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Longtime former Oceanside Sanitation District No. 7 employee announces commissioner candidacy

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Former longtime Oceanside Sanitation District No. 7 employee Joe Samoles announced that he is challenging Tom Lanning for a seat on the board of commissioners in the June 20 election.

Samoles said he decided to run because he wanted to be active on the board. “I will vote on the issues,” he said. “I will not be wishy-washy or abstain.”

Lanning, who has been on the board since 2014, did not return a request for comment on Samoles’s announcement.

Samoles worked as a loader and driver in the district from 1990 to 2015, and retired after he was injured on the job. He ran in the 2017 election, but lost in a three-way race to current Commissioner Matthew Horowitz.

To become a candidate, Samoles must collect 25 signatures from Oceanside residents by the deadline, which is 30 days before the election.

After he retired, Samoles filed a lawsuit, which, though unsuccessful, helped sanitation officials recoup a $300,000 settlement from former supervisors Michael and Charles Scarlata. The father and son were accused of collecting more than $800,000 in illegal deferred retirement payments from 1985 to 2013, after the state and county comptrollers completed audits.

In March, the Scarlatas reached a $300,000 settlement with the district to start paying taxpayers back. As part of the agreement, the Scarlatas paid $200,000 to the district on April 1.

Michael Scarlata signed an agreement with the board in 1988 to be paid an additional $20,000 annually for 15 years if he retired at any point after March 1, 1996. If he didn’t retire, the deferred payments would be increased by 10 percent each year after. He retired in 1998 and collected retirement payments of $26,217 until 2012, when he received a final $51,122 payout.

His son, Charles, signed an agreement to receive $25,000 annually over 15 years if he retired after March 1, 2008, with the same 10 percent increase of deferred payments if he stayed. The board paid a $421,353 lump sum on Jan. 15, 2012, and Charles retired in October 2013.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s 2014 audit said the payments to the Scarlatas were made illegally by the board because taxpayer dollars were misused, as the board had no legal authority to issue payments, and thus it violated New York finance law.

Samoles began the effort to get the money back from the Scarlattas when he sued them in Nassau County Supreme Court in 2015. Samoles urged the board of commissioners to act, and it filed its own suit against the father and son, and the settlement was finalized on March 7.

Board Chairman John Mannone and Lanning have not seen eye to eye in recent months, with Lanning publicly asking him to step down as chairman at the Feb. 7 meeting, in what Mannone labeled a political move. Mannone said the race had already become contentious more than two months before Election Day and noted that more people could announce candidacies for the seat.

“It’s probably the most insane and dynamic campaign I’ve seen in a long time,” Mannone said. “We have these crazy meetings where the two sides in my community are yelling at each other. . . . It’s madness.”

It has been a tumultuous time for the board, with Lanning disagreeing with the other four commissioners on voting to terminate longtime employees Dan Faust and Douglas Hernandez in December. According to a Facebook post by Commissioner Austin Graff on Nov. 26, 2018, the board did so because the pair “turned a blind eye” to former employee Joe Cibellis receiving dental benefits despite not being an active employee. Faust and Hernandez filed wrongful termination lawsuits against the district in February, while Jacqueline Urli, a secretary at the district, filed a sexual harassment suit against the commissioners, claiming they permitted a “hostile, toxic” work environment, in which sexual harassment was not reprimanded. Both suits are pending.

Lanning started working at his family’s business, Hampton Salvage in Oceanside, after graduating from high school in 1986, according to previous Herald reporting. He worked there for 20 years in the customer service, accounting, auditing and inventory control departments. He also learned about recruiting and training employees, as well as budgeting, staff management and quality control.

Lanning and his wife, Daurene, opened Pastosa Ravioli in 1997. The Lannings have three sons, Thomas, Anthony and Jake. Lanning has served as president of the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce on two occasions.

After his career in sanitation ended, Samoles began working with autistic adults at Hand in Hand Family Service in Brooklyn and the Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk. He said he would like to hire an autistic individual to perform maintenance duties at the sanitation office. Samoles has two daughters, Krista and Alana, a son, Joseph Jr., and two grandchildren, Charlie, 3, and Teddy, who was born on April 4. Samoles served in the U.S. Army from 1976 to 1982 and has been active in the community, including coaching baseball and softball teams, serving as president of the Sons of Italy and teaching religion at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church.

Samoles said his goals for the district include obtaining solar panels for the roof of the sanitation headquarters and purchasing refurbished trucks for the department, which, he said, would save money.

He added that he was hoping to improve the reputation of the district. “I just want to make sure that corruption never comes back into Oceanside sanitation,” he said.