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Smithtown board, Vecchio split over proposal to reorganize, appoint commissioners

Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio is shown in this

Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio is shown in this file photo. Credit: Alejandra Villa

Smithtown board members are exploring a plan to reorganize town government by appointing commissioners, despite opposition from Supervisor Patrick Vecchio.

A work session earlier this month turned heated as Suffolk County Department of Civil Service director Alan Schneider answered questions about how to implement the proposal by councilmen Robert Creighton and Edward Wehrheim.

Vecchio called the discussion "a waste of time."

"There's been no overwhelming support here to put commissionerships into the town government, and yet we're going to hear how you do it," said Vecchio said before Schneider spoke at the July 14 hearing. "I have no interest in it, so I don't have to listen to it."

The proposal, suggested in March, calls for condensing 23 departments into four -- public works, public safety, human services, and planning and development -- each overseen by an appointed commissioner. Offices for the town attorney, assessor, tax receiver, comptroller and clerk would not be included.

Schneider said the plan was "doable" and if the town chose to appoint commissioners -- as have Islip, Babylon, Huntington and Brookhaven -- the measure must be adopted by the board, specified in local laws and approved by the county and state.

Councilman Thomas McCarthy asked whether the board could legislate criteria for commissioners "so that boards after us just don't put in Joe Blow, the friend of Joe Blow?"

Schneider said the board could specify criteria in laws.

Councilwoman Lynne C. Nowick questioned whether town employees promoted to commissioner titles would lose their civil service status.

Schneider said they wouldn't have civil service protection, but could return to their former positions and retain seniority if reinstated.

Vecchio pointed to controversies with commissioners in other towns, citing allegations of toxic dumping in Islip and bribe-taking in Oyster Bay. "That's when you don't have control," he said.

Creighton said having more than 20 people answerable to anyone was out of control.

Creighton said last week he was still pursuing the changes. "I am still in the process of trying to learn as much about it as we can, and to educate the other councilmen."


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