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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Embattled Oyster Bay proposing reform after reform

Oyster Bay Town Hall is shown in this

Oyster Bay Town Hall is shown in this photo taken on Sunday, March 27, 2016. Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

Town of Oyster Bay officials tossed out its list of reforms like a life preserver last week, with the goal of pulling residents from the storm of official misconduct and corruption allegations set off by federal and state prosecutions.

But not so fast.

Because no matter how hard appointed Supervisor Joseph Saladino and his Republican-dominated town board toss around reforms, big waves keep on coming.

Last week, we learned that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was recommending that civil penalties be assessed against Oyster Bay — because of alleged “misstatements and omissions” the town made in borrowing documents dating back to 2010 about loan guarantees involving former town contractor Harendra Singh.

Singh has pleaded not guilty to multiple federal charges, including bribing a former assistant town attorney to help secure loans — backed by town taxpayers — to help his faltering businesses.

Those loans — some of which the town claims were never properly approved — are now at the center of multiple lawsuits involving Oyster Bay and former officials.

The loans also play a prominent role in the federal indictment against former Supervisor John Venditto and County Executive Edward Mangano, both of whom have pleaded not guilty to corruption-related charges.

Oyster Bay last week hired a law firm — at $832.50 an hour — to handle the potential SEC fallout. At the same meeting, the board also approved spending more than a half-million dollars for work already completed by another law firm representing the town in Singh-related matters. With that, the firm has been paid more than $1.6 million since 2015 for Singh-related work.

Meanwhile, Oyster Bay, also last week, approved throwing another almost $432,000 at finding out why the town’s $36 million parking garage has been plagued by leaks and a host of other ills — almost since the day the facility opened in 2011.

Altogether, the board last week approved spending a lot of money for a town that continues to have significant budget problems. But the board’s actions didn’t end there.

By a 6-to-1 vote, the board agreed to appoint Brian Nevin, a top aide to Mangano, as Oyster Bay’s new public information officer — at a salary of $163,000 a year.

Vicki Spinelli, the town’s deputy commissioner for human resources, said money to fund the position for Nevin — who for years worked with Saladino, a former assemblyman, in Albany where Nevin was a budget analyst, director of operations for Republicans and also was on the Assembly GOP campaign committee — would come from a consolidation that would eliminate several slots in the sanitation department.

No one, apparently, asked how funding for lawyers and the garage would be covered.

But let’s get to last week’s announcement of reforms.

First up, Saladino abruptly changed course on a threat to terminate town contracts with one politically connected firm after learning that Frank Antetomaso, a former town commissioner who was among eight people indicted last month on state corruption-related charges, was no longer with the company. But, Saladino said, the town would sever ties with Carlo Lizza & Sons Paving, a firm that also was named in the state indictment.

In addition, he said, the town plans to fire one employee named in the indictment — although nothing was said about potentially rehiring town employees who, according to the indictment, lost their jobs to cover up the targeted firing of another employee.

But the big reform, for which Saladino offered no specifics, was to create a town inspector general to oversee contracts, an idea Saladino’s opponent, Democrat Marc Herman, brought up at a wild news conference last month — which Saladino interrupted by heckling.

The problem with tossing out reforms is determining whether they’re the right ones most needed. But how can town residents make that determination when details about what went wrong — with the garage, the loans, etc. — come only from federal and state prosecutors, the SEC and judges in civil cases?

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