Monday, November 14, 2005

Dissent Is Not Disloyalty

Fire Districts Under Fire; Costs And Expenditures Scrutinized in Newsday Special Report

If you think its tough to get taxpayers - let alone officialdom - to make waves about Sanitary Districts and Water Districts, just try getting someone to take a closer look at how Long Island's Fire Districts operate.

Fire Districts - those other tax-dollar guzzling fiefdoms that do business "independent" of government control and oversight - have long flown under the radar, avoiding public scrutiny of any kind. Post 9/11, the world of Long Island's firefighters has been nothing less than untouchable.

Quietly over the years, community leaders have been questioning budgets, costs and perceived abuses, only to be stonewalled by the local Fire Districts and largely ignored by local officials.

Even the media, asked to investigate what goes on behind the firehouse doors, was reluctant to do an expose -- more, we suspect, a case of corporate jitters than the front-line reporters' unwillingness to break the story.

This week, in a special report titled Firealarm, Newsday takes a long, hard look at what's going on at Long Island's Fire Districts. [SEE www.newsday.com/firealarm.]

It isn't about the firefighter -- other than how difficult it has become to attract volunteers into service, and the fact that firefighters who would expose abuses within Fire Districts quickly become the pariahs of both department and community.

It is, however, about declining service calls - particularly for fires - escalating costs, and internal operations that, despite the outward appearances of local control (like the Sanitary Districts and Water Districts, Fire District Commissioners are "elected" by the public), remain shrouded in secrecy in what essentially remain good old boys clubs.

When was the last time a Fire District on Long Island was audited? How many residents - other than the friends and family of firefighters - actually vote in Fire District elections? How many elections for Commissioners are contested? [This blogger recalls a contested election for Fire Commissioner where, if you supported the "outsider" and your support was known to the "insiders," you were bullied, harrassed, and, should you dare to show up at the firehouse to cast your ballot, stared down by the poll workers and the sitting Commissioners who stood watch outside the voting booth. No intimidation there!]

Then there's the question of consolidation of Fire Districts, with the possible elimination of some Departments. Newsday reports that there is now more fire equipment and apparatus on Long Island than in all of the fire companies in New York City and Los Angeles combined. Just how many independent fire departments do we need to cover districts which, in some cases, are as small as one (1) square mile?

And what of the Fire District's "reserve" funds, monies collected above and beyond annual operating costs which are rolled over into District accounts and utilized for building campaigns and sundry incidentals over which the taxpayer has little or no say? How many Fire Districts refund the surplus to the taxpayers, or so much as tell them about it before again raising the tax the following year? We're talking, in some instances, of millions of dollars in the Fire Districts' coffers, with no accountability to the public.

They don't want you to know. They don't want you to ask. They don't want you to look. And heaven help you should you question the propriety of any conduct of your local Fire Department. "How dare you criticize the bravest of the brave! Those who place their lives on the line, as volunteers, no less, 24/7. Why, its simply unamerican."

No, it is not about the firefighter. It is, however, all about how our tax dollars (and "voluntary contributions," for those who reside in Voluntary Fire Districts*) are being spent by quasi-governmental agencies that, until now, have been answerable to no one.

One suspects that the State Comptroller, Alan Hevesi, will soon begin to take a closer look at Long Island's Fire Districts and Departments and how they spend our money. It is high time. No doubt there will be an uproar at the firehouses -- "Who are you to question expenditures, of any kind, made to protect the public, and the costs of maintaining our fire departments, home of the brave, if not anywhere near free."

It is time that someone examined the inner workings of our Fire Districts and Departments. Bravo, Newsday, for taking the operations of these most sensitive Special Districts out of the shadows and into the cleansing light of day. You won't be bullied -- intimidated by those who would label you as disloyal by virtue of your willingness to question -- and neither will we.

*Should you fail to make a "contribution" - above and beyond the property tax you pay - you will find a uniformed firefighter at the door to your house to personally collect. No axe in hand, but he might as well have one!

For more on Long Island's fire service, read The Big Burn as featured in the Long Island Press.
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Dissent Is Not Disloyalty. . .

In the 1950s, if you spoke out against the outrages of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the House Unamerican Activities Committee, or the Internal Security Act, you were labeled a Communist, blacklisted, and disgraced as a sympathizer of causes that ran counter to the American ideal.

In the early 1970s, if you protested the war in Vietnam, the White House's "secret plan to end the war," or J. Edgar Hoover's wiretaps in the name of national security, your were disloyal to your country, summarily admonished to either "love it or leave it."

Today, should you dare to question the motives of going to war or staying at war in Iraq, the provisions of the Patriot Act, or the actions of a President said to be taken to protect a nation and make the world safe for democracy, you are derided, and accused of rewriting history.

Closer to home, its more than friendly fire that comes our way when we protest the abuses of the Sanitary Districts and the tyrannies of one-party rule at Town Hall. And just wait and see what we'll be called as we challenge the Fire Districts.

Ah, the more things change.

There's plenty we could say when it comes to those who would silence the debate -- whether that debate be of matters of global concern or on the costs of picking up the trash on our own block -- as there is concerning those who would remain silent where a rising concert of voices is both warranted and necessary.

With reverence to those who have said it and are saying it, we defer to someone who, perhaps, said it best -- the late Edward R. Murrow, correspondent for CBS News:

"No one familiar with the history of this country can deny that congressional committees are useful. It is necessary to investigate before legislating, but the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one and the junior Senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly.

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men— not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.

The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn't create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it— and rather successfully. Cassius was right. 'The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.'

Good night, and good luck."

See It Now, March 9, 1954

Powerful words then. No less meaningful and relevant words now. Words for all of us to think about. Words for each of us to live by.

12 comments:

  1. I'm so glad Newsday is running an indepth report about firehouses. It is the Commissioners that set the policies, tax rates and abuse the system or ALLOW the system to be abused.

    In 2001 the Office of the State Comptroller audited ONE fire district in Nassau County. In 2000, TWO firehouses were audited in Nassau County.

    Fire Districts are ENVIOUS of each others' equipment and facilities. Whereas fire calls are down and ambulance calls are up, they keep buying BIGGER AND BETTER trucks than the next district. With volunteerism down, mutual aid calls are commonplace. However, the equipment needs at a fire call doesn't change.

    In the Five Towns, Inwood Fire Department recently passed a $475,000 bond to purchase a house next to the firehouse to possibly expand their facilities in the future. Why??????? The square miles of coverage hasn't changed. There are 99 volunteers (according to Newsday). Inwood covers 2.4 square miles. They have a $5,000,000 budget to boot!

    For the ICING on the cake? Guess who the TREASURER is for the Inwood Fire District????? None other than Sal Evola, CPA, of Sanitary District #1, Village of Cedarhurst, Village of Island Park (and another public position). He also used to be the treasurer of the Nassau County Bridge Authority who administers to the Atlantic Beach Bridge.

    Oh, I forgot to tell you: One of the Inwood Commissioners is Dominick Mistero, brother of Jesse Mistero, Inwood-North Lawrence Republican Club Executive Leader AND Assistant Commissioner of Sanitation for the Town of Hempstead (in Merrick). One more thing: both are brothers of Phil Mistero, Superindent of Sanitary District # 1 in Lawrence.

    Now tell me how a volunteer Commissioner doesn't mean anything???? Read audits of the State Comptroller's office and you'll see that these commissioners abuse the system BIG TIME.

    http://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/audits/2005/firedist/05fire.htm

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  2. It is nice to see that The Community Alliance, post election, hasn't given up the ghost or walked away from the issues that bear upon our communities. The road is lonely. The apparent rewards, few. The inevitable triumph, however - even for those who must continue to labor under the yoke of an intolerable and intolerant party Machine - belongs to the people.

    As fivetowneyes points out, the ways of the GOP Machine on Long Island are pervasive, its tentacles far-reaching and all-ensnarling.

    It is nice to see that there are those among us still willing to speak out - for the good of all people, and not merely the party faithful. Would that there were many more with the courage to stand up and be counted.

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  3. We try to call ‘em as we see ‘em on this blog - every word (including that said to play Devil's advocate and to rouse emotions) is written in the hope that some of those who, perchance, may read this rant – or casually meander by - will be provoked to at least think and question, if not to act.

    Unfortunately, there are too many Americans (many on our Long Island, and even more in our own Town of Hempstead) who wouldn't know Joseph McCarthy from Charlie McCarthy. Too many for whom our great nation, had they been alive back then, would still be a part of the British Empire. People who think that you can preserve a nation's freedom by taking away personal liberties, and who, ends poised to justify any means, believe you can legitimatize power by deceit, diversion and stealing the other guy’s signs.

    It is difficult to reach these people - some say, near impossible. That, of course, does not mean we stop trying - to educate, to enlighten, to inform and to embolden.

    The future, we hope, belongs not to the ignorant or the complacent – the blind followers of unfounded theories and disproved principles who strictly adhere to the vacuous hullabaloo of fear and loathing, but rather, to those seized with knowledge of the facts, inspired by the wisdom that comes of asking both “why” and “why not,” and poised to change the course of community, if not country, through forthright debate and audacious deeds.

    Onward and upward!

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  4. Freedom of speech is one of our greatest freedoms, but living in the Town Of Hempstead that very freedom is always trumped by fear. People are afraid to speak about the Sanitary Districts, School Districts, Fire District and the remaining 400 taxing districts, because the big bad GOP loyalist will get you. I have seen the army, they do come with burning torches and pitch forks. They come to protect their part time jobs with full time pay and benefits. However we can't remain silent out of fear, we need to over turn this system. We know they are narrow minded and can't see any other views, after all Tony Santino tells everyone this is how it has always been and this is what the tax payer wants. Sorry Tony, This is not what this tax payer wants nor is this what this tax payer can afford to pay for any longer.Rome is burning and the town is burning our money. When will people wake up and smell the smoke? How do we return people such as Kate back to office when all this is going on? I don't need Newsday to do a story, I have my tax bill. I guess for those who are blind maybe Newsday can help some, than again I guess Kate and now the Fire Districts will blame Harvey Levinson for our taxes.

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  5. Wow look Pat you can actually read???

    I didn't think that the Community Alliance allowed you to read anything except what they posted on their blogs???

    But then again the watchful eye of corruption and wasteful spending is always the Community Alliance's #1 concern???

    Little information for you when was the last time a Fire District was audited?? Yearly they have to their books audited every year.

    And how does this even relate to Kate Murray or Harvey Levinson it's a story on Fire Districts???

    But I'm sure you'll all have alot to answer me on that one because we all know how corrupt Kate Murray is & How wonderful Harvey Levinson is!!!

    Every dollar spent in the County is not always corrupt and wasteful spending, read the entire 8 days of the article - Look at the Fire Departments they are discussing before passing judgement on all??

    If you paid close attention you would have noticed that the Fire Districts in the spotlight are in Suffolk County - Coram, West Islip???

    You know what don't even respond these postings make me sick, you people don't want to help anybody you just want someone to blame your lot in life on!!!

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  6. Let me ask you a question, Do you look at your tax bill? The firemen police, schools, sanitary , water, highway, parks, lighting, should I keep going all do a great job but how much longer can we afford to pay for all of this? How much more money do we pay School Superentendants? Yes there is waste in the county, state and yes your beloved TOH,BUT WHEN CAN WE REALLY DO SOMETHING TO CORRECT? dO WE KEEP SENDING THE SAME PEOPLE BACK OR DO WE VOTE PEOPLE OUT? Do we want a guy like a Steve Levy to listen to the tax payers, or do we want someone like kate to only listen to the party? Do we split our votes and pick the best, or do we vote across party lines? You worry about your assessed value I worry about my taxes. The value of your home will go down and in fact as taxes keep rising you can bet your value will go down. On the other hand, did you ever see your tax bill go down? Glad to see we flushed you out, Now that HArvey is out of your way who are you going to blame now?

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  7. At first, I was going to IGNORE the chronic plaguings of NCRES4CHANGE. Then I decided that he isn't stubborn or hard headed - he's really unintelligent and needs to go back to school, even if it is the school of "hard knocks".

    Fire Districts have their books audited every year by someone THEY hire (CPA Sal Evola come to mind???). How about hiring the people who audited the books for the Roslyn School District year-after-year. Oops! They are, or in the midst of, going to jail.

    Fire Districts are to be audited by the Office of State Comptroller, Alan Hevesi. Let's hope when he's finished at Sanitary District # 1 (they've been there for almost two weeks now), they'll make their rounds in the Five Towns.

    As a parent of a volunteer firefighter, I know more about what is going on than NCRES4CHANGE will EVER KNOW. My son is in there really tight. Believe me, even vollies are ashamed of things their Commissioners have done - they're just afraid of retribution if they mouth off. The tentacles are indeed FAR REACHING.

    "Yearly they have to their books audited every year" comment that
    NCRES4CHANGE made sounds and LOOKS like DOUBLE TALK. That "SAL EVOLA, CPA" type of talk if you ask me. If you question Sal's books, Nat Swergold will enlighten you a bit over a delicious steak from Morton's in New Orleans.

    On a personal note, I can't believe some DUMBO'S know how to turn on a computer.

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  8. As a volunteer firefighter in western Nassau (and a 15-year veteran of the NYFD), I can tell you that Newsday's expose barely uncovers the tip of the iceberg.

    The Fire Districts are, indeed, ego-driven -- with the biggest egos generally carried on the shoulders of the guys with the lowest intellects, who rise to Chiefs and Commissioners through bullying, intimidation, and spending the taxpayers' money without consideration of need.

    Those in the Departments who speak of "the good of the community" in buying bigger, better and more expensive, are full of it and of themselves. The Commissioners and Chiefs I know and come in contact with - and I know most of them in Nassau, and quite a few in Suffolk - are in it for themselves.

    The waste, overspending, mismanagement, duplication of services, incompetence, arrogance and outright gall is unmitigated and unchecked.

    The State Comptroller (and not internal auditors or so-called "independents" who, in reality, are friends of the Department) should audit Long Island's Fire Districts, and impose at least some level of accountability.

    The "election" of Commissioners in December is a farce, and everyone knows it. If an outsider is running in your District, get your neighbors out and vote him in. [No experience is required, believe me. These Commissioners get their "experience" at a golf retreat in Jamaica at the taxpayers' expense.]

    Long Island needs, and the taxpayers should demand, a Regional Fire Service, under the watchful eye of a Commissioner (ala the Police Commissioner) answerable to a legitimately elected public official (as in the County Executive).

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  9. Right on!!!

    You tell em that's exactly what we need a fire commisioner- I nominate Harvey Levinson!!!

    Go get em Tom - Consolidate the volunteers into one collective unit I got it we'll call it NCFD just like the NYFD but replace the NY with NC!!!

    Just think we can throw out all those bums us common folk call commisioners, because you know all they do is go on trips and spend hard working taxpayers money???

    Hey I got it while we're at it let's consolidate the school districts, the sanitation districts, and all of the TOH departments as well, then we can say that Nassau County has total control of everything then there will be no need for anyone to complain about anything???

    I think thats a good idea don't you because I am so sick of all the corruption, wasteful spending and duplication of services in this county- Hell you no what when we're all done with that we might as well just merge long island with NYC and we can become the 6th Borough!!!

    Wooo I'm glad we have a plan maybe you no what that instead of all the complaining that goes on out there about sanitation, fire departments and special districts that MAYBE the residents should get off their collective ASSES and open up their eyes to see what is going on all around them!!!

    Do you really think that this just started happening yesterday??

    Do you really need NEWSDAY to show you what is going on in your own backyards???

    Get out attend the meetings of these particular groups and find out how much money is being spent and how, it is yours, instead of waiting for the state to get involved with AUDITS give me a break do you know how long it is going to take for them just to get through with the School Districts???

    And what would be your plan to consolidate the Fire Departments??

    Let's start by selling all of those useful firehouses and fire trucks that cost so much money, and maybe we'll start with one or two in each of your hometowns???

    Then maybe we can tell all of the volunteers who have been taking care of the alarms in their hometowns that they are no longer needed and that they are going to be replaced by PAID firemen & EMS workers???

    Yeah tell me what would be the expense to the taxpayers to do such a feat???

    Guess Tom & Harvey have that planned out as well, first they'll go after the school districts then they'll work on the fire districts as well???

    Well let's see as I read in Newsday the grand plan should come out on Sunday can't wait??

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  10. To ncres4change: You, sir, are an ignoramus. A person so blinded by that suspension of belief the powers on Long Island have drummed into us for generations, that you can barely see the forest for the trees. In fact, you can't even see the trees, which is more pitiful.

    This has nothing to do with Democrats versus Republicans, and certainly nothing to do with Harvey Levinson - get over your fixation already.

    Fact: We do not need more than 100 fire districts on Long Island, with more apparatus than NYC and Los Angeles combined;

    Fact: The Departments do not need bigger, better and more, or reserve accounts (as if the firehouse was going to burn down) in the millions of dollars;

    Fact: While our firefighters deserve our praise, and the benefits of perks and incentives such as property tax breaks, pension credits, and even a party or outing once in a while as a "thank you" for their service, the abuses - whether lavish six-figure banquests or vacations at posh resorts where the only fire burns in a torch behind the tiki bar - are unacceptable.

    Fact: Our property taxes are outrageous, by any standard, and we must begin to tackle them - at least some of them - before we completely erode the tax base and face the loss of our homes.

    We complain about school taxes, yet refuse to examine alternatives. We squawk about the Sanitary Districts, yet decline to take control over them. Now, it finally comes to light that our fire districts are taking advantage of the taxpayer - and in some cases, ripping us off. Watch us do nothing about that, too.

    It is unfortunate that our Long Island has come to this - overtaxed with little or no say with how those tax dollars are spent - but given the "head in sand" approach of the pinheads for whom the likes of ncres4change is an unofficial spokesperson (and there are many of them out there, believe me), it is certainly no surprise.

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  11. TO ncres4change: As we have no way of knowing your true identity, or to otherwise contact you by e-mail, we reach out to you by way of comment on the blogspots to which you have sought to post.

    While you are certainly entitled to your opinions, whatever they may be and from whatever ill-conceived source they may come from, and to a forum through which you may express yourself (although you are wearing mighty thin on this one), you will not be permitted to exercise this privilege by use of profanity, personal attacks, or references to tactics employed by the Third Reich.

    We will, to be sure, allow certain latitude in postings -- as we no doubt take in our blogs -- but where offensive language becomes a substitute for reasoned thought (or even half-baked ideas), we have to draw the line.

    It is unfortunate that a previous poster labeled you an "ignoramus." Indeed, it is an affront to ignoramuses everywhere!

    Ignoramus, for your information, was the name of a character in George Ruggle's 1615 play of the same name. The name was derived from the Latin, literally, "we are ignorant," from ignorare, "not to know," from ignarus, "not knowing," from ig- (for in-), "not" + gnarus, "knowing, acquainted with, expert in." It is related to ignorant and ignore.

    While we bemoan the use of any language that belittles or denegrates, given the commentary posted by you in the wide and generous bearth provided, all we can say is, "If the shoe fits..."

    Comment, suggest, ideate, even complain, but please, think before you write. As mother often said, it is better to keep your mouth shut and appear to be a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt!

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  12. Well maybe I should repeat myself for the "firemens friend" who last posted; because obviously you simply 1) Can't read & 2) Get the jist out of my posting because of the sarcasm it was meant for you to think!

    Get out attend the meetings of these particular groups and find out how much money is being spent and how, it is yours, instead of waiting for the state to get involved with AUDITS give me a break do you know how long it is going to take for them just to get through with the School Districts???

    You are no firemens friend you are just a person who thinks he has a little knowledge, which you don't!

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