The Town of Brookhaven's handling of the February blizzard, during which highway crews infuriated residents by failing to clear some roads for days, has emerged as a central issue in the race for town supervisor.
Democratic challenger Vivian Viloria-Fisher, 65, is criticizing Republican incumbent Edward P. Romaine, 66, for going on vacation as the massive storm approached.
Romaine has said the town's highway department, which is not under his direct control, was obligated to clear roads in the storm's aftermath.
The Feb. 8-9 blizzard dumped more than 30 inches of snow on parts of town, and some residents waited more than four days for their streets to be plowed.
Viloria-Fisher said the next supervisor must work with all levels of government and first responders to ensure preparedness when storms strike. "That has to come from the office of the supervisor," she said in an interview. "I have an issue with the fact that he left during the blizzard. That was definitely a problem."
In a separate interview, Romaine said he's focused on running a positive campaign.
The supervisor has defended his vacation, saying that when he left town on Feb. 6, forecasts did not show significant snowfall. Forecasts had predicted 12 inches.
Romaine, a former county clerk and a Suffolk legislator who ran for Brookhaven supervisor following the resignation of Mark Lesko, stressed his record since winning a special election in November.
Romaine has led efforts to pass a Carmans River plan, cracked down on banks that have failed to maintain foreclosed homes and buildings, and introduced a $252.4 million tentative budget that would increase spending 1.9 percent with no layoffs or tax hikes. "I put together a budget that nobody thought I could put together," Romaine said.
But Viloria-Fisher said the budget is based on cuts made by Lesko and that early retirement packages to town employees explain the lack of layoffs. Under Romaine, 14 town employees took an early retirement package that saved the town $1 million.
Viloria-Fisher is a former Suffolk County legislator who left office in 2012 after 12 years under the county term limit law. She once chaired the Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee, and has promised to focus on protecting open space and water.
"It's important that we have those in place," said Viloria-Fisher, who in 2004 sponsored the legislation that led to a $75 million bond referendum to preserve county farmland and other open space.
She said Brookhaven needs a clear agenda as to where to develop so it won't lose its character. She also said she doesn't support patronage jobs: "I want as much professionalism as possible."
Viloria-Fisher also accused Romaine of taking credit from Democratic Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld for the town's crackdown on illegal boardinghouses in Stony Brook.
Romaine, who has held news conferences on the issue in the community, said "that is not the case" but he declined further comment.
The supervisor said he plans to revise the town sign code and create a department of general services to oversee the purchasing and information technology departments, fleet management and maintenance, and the mail room.He also wants to allow residents to renew building permits online or by mail instead of traveling to Town Hall.