Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has Show More
Word is that Tom Croci, the Islip Town supervisor who went off last year to serve his country in Afghanistan, could be returning home from duty soon.
When he does, Islip will gain what it's been missing during weeks of a growing toxic dumping scandal: an elected executive, rather than an appointed deputy supervisor limited by state law to a nonvoting, advisory role.
The lack of an elected supervisor may be one reason why residents continue to express frustration at the town's response. In other municipalities, residents probably would have looked to a supervisor or mayor to take charge, explain what was happening and outline what actions would come next.
"Government is defined primarily through the executive," said political consultant Michael Dawidziak, who works primarily for Republicans. "An executive always gets the credit and the blame, whether they deserve it or not."
The lack of an executive did not stop Islip's government from running. Croci appointed Eric Hofmeister, the town's environmental control commissioner, to serve as deputy supervisor.
Hofmeister assumed administrative responsibilities, handling everything from meeting agendas to Islip's response to snow removal during this year's seemingly never-ending winter.
In that role, he also advises the town board, although he has no vote.
Hofmeister has put together a team of administrators -- including the town attorney and an official functioning as a liaison with the Suffolk County district attorney's office, which is investigating the dumping -- to work on a remediation plan.
But residents used to seeing a supervisor as the public face of town government don't necessarily see the behind-the-scenes work.
Complicating matters is that residents -- along with Hofmeister and the town board -- will have to await the results of the district attorney's investigation to determine what the town will do next.
That has left District Attorney Thomas Spota, whose office also has been coordinating testing at multiple sites in Islip and other municipalities, as the main source of information for the public -- and for Islip residents living near the dump sites.
Republican council member Anthony Senft, the town board's liaison to the parks department, has been doing most of the talking for the board -- which, with no executive, is reduced to four members, but still has the authority to move initiatives through.
And during a recent information meeting for town residents, it was Hofmeister and the town's spokeswoman, who tried, unsuccessfully, to address the concerns of angry, frustrated residents.
With Croci's return, the town once again will have an elected supervisor, who has a vote on the town board, on the scene. Croci was recalled to active duty in the Navy last year for an overseas tour that was expected to last until this spring.
"He's going to come back and have to wade right in to this," Dawidziak said. "Residents are going to be looking to him, as they always do to an executive, for answers."