Tom Croci at Suffolk County Republican Headquarters in Hauppauge. (Nov....

Tom Croci at Suffolk County Republican Headquarters in Hauppauge. (Nov. 8, 2011) Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

After weeks of candidate interviews, the incoming Islip Town administration announced three hires Wednesday, the first department head changes as Supervisor-elect Tom Croci prepares to take the helm Jan. 1.

Department of Public Works Commissioner Rich Baker, Labor Relations Director Rob Finnegan and Chief of Staff George Hoffman will be replaced, respectively, by Thomas Owens, chief deputy commissioner of Brookhaven's parks department; Linda Angello, New York State labor department commissioner under Gov. George Pataki; and Lynda Distler, mayor of Lindenhurst from 2000 to 2004.

Distler has been an analyst for National Grid, and Angello is also a former aide to state Sen. Caesar Trunzo.

The appointees are Republicans, replacing two Democrats and an Independence Party member. Neither Distler nor Owens, a former deputy highway superintendent for Brookhaven, live in Islip. Hoffman lived in Islip until two years ago. None of the new appointees could be reached for comment.

Croci, who faces enormous financial challenges in Islip, where revenue from mortgage tax receipts plummeted from about $23 million in 2007 to less than $8 million in the four subsequent years, said Wednesday he would keep Comptroller Joseph Ludwig.

"The comptroller merely enacts the policy the town board and supervisor have set, and in that capacity, I'm comfortable he will do that for us," said Croci, who will lead a 5-0 Republican/Conservative board.

Croci and his team, including councilmen-elect John Cochrane and Anthony Senft, a Conservative, campaigned on a platform of cutting taxes, though Islip residents already are among the lowest taxed of any municipality on Long Island.

Those involved in the interviewing process included Croci's transition team -- former congressman Rick Lazio, and fellow Republicans John Schettino and Joseph Badala.

Islip GOP chairman Frank Tantone, an attorney and former head of the town planning board, told Newsday he had sat in on "more than half, maybe two-thirds" of the screening interviews. His vice chairman, Bill Garbarino, and Suffolk County Conservative leader Ed Walsh also attended some sessions, Tantone said.

The screening process became controversial after Croci asked department heads and their deputies to submit a resume and a resignation letter if they wished to remain through the new administration. He later dropped the request for resignations.

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