Munsey Park mayor, trustees respond to editorial with open letter

Amelia Camurati

Munsey Park Mayor Frank DeMento and the Board of Trustees published a letter Monday on the village website to “set the record straight” in response to an editorial published in the Manhasset Times last week.

The editorial said the village’s “latest assault on civic duty” occurred when a woman in the village clerk’s office told Blank Slate Media on Feb. 16, three days after the village’s filing deadline of 5 p.m. Feb. 13, that a Freedom of Information Law request would be required to get the list of candidates who had filed to run in village elections.

Village Clerk Tara Gibbons, who said in an email a day later she had been out of town and apologized for the incident, released the names of the five candidates running in the March 20 elections — Trustee Jennifer Noone, attorney Anthony Sabino, attorney Brian Dunning, attorney Nathy Yakaitis and Village Justice John Turano.

The letter signed by DeMento and the trustees acknowledged that “a FOIL request isn’t appropriate for such information” and said the village plans to “do a better job responding to such routine questions.”

The letter also took issue with Munsey Park being named alongside North Shore villages — Roslyn Harbor, Manorhaven, Baxter Estates, Sands Point, Kings Point, Lake Success, New Hyde Park and Floral Park — that scored below average in a Press Club of Long Island audit in 2016.

“The other villages named in the editorial failed a 2016 test based on adherence to FOIL requirements, while Munsey Park passed that same test,” the letter states. “While we can always do better at responding to FOIL requests, we think it was misleading of the editorial not to make it clear that Munsey Park passed the test.”

The audit was conducted over 16 months and graded the responsiveness of 195 municipalities on a scale of 0 to 100. Villages across the North Shore averaged a 66.2, or D rating, lower than the C average for all governments and agencies.

The mayor’s and trustees’ letter contended that the editorial appeared to equate “good government with the speed with which government responds to information requests from the press.” But the letter said the officials preferred to judge their performance by such things as a 0 percent tax increase expected in the coming fiscal year, the village’s Aa2 credit rating and the renovations of Copley Pond and Waldmann Memorial parks at little cost to the residents.

“As your mayor and trustees, our goal is to provide Village residents with a safe, welcoming, and beautiful village that reflects the people who live here and deserve nothing less,” the letter said. “We intend to continue to budget conservatively, with a view toward keeping taxes as low as possible. This approach necessarily means prioritizing projects; similar to how every household in the Village manages its finances.”

In 2017, Blank Slate Media also wrote an editorial about DeMento’s refusal to let four residents — Dunning, Yakaitis, former Deputy Mayor Deborah Miller and former Trustee Jim McGivney — speak during a public hearing in July on a proposed walkway between the Congregational Church of Manhasset’s parking lot and Munsey Park Elementary School.

“You do not have the right to speak at this public hearing because it is not your public hearing,” DeMento said at the hearing.

That public hearing came about two months after village officials defended the appointment of DeMento’s brother-in-law, Daniel Breen, a village utility worker, as village administrator without a job search. The village clerk-treasurer, Barbara Miller, said at the time that she was not made aware of the appointment before the meeting and was “shocked” that the creation of the position was not mentioned on the meeting’s agenda.

Breen declined the position two weeks later in May 2017 after a public uproar, and Miller was replaced.

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