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Oyster Bay Town supervisor candidate files complaint against incumbent

James Altadonna Jr., left, Democratic candidate for Oyster

James Altadonna Jr., left, Democratic candidate for Oyster Bay Town supervisor, and Joseph Saladino, the Republican incumbent. Photo Credit: James Escher

The Oyster Bay town clerk, a candidate for supervisor, has filed a complaint with the state Board of Elections alleging the current supervisor misused town resources for his campaign.

James Altadonna Jr., a Republican who's running on the Democrat line against Supervisor Joseph Saladino, said in the complaint filed last week that an email Saladino sent out through the town's mailing list earlier this month touting improved municipal finances was “misleading” and “indistinguishable from a campaign email." 

“He’s using the town website and town emails for what I believe are political purposes, as opposed to informational purposes for our residents,” Altadonna said in a news conference.

In response, Saladino’s campaign spokesman Mike Deery did not address the specific allegations but pointed to Altadonna’s involvement in a federal lawsuit filed in 2013, in which former town board candidate Christopher Briggs sued Oyster Bay alleging employees had illegally used town vehicles to transport campaign signs.

Town spokesman Brian Nevin called Altadonna's allegations "ridiculous and wrong."

A federal court complaint in 2013 states Briggs believed Altadonna and another town employee loaded campaign materials into their vehicles in violation of  a local ordinance. The case was settled in 2015 with the town admitting to no wrongdoing. As part of the settlement the town is required to tell its employees they are prohibited from engaging in political activity for a party or candidate during work hours and can’t use town property for that purpose.

“The only abuse of town resources has come from Jim Altadonna,” Deery wrote in a statement.

State elections enforcement counsel Risa Sugarman said in an email that the work of the division is confidential and she declined to comment on Altadonna's complaint.  

Altadonna, who was joined at a news conference last Wednesday by Democratic town board candidates, also questioned the town's recording of the sale of property at 150 Miller Place in Syosset as revenue and not as a liability.

The town received $32.5 million from the sale, which was executed in 2013 but hasn’t closed. Because the sale has not been finalized, it remains a liability, according to the town's Comprehensive Annual Financial report for 2018. The report states that if the town had followed generally accepted accounting principles, "total fund balance in the General Fund would be decreased by $32,500,000 and total liabilities would be increased respectively."

Oyster Bay Finance Director Robert Darienzo said the town had deviated from generally accepted accounting principles in 2013 under previous Town Supervisor John Venditto when it recorded the money from the sale as revenue. Officials weren't originally aware of the issue, but have continued to consistently record the money in this way, Darienzo said. 

"The facts are that the town needed that money at that time and received an advanced payment," Darienzo said. 

Thad Calabrese, an associate professor of public and nonprofit financial management at NYU, said that there can be some confusion because municipalities use a different method of accounting than in financial reporting, but added that this is also a “classic way” of trying to cover a budget hole and it doesn’t “comport with (generally accepted accounting principles.)”

“One of the reasons we have (generally accepted accounting principles) is so we can see these things,” Calabrese said. 

In May, the town was sued for more than $30 million by the property buyer, Syosset Park Development LLC, which claims the town defaulted by failing to pay fees associated with the sale.

Darienzo said the town can’t predict the outcome of the litigation but in the “absolute worst case scenario,” the town could issue debt “to pay for that settlement, which would be over the course of 10 to 15 years.”

Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the specifics of the federal lawsuit complaint.

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