Where Exactly Does The Buck Stop In Hempstead Town?
Not On The Desk Of Supervisor, Kate Murray, That's For Sure. . .
When Harry Truman was President, he kept a sign on his desk that read, THE BUCK STOPS HERE -- meaning, he took responsibility for the actions of those who served in his administration.
In Japan, when there is misdoing somewhere down the corporate ladder, it is not unusual for the chief executive to give a mea culpa by means of harakiri.
Surely, there's no sign alluding to the buck stopping -- or so much as yielding -- on the desk of Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray. After all, in Hempstead Town, the buck does not stop -- it passes. To cronies, relatives, and Republican committeemen.
As for harakiri, we certainly wouldn't suggest that Ms. Murray disembowel herself [think of the mess on the carpets], but surely, a thorough house cleaning deep in the bowels of Hempstead Town Hall is in order.
It won't happen, of course.
In a Town where one hand washes the other; where "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours;" where patronage and nepotism -- with no apparent regard for competence -- is the order of the day; where taxpayers ante up to pay health insurance premiums for dead Town employees; where there hasn't been a change in government since the Chicago Cubs last won the World Series, you just can't expect reforms to be discussed, let alone to take hold.
What Kate Murray knew or should have known -- as obvious as it is troubling-- is almost beside the point here.
Murray, as Supervisor, pushed for John Loeffel's appointment as Building Department Commissioner.
Loeffel was no entry-level employee who simply forgot to get a permit for his shed.
The ex-Commissioner reported directly to the Supervisor, and was, by extension, a part of Murray's executive team.
So why, then, did not Supervisor Murray step to the plate when this tragic story broke, firing John Loeffel, rather than allowing him to slither away by means of a faxed letter of resignation?
Who's in charge at Hempstead Town Hall, anyway? Where is the accountability, the transparency, the "I take responsibility for what happens on my watch?"
Perhaps in the myopic world of Kate Murray, the sordid misdeeds of her ex-Commissioner can simply be swept under the rug on the fourth floor of Town Hall, this by a less than contrite, "I have no control over John Loeffel."
This would logically follow the party line offered up, time and time again, in Hempstead Town Supervisor lingo, as in, "I have no control over the Town's Sanitary Districts," "I have no control over the tax rates," "I have no control over who gets what political plum of a job at Town Hall."
John Loeffel's fall from grace may be an aberration of sorts in the manner in which business is conducted in Hempstead Town. We don't think so. Everyone who has one eye open and something akin to a pulse knows that, yes, this is, as opined by one atuned civic advocate of longstanding, but "the tip of the iceberg."
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HEMPSTEAD BUILDING SCANDAL
This just can't be permitted!
By Ellis Henican
Rip it down!
Return John Loeffel's super-sized Colonial to the humble one-story Cape of its origins!
No other penalty will suffice!
Isn't that what Hempstead's suddenly ex-building commissioner would have ordered you or me to do if we'd been caught installing an illegal deck or throwing up an unauthorized shed in the backyard?
Remove the offending structure at once.
So why should this mendacious municipal miscreant be treated any more leniently than the lowliest Hempstead homeowner is treated every day?
No one forced him - without benefit of permit - to turn a perfectly lovely Levittown home into Tara on Knoll Lane.
Rules are rules, as they say in the code-enforcement business. No permits, no house.
Loeffel can't exactly claim ignorance as a defense. Thirty-eight years as a Hempstead Town employee. Ten as code-enforcement officer. Since December, he's been the $112,000 man, in charge of the whole building department, responsible for ensuring that all of Hempstead's homes and businesses are in full compliance with the building code.
And this was no subtle upgrade that Loeffel lavished on himself. It was more like an episode from "Pimp My House."
The ski-slope roof. The double peaks in front. What looks like a finished attic. An illegal apartment upstairs. And all of it assessed for taxes as if it had never been improved.
It was only Monday that Newsday's Eden Laikin started asking questions about the town building boss' unapproved reno job. Supervisor Kate Murray, who happens to live just down the block and swore she was clueless about everything, had to concede that Loeffel didn't seem to have applied for any permits.
Talk about quick turnaround. Yesterday, Hempstead code enforcers and county assessors were out on Knoll Lane, inspecting the McMansion.
They tried to keep their distance from the growling backyard dog. But they found the illegal apartment and countless other violations of the building code he'd sworn to enforce. By late afternoon, Loeffel's resignation was on the fax machine.
You have to figure Nassau DA Kathleen Rice is already sniffing around at the case.
Oh, comeuppance is sweet. And the maddening questions do not stop.
Who else in the Hempstead building department knew about the boss' permitless rehab? Did all the code enforcement officers really have no idea?
What about the contractors who did the commissioner's renovation on the sly? Did they get any favors from the building department in return?
And how could Murray, who'd been praising Loeffel as a "dedicated member of the building department," have stayed so thoroughly in the dark? All the time the house was being renovated, didn't she notice that no permits were posted anywhere?
The fact of the matter is that Loeffel was just another wink-and-a-nod hack official at Hempstead Town Hall, where not too many things ever get questioned.
Dorothy Goosby was the only one to raise a stink in December when he got the job. But Goosby is the only Democrat on the otherwise-Republican Council. So her questions about the commissioner's qualification were ignored, as usual.
If you talk to people around Town Hall, they'll tell you Loeffel's a pleasant enough guy - a burly fellow with an easy manner who knows how to get along.
And maybe that's the problem here.
Longtime Hempstead civic leader Seth Bykofsky, former president of the West Hempstead Civic Association, was saying yesterday that none of this is a real surprise to him. Sometimes, people don't want to know.
"These permits are supposed to be conspicuously displayed by the contractors," Bykofsky said.
"That should have a raised a red flag in the supervisor's mind. "And wouldn't other people in the building department have to know, even if casually? Where's the inspection? Wasn't that somebody's job? Can't you hear them talking around the office: 'Is the commissioner inspecting his own property? '"
Many questions, not so many answers. Yet.
"This is the tip of the iceberg," Bykofsky said. "It's what happens when Town Hall has been under the control of the same party for more than 100 years. I don't care what party it is. If no one's watching, this is bound to happen. Now it's happened again."
Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.