Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has
Shame on the Town of Islip.
Last week, town officials vowed to track down the culprits responsible for dumping 32,000 tons -- tons! -- of illegal debris in Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood.
We will find them. And we will make them pay, officials said.
But what the town really needed was a mirror. Because the culprit -- according to a report in Monday's Newsday by Sarah Armaghan and Sarah Crichton -- seems to be the town itself.
A politically connected construction firm owned by a contributor to both Democratic and Republican elected officials in the town was spotted by a town parks police officer dumping suspicious materials in the park.
The officer does his job and reports it to his superiors.
But how high it went from there, nobody seems to know.
Last week, residents living along Timberline Drive -- in houses 300 feet from packed-dirt fields now being tested for toxic chemicals -- included one bit of praise for the town among their litany of complaints about illegal dumping.
They said the town did a good job securing the park after 11-year-old Wilson Batista Jr. was shot in the face on the basketball court in 2009.
They said that, even now, it was not unusual to see a group of kids get through the fence after the parked closed -- only to see the town or police arrive to secure it again.
"It was good, because we would see the kids go in, and not too long after, we would see a car go in to make sure they were escorted out," said Mike Morales.
Neighbors said they did not know whether the response was the result of the park's many security cameras, or neighbors' calls to authorities.
But they said the response was quick.
How is it, then, that more than 1,100 truckloads of illegal dumping could go unnoticed and unaddressed, despite the cameras and plentiful complaints from neighbors?
Thomas Spota, Suffolk's district attorney, last week said that the dumping likely started last June.
Then came August, when town council members gathered to announce funding to fix the park pool. They told reporters who asked that they had no idea why there were trucks and piles of debris in the park.
Then came September, when the town's planning commission issued permits to the town parks department to clear land in the facility -- after a Newsday story on the park.
In November, the town parks officer, after noting something amiss, did his job by stopping the driver -- getting the name of the truck company and its telephone number -- and writing it up.
The New Year saw the park closed after state Assemb. Phil Ramos and county Legis. Monica Martinez, both Brentwood Democrats, took their constituents' complaints seriously.
For eight months, as dumping was going on, town residents used Roberto Clemente.
But even after Spota announced his investigation -- and that asbestos had been found in a sample from the park -- town officials continued to say they hadn't known what was going on.
They pointed to a local church they said had brought in the contractor who would contribute fill for the park. But wait: Why did volunteers from Iglesia de Jesucristo Palabra Miel have to take on the job of filling holes in the soccer field in the first place?
And are residents, at this point, really supposed to believe that the contractor, Datre -- whose owners are connected via political contributions to some town officials -- volunteered to provide soil out of the blue?
Last week, Islip, following what it called its own investigation, forced town parks Commissioner Joseph Montuori to resign -- on the same day Spota announced results of his investigation.
At this point, however, the town lacks credibility.
Because even if officials didn't know what was going on at Roberto Clemente Park, they should have -- and would have, had they bothered to listen to and take seriously complaints from their own constituents.
Montuori was the first to go. But he -- given the town's indifference to that community -- may well not be the last.