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Islip proposals would strip much of supervisor's power

Four members of the Republican-dominated Islip Town Board

Four members of the Republican-dominated Islip Town Board have moved to strip Town Supervisor Tom Croci of a raft of his powers. (Jan. 2, 2012) Credit: James Carbone

Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci asked the town's law office Tuesday to seek legal opinions from the state attorney general and comptroller on two town board proposals that would strip him of much of his authority.

The first-term Republican's request came at a tense board meeting, during which the board voted 4-1 -- with Croci dissenting -- to hold a public hearing on the proposals at its Feb. 12 meeting.

"This is not what the residents voted for," said Croci, whose comments were loudly applauded by the audience. "To require five signatures to order a box of paper clips or pencils is not efficient. . . . The men and women who are our friends and neighbors expect more from us, quite frankly."

Councilman Anthony S. Senft Jr., the board's lone Conservative, said the changes would make town government more transparent and responsive to residents. "We are one legislative branch, and to empower the supervisor to eliminate the town board from the process . . . is improper," he said.

The town board last week proposed a pair of resolutions that would transfer control from Croci to the entire board over hiring, firing and contract negotiations, among other responsibilities. Several town government sources said the power struggle resulted from Croci resisting pressure from Islip Republican chairman Frank A. Tantone to fill town jobs with political supporters.

In his first interview since the board announced plans to curb Croci's power, Tantone denied pressuring Croci to hire anyone. "There are no jobs," said Tantone in a phone interview. "That's ridiculous. . . . I did not force anybody upon anyone." Three residents voiced support for Croci during a public comment portion of the meeting.

"We did not elect co-supervisors," said Maureen Budington of Ronkonkoma. "I truly wonder what the reason is to usurp some, in fact a lot, of his responsibility."

Faced with a $26 million budget deficit, the board raised town property taxes 28 percent last year and made a series of cuts, including laying off 47 employees at the Department of Human Services. But the board has also proposed hiring politically connected people.

The board approved giving Tantone a $55,000 annual contract to advise the town's Planning Board, but he declined the position amid pressure over the town's budget woes. The board recently tentatively approved a $60,000 contract for Victoria Ryan, the wife of Republican State Sen. Phil Boyle, to do marketing for Long Island MacArthur Airport.

Tantone said he had not spoken to Croci recently, but said they had texted each other Monday with plans to meet in person "to kind of address some of the things that we feel. I'm the chairman of the entire party, and I'm in favor of Tom Croci. Me being painted as an adversary with Tom is foolish."

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