To the Editors:
We are running in the March 20 election for the Munsey Park Board of Trustees. Long-time residents of the Village (28 and 16 years), we are moved to run against the current Board’s record of nepotism, cronyism, bullying and frivolous litigation.
Readers may recall that on May 10, 2017, shortly after starting his second term as mayor, Frank DeMento created a new position called “Village Administrator” to which he appointed his brother-in-law, currently a member of the village maintenance crew. Three trustees—including Jennifer Noone, who is running for re-election—supported this arrangement. Then-Village Clerk Barbara Miller said that she learned of the new job and the appointment of DeMento’s brother-in-law for the first time during the meeting. The position was never posted, and nobody else was ever interviewed for it. (The brother-in-law ultimately chose not to take the position.)
Had Newsday not reported on this meeting, most residents would have had no idea of what DeMento was up to. The press coverage was not flattering to Munsey Park. In an op-ed, after reporting on one Trustee’s audacious public scolding of residents who complained about nepotism (Trustee to residents: “I don’t think you think you did anything bad. But you did. . ..”), Newsday columnist Joye Brown asked, “Does the village—with its lack of transparency in creating and filling a position, when officials so easily could have advertised the post and openly solicited candidates—realize what it’s doing to residents?” Brown compared Munsey Park’s board to Oyster Bay’s, the first municipal government in New York history to be ordered by a judge to attend classes on how to comply with the state’s Open Meetings Law.
Later that month, the Board fired Barbara Miller. Miller was one of the most experienced clerks in Nassau County. As her replacement, the Board selected a candidate who had no relevant experience. She joined the Deputy Clerk, a long-time friend of DeMento’s who similarly had no government experience when he hired her at the start of his first term.
Nepotism and cronyism are reasons enough to vote for change. Add to those things self-dealing and a failure to abide by best practices of open government, which have cost Munsey Park taxpayers dearly in the form of frivolous litigation, and the need for change is manifest. One example is the infamous water tower litigation.
In 2014, the Manhasset-Lakeville Water District undertook to replace the 85-year-old elevated water tank to the West of Manhasset Woods Road and North of Park Avenue. The new state-of-the-art tank would be a critical part of the community’s infrastructure. The water tower abuts several Munsey Park properties, including the home of a current Trustee. Rather than welcome this vital upgrade, the Board sued the Water District to stop it. They quickly lost in court. Twice. The cost to the Village? Nobody knows for sure, because the Board has refused to answer at least two requests made under the Freedom of Information Law. Credible estimates are that this litigation cost the Village as much as $250,000.
And then there are the monthly meetings. If you have attended one in the last few years, you are familiar with the Board’s contemptuous treatment of the public and its distaste for transparency. In an editorial titled “Don’t Cry for Me, Munsey Park,” the editors of the Manhasset Times wrote: “Perhaps [Munsey Park Board of Trustees] should also seek someone who wants to head a village government that adheres to democratic norms.” That editorial described a meeting at which DeMento silenced residents who had the temerity to ask tough questions about a proposed Village project and derisively referred to them as the “peanut gallery.” The editors also wrote that, “[a]lmost as bad as DeMento’s attitude is that of his fellow board members who failed to object to DeMento’s refusal to allow the residents to speak.” Jennifer Noone was at that meeting; she did nothing to stop DeMento.
We could go on. We could and will talk about things like the refusal of the Village to prune its own trees, as it did for generations, and the shifting of that costly burden to individual residents without notice. We could and will also talk about the need to repair and invest in infrastructure.
We believe everyone should be talking about all of those things. But first we need to rid our Village government of nepotism, cronyism, bullying and self-dealing. It’s time to have Trustees who will stand up to Frank DeMento. That is why we are running for the two Trustee spots that are up for election on March 20, 2018.
Please vote for us on March 20. Help us fix Munsey Park.
Very truly yours,
Brian C. Dunning