A few dozen Town of Oyster Bay residents gathered at the Plainview-Old Bethpage Library for a community forum organized by State Assemblyman Chuck Lavine, a Democrat from Glen Cove. Lavine fielded questions about a bill he reintroduced on Jan. 23 that proposed a fiscal monitor to oversee the town’s finances. The monitor would be appointed by the state comptroller, and have the ability to override the Town Board’s financial decisions if deemed necessary.
Joining Lavine was an entirely Democratic panel made up of State Senators Kevin Thomas, from Levittown; Jim Gaughran, from Northport; Anna Kaplan, from Great Neck; and John Brooks, from Massapequa.
“The bill was initially submitted in response to what was a clear fiscal danger in the Town of Oyster Bay,” said Lavine, explaining that the bill is conceptual in its current state, with nothing finalized. He emphasized that the purpose of the forum was to hear the public’s opinions on the idea, and that this would ultimately determine whether a fiscal monitor would be put in place.
One of the first residents to speak was Diane Steiner, an accountant from Hicksville, who was eager to read a statement to the panel. “I have, for the last 10 years, watched as elected officials in the Town of Oyster Bay have continued in a total mismanagement of the town,” Steiner read, “and we, the taxpayers, have footed the bill for this.”
“Despite the supposed change in management in 2017,” she added, “the Town of Oyster Bay still desperately needs a financial watchdog.”
Susan Naftol, of Plainview, pointed out the lack of town officials at the forum, saying she wondered why they didn’t want their voices heard. She said she believed that a fiscal monitor was necessary for a variety of reasons, including the mismanagement of recycling trucks by the town. She also objected to the hiring of aide Brian Nevin, who was given a $163,000 salary for work that Naftol said was traditionally done in-house.
“I would like to see some oversight, because I don’t know where my money’s going,” Naftol said, “and I see it going, going, going, and poof, it’s gone.”
While a majority of the attendees supported the proposed bill, a few did not. One of them was Joel Berse, of Hicksville, a former president of the Northwest Civic Association and the Hicksville Community Council. Berse said he found it problematic that none of the panel members live in the Town of Oyster Bay. Additionally, he said, town residents should be able to vote out officials who they believe are not capable, as opposed to adding a fiscal monitor.
“I just feel that the Oyster Bay residents should be able to say what they want in the ballot box,” Berse said. He added that the issue could be revisited if the current administration is re-elected and if fiscal management problems persist.
Responding to Berse’s comments about the lack of town residents on the panel, Lavine said that its members are responsible for passing laws for the entire state, not just the jurisdictions in which they live.
John Budnick, of Massapequa Park, who worked for the town in various capacities before his retirement, said he also opposed the installation of a fiscal monitor. “I am concerned that what you’re going to be actually doing is, in effect, creating a silent coup to put somebody [in office] who would be directed by the Democratic majority,” he said.
“I most respectfully believe that this legislation should not be passed at this time,” Budnick added, saying that it should be held for “at least a year or two.”
While the public hearing had been planned weeks in advance, the Town Board held a meeting of its own earlier on Tuesday. In that session, it voted unanimously against the installation of a fiscal monitor.
After the evening forum, Lavine said that he was encouraged by the enthusiasm with which members of the public voiced their opinions. “I think this was a very good meeting,” he said. “I think people were able to express themselves . . . pro and con. I thought it was an enjoyable evening [from] the point of view of people [having] the right to speak, and we have to listen to them.”
“We never know how it’s going to end up,” Lavine added, “but it doesn’t end up in a good place without people having the freedom to speak their mind.” He said he might host similar forums elsewhere in town in the future.