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Brookhaven appoints new highway chief; supervisor returns

Then-Legislator Edward Romaine attends the the blessing of

Then-Legislator Edward Romaine attends the the blessing of the Peconic Jitney. Brookhaven Town Supervisor Romaine faced public criticism for being on vacation during the recent devastating snowstorm. (June 27, 2012) Credit: Randee Daddona

Brookhaven Town officials have appointed as acting head of the town highway department the official who ran the much-criticized cleanup from last weekend's blizzard.

The appointee, John Cappella, is replacing Michael Murphy, the outgoing acting superintendent, who called in sick throughout the storm for what town officials described as a toothache.

Murphy is returning to his job as a general foreman, for which, with overtime, he could make more than he was earning as acting superintendent.

Democratic Councilwoman Connie Kepert, said Murphy, who made $123,474 in 2011 compared with a salary of $102,204 as acting superintendent, "should be fired."

Republican Town Deputy Supervisor Dan Panico said Murphy submitted a letter of resignation at 2:55 p.m. Wednesday. He said personnel issues related to Murphy would be discussed in executive session.

Kepert said, "The resignation is meaningless. We didn't have an effective manager in the state of emergency." Town officials said neither Cappella nor Murphy would be available for comment.

Supervisor Ed Romaine, who Panico said returned Wednesday from vacation in Jamaica, has not been reachable by Newsday since Monday. He is expected to hold a noontime news conference at town hall Thursday to answer questions about the town's handling of the blizzard.

Despite complaints about the highway department's performance, Panico said he's confident in Cappella's ability to care for the town's more than 2,100 miles of roads. He said Cappella "did an excellent job" responding to the blizzard, which dumped 30 inches of snow in some places and stranded many people. "The storm was lost beforehand because of poor planning." Later, he said, "He's respected in the highway department. He can lead this department."

Cappella will make $102,204 in salary as acting superintendent, town spokesman Jack Krieger said. Kepert and fellow town board member Kathy Walsh confirmed Murphy's return to his old job in the highway department. In 2011, the last year for which records were available, Murphy's total compensation exceeded his $74,442 in base pay by about $49,000, according to Brookhaven's town payroll. "Less responsibility, more money," Kepert said.

But Walsh, an Independent, said Murphy should not have resigned. "More change right now is reactionary. No one should have all the institutional knowledge," she said.

Former highway department deputy Lori Baldassare, who Murphy fired in January, criticized Cappella's appointment, saying he has less storm management experience and is a worse choice than Murphy. "Mike spent a few months in the office -- John has spent zero. It's setting him up for failure, which I think is unfair." Baldassare described Murphy as a good field worker who was overwhelmed by the administrative duties of his new post.

With Scott Eidler

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