Tom Croci sets the right tone in Islip

Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci on July 8,

Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci on July 8, 2014. (Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas)

Supervisor Tom Croci hit all the right notes in his first formal remarks to Islip Town residents since returning from his deployment in Afghanistan.

During a State of the Town address on Tuesday, Croci rebuked town leaders for their lack of sufficient oversight in the toxic-dumping scandal.

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He went out of his way to apologize on behalf of the town to residents living near Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood, where neighborhood children unwittingly played near toxic waste material until the park was ordered closed.

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Croci, a Navy commander who was deployed as an intelligence officer for a year, promised to come up with a remediation plan for the park. And to communicate with town residents at each and every step along the way until the crisis is resolved.

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He announced measures to increase the accountability of elected officials -- including a review of the town board's actions during his deployment. And reiterated that -- to be transparent -- he would share results of that review with town residents.

The address, in short, was what Islip needed -- and, some might say, wanted -- to hear. Croci had a choice: Jump squarely into the crisis, or shy away from it.

In choosing to jump, Croci also, very deliberately, drew a line in the sand with the town board, a majority of which, even before Croci's deployment, was working against him.

Early into his term, the board tried to strip Croci of powers they wanted to transfer to board members. But the attempt failed, and if the past few months of board response to Islip's dumping crisis is any indication, residents likely are heaving a sigh of relief that it did.

With Tuesday's address, Croci left board members with a choice: Support his efforts -- which include toughening Islip's ethics code penalties for political activity on town time -- come up with better ones, or keep on fighting.

At this point, Croci's got the edge. He may be one of only five votes on the town board, but as Islip's top elected official, he's got the town's biggest bully pulpit.

As for his promised review of town actions, Croci said, "I will report back to the residents as necessary to examine these decisions. If they do not comport with the high standards that our residents -- our bosses -- expect from their government, you will know about it."

That's a big promise for a review that likely will be complicated by the fact that Croci himself was among the town officials who accepted political donations from the firm that the town board identified as likely involved in the alleged illegal dumping. During his absence, Croci's campaign treasurer had the money donated to charity.

And then there's the ongoing criminal investigation by Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota into who dumped debris at Robert Clemente -- and at a parcel on the Sampawams Creek, a privately owned vacant lot in Central Islip, and a six-home Islandia development built for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

Will the DA's investigation expand to include members of the town government, too? That remains to be seen.

For now, however, Islip residents would be best served by town officials more united in handling the crisis rather than in resuming old fights.