, however, would be to stand all reason on head. In fact, we're surprised no one has thought of it before! LOL

Our thanks to everyone - from County Parks workers to the park volunteers - who help keep our parks green and clean. Keep up the good work!

The Land Of Photo Opportunity

Where A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words ~ And A Thousand Votes

The South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside puts out a full color 12-page newsletter - Healthy Outlook - on a regular basis. Inside, stories on breakthroughs in Cancer research and dialysis treatment, updates on the hospital's Renaissance Project, and the requisite pitch for donations.

Embedded in these pages can also be found the perfunctory photographs of physicians, hospital directors and trustees, and noteworthy contributors to the cause of healing community, as the South Nassau newsletter professes, "one patient at at time."

As we glanced through the first few pages of the September, 2005 issue, making mental note of the photos of South Nassau's President and CEO, diverse volunteers, Congressman Peter King (presenting a commemorative plaque), and a cadre of community leaders, the thought crossed our minds - "wouldn't it be funny if there was a photo of Kate Murray in here?"

And all at once, there we were, on page 10 (talk about getting buried), Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, center stage with the folks from Citibank, the Roosevelt School District, and South Nassau Hospital, touting free seminars on financial and physical fitness. [No doubt, Fitch Ratings - the Bond folks - are offering aerobics, further evidence of our robust financial status in the township. Query as to whether Kate Murray's brother, a Physical Conditioner with Town Parks, is offering tips on the physical fitness end? Why not?]

We had to chuckle. Not that there's anything wrong with offering free seminars - although one has to wonder how many times "the Town of Hempstead has the highest bond ratings in the Country" was mentioned - but this constant barrage of photos, as if to say, "I'm everywhere. Vote for me" (in this instance, standing in front of a sign that reads DREAM MAKERS, as if to send the subliminal message of "not only am I everywhere, but I can make your dreams come true") is, by any measure, over the top. Thank God Ms. Murray didn't try to take this photo - or to offer a lecture on financial and physical fitness - at the Franklin Square Public Library!

The whole scenario as it plays out - photos, Bond ratings, promises of no tax increases and all - is reminiscent of an earlier era (or should we say error), when Bond ratings soared, taxes were frozen every year, and those charged with watching the pot were instead out taking photographs. [Just how much do the photographers at Hempstead Town Hall draw in salary, anyway? Judging from their demanding schedules, the photogs are the ones who should be earning $125,000 a year!]

While the collective memory is short -- very short -- it doesn't take much of a stretch to bring to mind the days of Tom Gulotta. Budgets balanced through incessant borrowing and constant juggling (hey, the rates were just soooooo good, we couldn't help ourselves), without tax increase to cover the escalating tab. Life was grand, and Tom Gulotta - Joe Mondello's poster boy at the County - had the smile on his face to prove it. A smile that could be seen everywhere, thanks to the ever-present camera at the ready. Ribbon-cutting? Smile. Store opening? Smile. Tax freeze? Smile. Smoke and mirrors? Smile.

Those "in the know" understood what was going on. The rest of us, too, eventually figured out what was happening - and not a moment too soon. Borrow. Spend. Never increase taxes. They'll love you on Main Street. Nero fiddled as the County burned. The GOP Chairman pulling the strings. "Just get out there in front of the cameras, Tom. Leave the driving to us?"

Ah, the more things change, the more they stay the same - or get that much worse. The Town Hallers hang on, proclaiming, "We're not the County." Great Bond ratings. Borrow. Spend. A freeze on all taxes. Sound familiar? "Just get out there in front of the cameras, Kate!" And we leave the driving to whom?

Yes, the photo op. Place that face. Make note of that smile. Remember the name. True, you'll be paying the price later -- as will your great grandchildren. What the heck. We'll be long gone by then!

Make the connection? What they say is so -- those who do not learn from the lessons (and the mistakes) of history are doomed to repeat them. "Okay. On the count of three ---SMILE!"
NEXT UP: Harvey Levinson's Income Tax versus Kate Murray's Property Tax, and why Tom Suozzi and the Nassau County Democrats raised taxes 1,765,432 percent last year alone. Stay tuned...

Friday, September 16, 2005

Assault On Democracy In Franklin Square

Ban On Use Of Public Library By Public Official Raises Concern

Just inside the front door of the Franklin Square Public Library there is a rack brimming with brochures. Some promote reading programs and library activities. Others provide information about government initiatives and community events. [There were even glossy flyers, with photos of the Town Supervisor and her Batmobile, encouraging visitors to the Library to come to the Town's Family Festival By The Sea.]

One brouchure in particular, promulgated by the Nassau County Library system, caught the eye. It was entitled, Libraries Open Doors. We wonder whether the Trustees of the Franklin Square Public Library have ever read this piece, taken note of its title, or pondered the plain meaning of these words - Libraries Open Doors. Frankly, we wonder whether the Franklin Square Library Trustees have ever stumbled upon - let alone glanced at - another document, seldom referenced these days, that might also be found in the Library - the Constitution of the United States of America.

On Thursday, September 15th, the doors to the Franklin Square Public Library may have been open to the public, but they certainly were not open to one public official who had been invited and scheduled to speak there - the Chair of the Nassau County Board of Assessors, Harvey Levinson.

Mr. Levinson had been invited by the Franklin Square Public Library - as libraries do - to hold a forum on reassessment and the County's complex tax structure. No shocker here. Public officials are routinely invited to speak - to inform and impart information - on a regular basis. Indeed, just a month ago, Don Clavin, Town of Hempstead Receiver of Taxes, had been invited to speak at the Franklin Square Public Library on "tax-related" topics, and he did so on August 3rd.

About a week before his scheduled appearence, Mr. Levinson was informed by the Director of the Franklin Square Library, Carol Aherns, that the invitation to speak had been, at the insistence of the Library's Trustees, rescinded. Too political. After all, Mr. Levinson is a candidate for public office, challenging Hempstead Town Supervisor, Kate Murray, in the November election. [We are reminded that Don Clavin, too, is a candidate, seeking to unseat the Nassau County Comptroller, Howard Weitzman. No politics in his appearance, we surmise!]

Mr. Levinson, in a letter to the Library Director, informed the Trustees [among them, a certain Republican Committeeman, Thomas Scanlon, and a GOP loyalist/activist, Dr. Paul Van Wie] that he was invited to speak in his official capacity, and that he intended to appear at the Franklin Square Library on September 15th, as scheduled. No word back from either the Director or any of the sitting Trustees.

On the evening of September 15th, callers to the Franklin Square Library inquiring about Mr. Levinson's appearance were told that the forum had been cancelled - by Levinson. Upon arrival at the Library, residents were greeted by a sign which gave notice of the scheduled forum, over which was superimposed the word POSTPONED. The clerk behind the check-out desk told visitiors that the forum had been put off until after Election Day - at Mr. Levinson's request. [The Library's Summer Newsletter, providing a listing of all events, gave detail of both the Clavin and Levinson forums, the former on August 3rd, the latter on September 15th. A large "X" covered the space where the Levinson notice appeared.]

There were somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 people gathered at the Library - some to hear Mr. Levinson on the reassessment and its ramifications, others to support his right, as a public official, to speak, at a public forum, in a public facility, to which he had been invited.

Harvey Levinson arrived at the Franklin Square Public Library, prepared to go forward with the forum, to answer residents' questions, and to fulfill what is clearly part of his function as a public official. He never got to do this.

Blocking the door to the empty community room, the Librarian told Mr. Levinson, and the residents gathered around him, that he could not speak. The community room could not be used by him. He was, essentially, "uninvited" to and unwelcome at the Franklin Square Public Library. When asked" Why?," The Librarian responded, "These are my instructions from the Library Director." [Ah, "Just following orders." Where have we heard that before?]

As the Librarian stood firm before the door to the community room, the crowd anxious to get through, the voice of then Alabama Governor George Wallace on the steps of the Capitol in Montgomery in 1963, shouting, "segregation today... segregation tomorrow... segregation forever," reverberated in the head. Why, one could almost envision Republican Party Chair, Joe Mondello, standing in front of the Library community room - as if at the doors to the schoolhouse in Selma - arms folded at his chest, a Nassau County cop at his side, proudly proclaiming, "GOP today... GOP tomorrow... GOP forever...," as Mr. Levinson was ushered out the door.

Of course, we are not in Alabama in the early 60s. This is Long Island, New York nearly half a century later. And Harvey Levinson was not held at bay at the steps of the Franklin Square Library because of the color of his skin - or even by reason of his Jewish heritage. [No, the Mondello Machine has other methods of madness, disenfranchising Jews of their right to vote by holding Sanitary District elections on the Sabbath!]

Levinson's purge from the Franklin Square Public Library was not prompted by his expressed views on the property tax or his outrage over illegal apartments. Harvey Levinson was banned - at the directive of the powers-that-be at the Nassau County GOP (and let them deny it) - simply because he has the audacity to take on the Machine, and to challenge the incumbent Supervisor of the Town of Hempstead. Talk about desperation!

Attempts to stifle speech, to oppress the political opposition, to demonize those who threaten to upset the agenda, and to remove those who would expose the evils of tyranny and undermine the final solution, are nothing new. The Fascists wore their brown shirts with Swastikas on their sleeves. A County GOP Committeeman and a known Republican Party activist, who usurped and abused the powers bestowed upon them as Library Trustees, wear their good cloth coats with smiles on their faces. Scoff at the analogy. It is not made lightly. The warning signs must not be ignored now, as they were then. The measure of good government cannot, and must not, be taken by implication of either high Bond ratings or the fact that its leaders made the trains run on time.

Everyone - including good and decent Republicans (perhaps especially so) - should be outraged and incensed over what happened (and didn't happen) at the Franklin Square Library on the evening of September 15th. Not one among us should stand silent in the face of this dastardly assault on democracy - this blatant affront to fundamental, Constitutionally protected freedoms.

Harvey Levinson was silenced last night in Franklin Square. He did not stand alone then, and he must not stand alone now. This is not Nazi Germany in 1939. [What next? A burning of all books on democracy at the Franklin Square Library?] This is America, 2005! Let's speak out for the freedoms we so cherish, and for what we know to be fair, just and right. Let us not remain silent in the face of a foe that, under color of rightful authority, threatens to strip us of both liberty and dignity.

Register your indignation TODAY!

Write to the Director and Trustees of the Franklin Square Public Library [Carol Aherns, Director; Patricia L. Galaskas, Rev. Frederick L. McElderry, Thomas Scanlon, Dr. Paul Van Wie and William Youngfert, Trustees] at 19 Lincoln Road, Franklin Square, NY 11010 (e-mail

Send a Letter to the Editor at Newsday (, to the Elmont/Franklin Square Herald (, the Elmont Herald (, the Malverne/West Hempstead Herald (, the Franklin Square Bulletin (fax: 516-775-7605), the Three Village Times ( and other local media outlets.

Discuss what happened in Franklin Square with your friends, your family and your co-workers. Talk about this at your church, synagogue, Kiwanis and Rotary. Take this to the soccer field, PTA meeting and senior club. It is that important!

Then, on Tuesday, November 8th, send a message, loud and clear, to the infamous Mondello Machine - Democracy today... Democracy tomorrow... Democracy forever!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

It CAN Happen Here!

Town of Hempstead Implements Hurricane Preparedness Plan;
Supervisor Murray Welcomes New Director of Emergency Management

In the wake of Katrina's devastation, and with Ophelia lapping at the Carolina coast, Town of Hempstead Supervisor, Kate Murray, held a news conference at Town Hall to announce that Michael Brown, the former Director of FEMA (of "Where is New Orleans, anyway?" fame), has been hired by America's largest township as chief of its Emergency Management team.

"We dare not wait for disaster to strike," declared Murray, "leaving our Town totally unprepared tomorrow."

The Supervisor concluded, "We must be totally unprepared today!"

The new Hurricane Preparedness Plan, adopted at last week's meeting of the Town Board (Councilman Anthony Santino abstaining, saying, "Residents enjoy a good Category 5 Hurricane. In fact, my constituents tell me they'd pay twice as much in taxes just to have their houses destroyed by such a storm!"), is the brainchild of Michael Brown, who drew up the plan based on his experiences with Katrina.

"You really can't blame the feds for the screw up in New Orleans," rambled Brown. "See, we had bad intelligence."

In consultation with Supervisor Murray, and with the approval of the Commissioners of Sanitary District 2, the Town has set in motion an evacuation plan like no other before it. Michael Brown highlighted the Town's strategy as follows:

"First, a helicopter will land outside Town Hall, at which time Supervisor Murray, her Dad, her Brother, and two Siamese cats to be named later (probably "Murray") will be airlifted out of harm's way. Then, an Executive Order will issue, directing the evacuation of all stray cats and dogs, with those animals that cannot leave (with the notable exception of donkeys) to be directed to the Nassau Coliseum..."

"Did someone say 'Coliseum'?" interjected a now beaming Murray.

"No, Kate," chimed Chief of Staff, Ray Mineo. "Not THAT Coliseum."[Alluding to the Coliseum Deli, official caterer to Town Hall.]

"And what happens next?" asked a Reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

"Next?" replied Murray, her new Emergency Management chief nodding off at the microphone. "Next we load up the Republican Committeemen, the folks from the Water Districts, and whoever may be left in the cafeteria at 1 Washington Street."

"What of the rest of us?" shouted an Elmont resident. [Murray, whispering to Mineo: "Its that Pat Nicolosi fella. Let him swim with the fishes in East Rockaway."] "Er, ah, don't worry. We'll put extra trucks on once the water subsides to get everyone to safety. Meanwhile, each household will be issued a flotation device - with my photo on it. Just hang on for dear life until the Coast Guard can rescue you."

As the press conference drew to a close, a heavy rain began to fall on Town Hall. "Its the beginning of the end," murmured Murray. "Better make sure the Parks Department has the Ark ready." [Pan to the Town storehouse, where the finishing touches are being put on the Ark by Town workers. Close-up of the sign being carefully affixed to the Ark's Bow; focus on inscription: Town of Hempstead Ark - Kate Murray, Captain. Pan to a dejected Al D'Amato. "They should have called it the Titanic!"]
- - -
Levity aside, we are in the midst of the hurricane season, and as we've not experienced a major blow to our coastline since the Long Island Express of 1938, we've become complacent, to say the least. Fact is, WE'RE DUE!

Be prepared. Don't wait until the storm is upon us.

Click here for more information on Hurricane Preparedness.

Keep Those Cards And Letters Coming - NOT!

Mass Mailings By Governmental Entities More Political Than Informative;
The Community Alliance Calls For Review And Restraint

We almost dread opening the mailbox these days. Sure, the bills - particularly the property tax bills - are enough to make your head spin, and the amount of junk mail is unbelievable, but the real stinger is the deluge of letters, flyers, brochures and newsletters from elected officials, especially as election time draws near.

Yes, we know about the Murray Mailgrams. They keep coming, giving new meaning to the words "bulk mail." Old news. Enter Howard Weitzman, the Nassau County Comptroller, with a couple of mailings of his own - including a 4-page newsletter, replete with no less than 4 photos of Howard dutifully auditing, and whatever else it may be that a Comptroller does. [As an aside, Kate takes much better photos than Howard, and uses a higher quality of both ink and paper. That Town surplus does come in handy, doesn't it!]

Leaving aside the fact that, in one of the photos, an underling who bears a striking resemblance to Don Clavin (Town of Hempstead Receiver of Taxes and Weitzman's opponent in the upcoming election) appears to be looking over Howard's shoulder, and that the majority of the content of said newsletter passes muster as informational rather than political, the real question here is are these costly and prolific mailings - all at the taxpayers' expense - necessary, or, for that matter, effective? The answer, on both counts, is a resounding "NO!"

First, most recipients of these mailings, now desensitized after years of receiving cart loads of literature, which themselves have consumed enough paper to destroy an entire rain forest - don't even bother to read them. Straight from mail box to trash bin, without so much as a passing glance. Talk about throwing money into the garbage!

Second, for those who do look beyond the name and photos of the sender (which, as we all understand, is the underlying intent of these mailings), there is little, if any, content that cannot be (or has not already been) disseminated through other media. Even before the ink has dried on, say, the Weitzman Weekly, the press has received a stack of releases for publication, media "alerts" up the whazoo, and more calls for press conferences than Carter has liver pills (huh?).

Aside from the print media, in the age of electronic medium - notably the Internet and e-mail groups - there remain but relatively few holdouts (like those Japanese soldiers found on occasion in the jungle of Pacific atolls who did not know that WWII was over) who do not have access (or claim not to have access, seemingly everyone from 9 to 90 being "logged on" at any given moment) to the worldwide web, and to the websites through which government, at all levels, could give us our daily fix of news, info, and "look what we've done for you now."

Why, an hour doesn't pass at The Community Alliance that one elected official or another isn't touting this program or that through an e-mail, with reference to "learn more" by clicking on a link to an appropriate website. And all of this at virtually (pun intended) no cost to the taxpayer. Whether Tom Suozzi's Miracle In Mineola broadcast to every e-mail address collected over the years (including the duplicate addresses), or State Senator Dean Skelos urging residents to Petition the MTA to abandon plans for rate hikes (over which the Senator himself, as an Ex Officio member of the MTA Board, exerts considerable control), the e-mails flow and the information is out there, for everyone to read, consume and digest, should they choose to be so informed and engaged. Ah, there's the rub. Ignorance may be bliss, but it sure as heck doesn't come without a hefty price tag!

The Weitzman mailings are singled out here not so much as a glaring abuse (clearly, they do not rise to the level of the Murray Mailgrams - as chronicled through the Murray-Mail-Meter - in terms of either frequency or cost, and we are not at the point of establishing a Weitzman Wheel of Waste on The Community Alliance website -, but rather, as the latest instance in what can only be categorized as a constant frittering away of hard-earned tax dollars that could certainly be better spent elsewhere (as in hiring COUNTY RESIDENTS, Tom, or NON-PARTISAN, UNRELATED employees, Kate).

Certainly, these mailings should be curtailed as we go through the politically-charged campaign season, and subject, perhaps, to the pre-mailing scrutiny of an impartial body that will separate the purely political from that which serves a public benefit.

Or maybe government can, in consideration of such mundane matters, take a cue here from corporate America. Instead of monthly - or weekly - mailings, how about an Annual Report to us "shareholders." The "Board of Directors" can still have their names and pictures in the hands and before the eyes of every resident, and we get all the news and information we need. Okay, we'll even allow for Quarterly Reports on a seasonal basis, for those "must knows" like the summer concerts in the parks and the Street Sweeping Schedule (which, by the way, is prima facie evidence that no one reads these mailings - ever. When was the last time anyone moved his/her car off the street on a Street Sweeping day? We rest our case).

As for the "breaking news," such as the infamy of the Sanitary Districts (more to come on this, to be sure), well, that's what Newsday, News12 and the local papers are for. Heck, they'll even go with the fluff of the "filler" story on a slow day. And if what you have to say - whether your name is Tom Suozzi, Howard Weitzman or Kate Murray - is so darn important that it must go out under seperate cover in today's mail, then send it out sans fanfare or photo. Of course, just to keep it real, and so there's no more fast and loose with our tax dollars, you can always blog!
In Other Words . . .

Newsday calls Town Sanitary District Abuses "An Invitation To Steal"
Not Necessarily The News. . .

Here are some headlines you WON'T see under Town News (although they would if they could :-):

Kate Murray of Levittown Wins 2005 Town of Hempstead Triathalon

Hempstead Town To Celebrate Kate Murray Month

The Birth of the Suburbs Happened In Levittown: Kate Murray, Surrogate Mother

Town Announces Calendar Photo Contest - Guess Who?

Town Launches New Hotline Number - MURRAY Hill 7- 0700

And let's see, what's on tap for this weekend? Ah, Kate Murray's Festival by the Sea. . .

Thank goodness Kate Murray has a great sense of humor. Imagine if Peter King was Town Supervisor?
- - -
Is This A "Tax Freeze" or A "Tax Freeze (wink, wink)?"

We beat up on Town Supervisor, Kate Murray, for pledging a freeze on ALL Town taxes when what she meant to say was "I'll freeze all taxes 'under my control,'" so its only right that we put the fire to County Executive, Tom Suozzi, when he promises to hold the line.

Will Suozzi's pledge for no Tax increase in 2006 be across the board - meaning not only a freeze on the County's General Purposes Tax, but also, those other taxes that eat the greenery in our wallets, such as County Police, County Police Headquarters, County Fire Prevention, County Parks, Recreation & Museums, County Sewage Disposal District, and so on down the line?

Are we going to see 0% on each line of that Tax Statement or, as we suspect (no, guarantee) will happen with the Town of Hempstead, see that zero gain limited to General Purposes?

We tried to find the answers to these questions online. If they are there, they certainly don't make them easy to find! [Please, though, no mailings to further explain...]

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Politically Motivated Ban At Library Raises Ire

Chair of Nassau County Board of Assessors "Banned" at Franklin Square Public Library; Residents Urged To Show Support For Right To Be Heard

In what is surely the most bizzare move thus far in this campaign season, the Trustees of the Franklin Square Public Library have "uninvited" the Chair of the Nassau County Board of Assessors, Harvey Levinson, as a public speaker. Levinson, who is the Democratic candidate for Hempstead Town Supervisor, is scheduled to speak at the Library on the issue of the Reassessment and its ramifications this Thursday, September 15th, at 7 PM.

While official word as to the basis of the Library Board's recission of the invite has not been forthcoming, several reliable sources have informed The Community Alliance that at least one Library Trustee, a Republican Committeeman, objected to Levinson's appearance at and use of the library as "too political."

Most disconcerting in what appears to be a politically motivated ban on the use of a public facility by a public official, is that this same Board had invited Hempstead Town Receiver of Taxes, Don Clavin, a Republican, to speak at the Library in August. Mr. Clavin's appearance was not challenged, and he spoke at the Franklin Square Public Library without incident.

Levinson, protesting the Library Board's decision to ban his appearance, advised the Trustees of the Franklin Square Library (in a letter to the Director) that he intends to go forward with the forum on September 15th, as scheduled.

Regardless of Party affiliation or, for that matter, of expressed viewpoint, everyone has the right to be heard in a public forum - and a public facility open to one elected official (who also happens to be a candidate for public office), must be open to all.

Whether or not you agree with what Harvey Levinson - or any guest speaker - has to say, you must defend vigorously his right to say it.

Residents are urged to show their support for Harvey Levinson's right to be heard at the Franklin Square Public Library by coming out to the Library (19 Lincoln Road, Franklin Square) on Thursday, September 15, 2005 at 7 PM.

Stand up for the right of freedom of speech. Stand firm in your support of equal access to public facilities. Stare down those who would suppress our freedoms for their own self-benefit and political gain!

Signs of the Times

"...And the sign says anybody caught trespassin' wil be shot on sight..."

Campaign season is here again. How do we know this? Well, aside from the almost daily fodder of mail from the candidates (or at least one of them), there are those huge, ugly, and, for the most part, patently unlawful signs that mar the landscape of what was once suburbia.

You know. VOTE FOR (fill in your favorite candidate); RETURN (with or without deposit); RE-ELECT (me, because my signs are bigger than the other guy's).

Aside from the eye pollution, and, in some instances, the danger to pedestrians and motorists alike - signs blocking the line of sight along roadways and at intersections and distracting the already limited attention of drivers - many if not most of these political banners and placards are illegal. Yes, ILLEGAL - in blatant violation of TOWN Oridinance that prohibits the posting of signs (even on private property) without permit. [There they go. Every official at Town Hall standing for election running down to the Board of Zoning Appeals to file an application for a permit to "maintain a sign..."]

We all know, of course, that - at least in the Town of Hempstead - Ordinances are enforced more in the breach than in practice. Could you imagine one of the eight Town Inspectors roaming the Turnpike removing illegal campaign signage? [Wait. There goes one Inspector now. Look at him dutifully remove, rip up, and shred that Re-Elect Dorothy Goosby sign. What a trooper!]

No, every year we complain about the illegal proliferation of these signs - posted on building walls, hung as banners from the facades (part of the Town's Facade Improvement Program, no doubt), stapled to utility poles next to the STUFF ENVELOPES poster, slightly to the left of the CARS WANTED sticker, and as free-standing monstrosities, some as large as billboards - and with each passing election there are more of them. [Mostly the same names, of course, but who's looking anyway?]

To be fair, both major parties bear blame here - yet it is abundantly clear who has the advantage, both strategically in position and by sheer numbers. On an unofficial count along a stretch of Hempstead Turnpike, for instance, signs for Republican candidates outnumbered those touting their Democratic rivals by a margin of 6 to 1. [And if you throw in every time the name KATE MURRAY, SUPERVISOR appears, you can run that up to about 20 to 1.]

Sure, the candidates have to get their names out in public view. Some, obviously, don't care where or how. We saw an elect WRIGHT, DISTRICT COURT JUDGE lawn sign embedded amongst the weeds and trash in front of an abandoned storefront. Now there's poetic justice for you! [By the way, is this the same Gerald Wright who now sits as Chair of the Town's Zoning Board of Appeals? Nice job, Jerry. You are planted in what you reap!]

Reports are also coming in, from several quarters, that lawn signs for one Town of Hempstead Supervisor (could that be, Kate Murray, perhaps?) are prominently displayed in front of single family homes known in their respective neigborhoods to harbor illegal accessory apartments. [See, and you thought the Town of Hempstead wasn't doing enough to seek out the illegal apartments. Kate found 'em, and is courting the votes of both landlord and tenant!]

Some of these signs are downright funny. One for - who else - Kate Murray on Long Beach Road proclaims RESPECTED ON WALL STREET ~ TRUSTED ON MAIN STREET. Sure, the Town is respected on Wall Street. With taxpayers asked to feed the Town meter year after year (a 12.8% increase in 2005), purported surpluses notwithstanding, who wouldn't be happy to lend the Town money. Add on that debt, fellas. We'll simply tax 'em more next year to pay off the interest!

As for TRUSTED ON MAIN STREET, well, Kate, you could break your arm patting yourself on the back for finally closing the Oceanside Motel after all these years (watch for the wrecking ball - with a caricature of Kate Murray on it - to come crashing down shortly before Election Day), but let's face it, most of the "Main Streets" in the Town of Hempstead - particularly in the stepchild unincorporated areas - look like crap!

But we digress. The problem here is too many signs. Unsightly signs. Illegal signs. Blocking out the scenery - or simply obscuring other signs. To the candidates, apparently, it is the more the merrier; bigger is better. To us, the beleaguered residents, it is just another sign of disrespect.

So, what is it we, the people, can do about all of these signs? First off, if you see one posted on a utility pole or other public property, take it down. Next, complain about the signs - to the candidates, their respective parties, and in Letters to the Editor of your local papers. And then, do what we've been urging residents to do every Election Day - VOTE FOR THE CANDIDATES WITH THE FEWEST SIGNS!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Code Enforcement? What's That?

Another Town Code Not Enforced: Vehicles on Private Property

By Roy J. Mezzapelle

To regular readers of the Elmont Herald, the name Helmuth Ruppe is not new. Mr. Ruppe is a regular contributor to the Elmont Herald's Letters to the Editor column, and whether you or I agree with him or not, he has done tremendous legwork to expose another blight on our community - wrecked, disassembled, or inoperative motor vehicles on streets and residential properties.

Over the past several months, Mr. Ruppe has sent me hundreds of photos addressing a variety of quality of life issues in Elmont. Many of his photos are of unregistered motor vehicles in residential driveways. Some vehicles are new, and some are old, some are intact, and some are in pieces, some have tires, and some are up on jacks or stands, or have been in some state of disassembly for a LONG time. Other photos show wrecked cars, obviously not operational, parked on residential streets in Elmont.

A recent conversation with a long-time member of the Fifth Precinct revealed that the following Town Code exists to address this issue. Please familiarize yourself with the following. Where appropriate, I have bolded and/or underlined the text.

Chapter 173 - ARTICLE II, Vehicles on Private Property
§ 173-9. Legislative intent. The outdoor storage of abandoned or junked motor vehicles or the used parts therefrom within the Town of Hempstead is a hazard to the preservation of the public health, welfare and safety in that it constitutes health, fire and safety hazards and is an attractive nuisance to children which is a peril to their safety. Such outdoor storage constitutes a blight on the town's landscape, is generally unsightly and tends to depreciate the value of property in the neighborhood. Outdoor storage of abandoned or junked motor vehicles or the used parts therefrom within the Town of Hempstead is hereby regulated for the preservation of the public health, safety and welfare of its residents.
§ 173-10. Definitions. As used in this Article, the following terms shall have the meanings indicated:
"ABANDONED VEHICLE" - Any motor vehicle, the ownership of which cannot reasonably be determined or of which the owner does not intend to recover possession.
"JUNKED" - Any motor vehicle which is unregistered in the State of New York or any other state and/or which is either in a wrecked or dismantled or partly dismantled or in inoperative condition.
"MOTOR VEHICLE" - All vehicles propelled or drawn by power other than muscular power, intended for use on public highways.
"PERSON" - Any individual, firm, partnership, association or corporation.

§ 173-11. Outdoor storage prohibited.
A. It shall be unlawful for any person to store or deposit or cause or permit to be stored or deposited an abandoned or junked motor vehicle or the used parts therefrom in the Town of Hempstead except within a wholly enclosed building.
B. Any abandoned or junked motor vehicle or the used parts therefrom stored or deposited on any land in the Town of Hempstead shall be removed by the owner, occupant, lessee, agent or tenant thereof or the person occupying, managing or controlling said land.

173-12. Enforcement. The Commissioner of Buildings of the Town of Hempstead or his authorized representatives are hereby designated to enforce the provisions of this chapter. Note: To save space, § 173-13 & 14 were not printed for this article.
§ 173-13. Notice; request for hearing. 173-14. Hearing. § 173-15. Exemption.
The provisions of this Article shall not apply to automobile dismantlers duly licensed by the Department of Motor Vehicles of the State of New York, provided that such automobile dismantler complies with all other applicable provisions of law of the Town of Hempstead and State of New York.
§ 173-16. Penalties for offenses.
A. Any person or persons, association or corporation committing an offense against this Article or any section or provision thereof shall be guilty of a violation, punishable by a fine not less than one hundred dollars ($100.) nor more than five hundred dollars ($500.) or imprisonment for a period not exceeding fifteen (15) days, or by both such fine and imprisonment.
B. Each day of continued violation shall constitute a separate additional violation.

At first, I was going to publish several photos of the worst offenders, including cars not only in violation of this section of Town Code, but also being used as storage bins or garbage dumpsters, but decided against it as the locations would be too easy to recognize. When is enough enough? When will residents wake up and realize that our quality of life issues are not being addressed by the Town of Hempstead?

When the Code itself states that this issue is a "blight on the town's landscape, is generally unsightly and tends to depreciate the value of property in the neighborhood," we cannot accept that the Town of Hempstead allows it to occur.

Is this another issue the Town of Hempstead can't be proactive on? Must we also complain about these clearly visible eyesores, and just how many times do we have do make the same complaints before the Town takes action?

I received many comments on last week's article. The overwhelming majority agreeing with what was said, but some asking why am I always bashing the Town of Hempstead? Well, I'll tell you. They aren't doing their job, and no one holds them accountable.

If they aren't going to provide services, they should relinquish the power to someone who will get the job done - Republican OR Democrat - just get it done! Remember, elected officials are employees of the taxpayers - and I think it's time the taxpayers say, "KATE, YOU'RE FIRED!"
- - -
The writer, who serves as Co-Chair of The Community Alliance, is publisher of the Elmont Herald, where this article first appeared. The article is reprinted with permission.

Town government is responsible for enforcement of the majority of building Codes, Zoning Laws, and Ordinances such as referenced above, all of which impact significantly upon our quality of life. Do we want a Town government that is proactive or reactive? Do we want laws that are vigorously enforced or routinely overlooked? How's the quality of life in YOUR community?

Its time to take back our Town!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

"No One Is Minding The Store"

Nassau County Comptroller Issues Audit Report on Sanitary Districts ~ In Town of Hempstead District 1, a Near-total Lack of Financial Controls; One Official Holds Four Public Jobs; Lack of Controls "An Invitation to Fraud"

An examination of expenses, procurement, and financial practices at three special sanitary districts has found examples of excessive compensation for administrators, extravagant travel and meal spending, and an utter lack of record-keeping in some districts, County Comptroller Howard Weitzman said today.

"At two of the three garbage collection districts we examined, the bottom line is that nobody is minding the store. The lack of control generates abundant opportunities for unscrupulous individuals to line their pockets with taxpayer money," Comptroller Weitzman said at a press conference this morning at which he released reports on the three districts.

In the case of one district, Sanitary District No. 1 in the Town of Hempstead, which serves the Five Towns and Valley Stream South, the examination uncovered excessive and unexplained payments to commissioners and top staff, lavish meals including one steak dinner for four that totaled nearly $700, and an inadequate - and for some employees nonexistent - timekeeping system. The district's treasurer, ostensibly a 20-hour-a-week position, was found to hold three additional public sector jobs, as well as operating a private tax practice. No records are kept of his time spent working for the sanitary district.

The three audits issued today are the first of five special tax districts to be audited by the Comptroller's Office. The reports focus on Town of Hempstead Sanitary District No. 1 and sanitary districts in Syosset and Port Washington. The review of Port Washington found generally good financial practices and modest expenses, in contrast to the other two, particularly SD-1, where serious examples of overspending and lapses of management control were found.

"Considering that these districts have been operating for decades with virtually no oversight, we expected that in some cases we might find poor business practices," Comptroller Weitzman said. "But in two of the districts, and particularly in Hempstead's first sanitation district, what we found was worse than we feared.

"We know that some homeowners in Nassau pay two to three times as much as others for garbage collection," he said. "Now we know why - those who overpay for these services, often by hundreds of dollars per year, are paying to support wasteful spending that may include bloated payrolls, top-heavy management structures, non-competitive contracts, and in the case of District 1, lavish meals and business trips."

"A number of the preliminary audit findings of SD-1 raise the possibility of fraud, as they meet criteria specified in the New York State Comptroller's 2005 report, 'Red Flags for Fraud,'" Comptroller Weitzman said. Copies of the Comptroller's letter to District Chairman Jack Rose outlining the abuses have been sent to the Nassau County District Attorney and the New York State Comptroller, so they may take any further investigative actions they deem appropriate.

Describing them as "a hidden government that drains taxpayers' wallets," Comptroller Weitzman originally announced his intention to begin auditing some of the county's more than 400 special taxing districts in February 2005. The first group to be audited comprises five sanitary districts - districts Nos. 1, 2 and 6 in the Town of Hempstead, and districts in Syosset and Port Washington. The Comptroller plans to release reports on districts 2 and 6 within the next few weeks.

Town of Hempstead Sanitary District 1

"Town of Hempstead Sanitation District No. 1 is, to put it bluntly, totally out of control," Comptroller Weitzman said. "Not coincidently, it also had the highest costs to the taxpayers of the three districts studied."

"After three frustrating months, during which district managers restricted access to documents and personnel, the audit of District 1 was halted due to an unprecedented lack of cooperation. Nevertheless, we were able to make preliminary audit findings that raise serious concerns about the district's administration and operations," Comptroller Weitzman said. A letter detailing the preliminary audit findings was sent today to the chairman of the sanitary district's Board of Commissioners.

Sanitary District 1, with a budget of more than $14 million a year and 129 full and part-time employees, provides service to 16,514 residential and commercial properties. The preliminary audit for the district covers the years 2003 and 2004.

"Our analysis of the district found excessive and unexplained payments to commissioners and top staff, poor timekeeping, as well as a lack of written contracts, financial policies, or even a list of retired employees receiving health insurance benefits from the district.

"One of the more outrageous cases involves a top official, Sal Evola, who holds the title of district treasurer, ostensibly a 20-hour-a-week position. A review of New York State pension records found that Mr. Evola holds three additional public sector jobs and reported to the state a total of 733 days worked in 2004.

"Remarkably, he also finds time to conduct a private tax consulting business," Comptroller Weitzman added. SD-1 keeps no records of Mr. Evola's time spent working there.

The report also found:
  • Extravagant spending on travel and meals. Over the two-year period examined, the district spent a total of $14,610 to send four district managers to a waste conference in New Orleans and three managers to a similar conference in Dallas, "an amount that appears to be unreasonable for government officials exercising official duties." At these conferences, the managers treated themselves to exorbitant dinners. A steak dinner for four at Morton's Steakhouse in New Orleans cost $676; other dinners on the same trip cost $446 and $379. During the two trips, the employees also racked up $536 in limousine charges and $710 in lounge/bar charges. Also, the district spent $4,300 to provide coffee service in its administrative offices as well as $2,300 on catering for board meetings. The district has no written policy on travel or meals.
  • Inadequate timekeeping. The district requires no timesheets to be filled out by any of its employees. Instead, the timekeeping process consists of a supervisor checking off employee names on a list when he sees them arrive at work. The auditors observed limited attendance by several highly compensated employees during the three months when Comptroller's staff were on site. In addition, the hours that sanitation workers are required to work are not clear.
  • Excessive and unexplained payments. Compensation for commissioners in SD-1 (and other districts with budgets exceeding $800,000 per year) is limited by county law to $7,500 per year. Since commissioners are not regular employees, they do not ordinarily receive paid leave. Yet one SD-1 commissioner received an unexplained $5,000 payroll payment, which was coded as "sick pay." With this payment, the commissioner's total compensation for the year was brought to $4,000 more than the legal limit. Auditors who reviewed a pay period at random also found that that nearly 50 percent of all union members' base salaries exceeded the union pay scale.

Controls over cash receipts were alarmingly absent, the Comptroller said. "District 1 receives nearly $900,000 a year in fees from contractors seeking to dump construction debris and yard waste. Only cash is accepted," he said. "When we compared 'tip-fee' receipts to cash register records, the books simply didn't add up.

The lack of proper bookkeeping, and the concentration of such duties in the hands of one individual (the treasurer), with no oversight, represents an invitation to fraud," Comptroller Weitzman said.

Residents are encouraged to review the preliminary Audit Report for Sanitary District 1, which can be viewed (in PDF format) at Sanitary District No 1 Ltr to District (96 kb, 8 pages, pdf file - Adobe Reader® required).

Syosset Sanitary District

Unlike Sanitation District No. 1, Syosset contracts with a private hauler to provide refuse collection to its 762 residential and 108 commercial customers. The audit found that more than 25 percent of the district's annual budget ($383,000 in 2004) went to cover administrative expenses, over and above the cost of the private hauling contract. By contrast, such expenses in the Port Washington district, which also uses a private contractor, totaled only 2 percent of that district's budget.

"The $100,000-plus spent by the Syosset commissioners is equivalent to an extra tax of $115 per year on Syosset residents. Our audit shows that the money was used to compensate commissioners for meeting excessively, and to retain a second lawyer, reportedly to second-guess the decisions of their primary counsel" Comptroller Weitzman said.

In 2003 and 2004, the three Commissioners of the Syosset Sanitation District received combined total compensation of $44,640. In 2004 alone, the commissioners, who are paid per meeting, met 128 times, a minimum of 10 times per month. Most of the 128 "meetings" were described as off-site "compliance inspections."

Auditors also found the commissioners incurred legal fees of $67,243 and $55,113 in 2003 and 2004, respectively, representing a relatively high percentage of the district's annual budget. In addition to its law firm of record, Murphy, Bartol & O'Brian, the district also hired a second attorney as special counsel. Details of the second lawyer's work, examined by the auditors, indicate much of it was duplicative of items covered under the retainer agreement with Murphy, Bartol.

"The cost of garbage disposal per parcel in Syosset was surprisingly high, averaging $656 annually. Residents served by Syosset receive back-door pick-up, as do residents of Hempstead's SD-1. Although such service normally costs somewhat more than curb-side service, our auditors determined that residents of this district are paying substantially more than in other similar districts that also feature back-door service. We attribute the disparity to the excessive administrative expenses and the lack of real competitive bidding."

The Audit Report for the Syosset Sanitary District can be viewed at Syosset Sanitary District Audit Report (94 kb, 13 pages, pdf file - Adobe Reader® required).

Port Washington Garbage District

In 2004, administrative costs accounted for less than 2 percent of the Port Washington Garbage District's total district expenses. The total cost to tax payers for garbage pickup and disposal was similarly low, averaging only $248 annually, the report found. The only areas of concern found by the auditors, said Comptroller Weitzman, were the lack of an established procurement policy for professional services (e.g. attorneys) and the absence of a written contract specifying the terms and scope of that work.

The Audit Report for the Port Washington Garbage District can be viewed at Port Washington Garbage District Audit Report (63 kb, 7 pages, pdf file - Adobe Reader® required).

- - -

Editor's note: Whether the noted abuses, particularly in Sanitary District 1 in the Town of Hempstead, will resonate with voters come November 8th remains to be seen. Reform comes slowly to a Town that has not seen change in party control since 1907, the year Ringling Brothers Circus merged with Barnum & Bailey. And what a three-ring circus it continues to be!

There is no question that the abuses found through the Comptroller's Audits - in addition to the ones we long ago believed to exist - are a pervasive and costly part of the way the Town of Hempstead conducts business. A footnote to the "not under our control" posturing by the current occupants of Town Hall.

What is going down in the Town of Hempstead goes far beyond partisan politics. Pure and simple, it is local government run amuck - without constraint and completely devoid of anything resembling the best interests of the taxpayers.

There is only one question remaining to be answered: Will we opt to change management at Town Hall on Election Day and take back control of our Town, or will we continue to be forced to eat - and pay dearly for - the garbage we place outside our doors or at the curb?