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Five-Alarm Response

Emotions ignite after

trustees vote for layoffs

Emotions remain high nearly a week after a raucous Garden City village board meeting at which trustees voted to lay off six firefighters and demote one officer. With the standing-room-only crowd of residents and firefighter families spilling into the hallway of village hall at the Thursday evening meeting, the board voted 6-2 to make the cuts, in an effort to save more than $900,000.

“The model we need is to have eight [firefighters] during the day, eight during the night, and a vacation relief guy for nights and days, plus three on disability. That’s 21, and now we have 26 plus five,” Deputy Mayor/Fire Commissioner John Watras told the board. “We’re actually going down to 21 and four, but we really have 18 firefighters that are available to show up.”

In other words, Watras said the fire department could operate with four lieutenants and 18 firefighters. For nearly a century, volunteers have augmented the professional staff. This makes the Village of Garden City, along with the city of Long Beach, the only two Long Island communities to carry a hybrid department of paid and volunteer firefighters.

“My opposition to the layoffs of six firefighters is no secret,” said Mayor Donald Brudie, who was joined by Trustee Andrew Cavanaugh in voting against the resolution. “As mayor, I am opposed to reducing the staff of a department charged with life-saving and property-protection responsibilities. The budget process has just begun and the board is taking these steps without first exploring reductions in other non-life-threatening areas where expenditure reductions would not have a draconian impact on our residents, their property and their safety.”

Before the vote, public comment brought a veritable conga line of speakers, most of whom spoke passionately against the layoffs, expressing emotions ranging from surprise and incredulousness to desperation and anger, particularly at the fact that news of this motion had allegedly been released just days before. Longtime resident Tim Gaynor was especially incensed.

“I work in labor relations so I have a little bit of a different take in terms of how stuff is done,” Gaynor said. “I don’t see the transparency of [this process]. The first I heard of this was through an email last night from one of your paid firefighters. I had no knowledge of this whatsoever, and I think that’s kind of deceiving. I was actually in support of the closing of firehouses, but I didn’t think there would be an impact on the paid guys. If people get laid off, you will not hear the last of me.”

Firehouse closings were among the recommendations in a report issued this past summer by the International/City County Management Association (ICMA). Commissioned by the Village Board, the report proposed eliminating nighttime staff at the Edgemere Road and Clinton Road satellite stations and changing dispatch calls from being directly placed to the three Garden City firehouses to the Firecom dispatcher as a means of reducing response times. Residents recoiled at the proposals.

Watras said he used the ICMA report as well as meetings with fire chiefs within the department to arrive at the plan to lay off six firemen and demote one lieutenant to the rank of firefighter.

While many residents expressed concerns that the cuts would compromise safety, Trustees John DeMaro, Nicholas Episcopia, Dennis Donnelly, Brian Daughney, John Watras and Laurence J. Quinn were not convinced, and voted for the motion.

“Fifteen years ago we had the same number of people arriving at your fire as 10 years ago, five years ago, last year and a year from now,” said Quinn. “The actual number of paid firefighters under [this] plan is exactly the same. We’re not closing firehouses. We’re going to have the same guys show up.”

“And we’ll probably have more [firefighters on the scene] because the volunteers get there quicker,” added Daughney.

The effective date of the changes has not been set.

At the meeting, Brudie pointed out that collective bargaining isn’t over, and a reversal of the resolution is still possible. But this was little consolation to firefighter family members who left the boardroom in tears with children in tow. At press time, Village Administrator Robert Schoelle responded via email that the village had not yet received the actual names of the six laid off firefighters from the Civil Service Commission and a call to Chief Charles Cavarra was not returned.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Lieutenant Frank Roca, a 23-year member of the Garden City Fire Department whose rank will be reduced to firefighter as part of the resolution.

“My heart goes out to these guys,” he said outside of the boardroom after the vote. “These guys left good jobs [to become Garden City firefighters]…But right now, it was just thrown away.”

The next meeting of the board is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 8 p.m.

News

Residents needed to run

The Garden City East Nominating Committee is seeking residents of the East who are interested in being interviewed for the positions of village mayor, village trustee and school board trustee. These positions are subject to election by all village residents. The village mayoral and trustee terms are for two years beginning on April 6, 2015 and the school board trustee term is for three years beginning on July 1, 2015.

Any resident of the East who is interested in being considered for one of these positions must submit a letter of intent and a resume. This submission should note the position being sought; include their name, contact information, a statement explaining their reason for interest in the position, a summary of their professional background and other qualifications, including, although not required, current or prior involvement in village or school board positions or initiatives.

Donald Barrick, Life’s WORC Board Chairman announced that Janet Koch has been hired as the new Executive Director of Life’s WORC, a Garden City-based 501(c) (3) not-for-profit corporation. Koch assumes this leadership responsibility as Peter Smergut retires after 20 years in this position. After a thorough and extensive executive search process, the Life’s WORC Board is confident Koch has the vision and skills consistent with the needs of the organization. She will assume her position as executive director on Monday, Nov. 3.


Sports

High School Jazz Class Added To Dance Conservatory

Dance Conservatory Director Felicia Lovaglio has decided to add a jazz class for students in 9th through 12th grades who are residents of the Incorporated Village of Garden City. This 55-minute class will be held on Saturdays at 4 p.m. beginning on Saturday, Nov. 8. The cost of this 20-week class will be $200. Preregistration is necessary by visiting the recreation and parks office at 108 Rockaway Ave.

Adult Dance Performance Group Now Registering

The recreation and parks department offers an adult dance group that works on jazz and contemporary moves and leads up to a performance in a Dance Company Showcase. Whether you are a beginner dance student or someone who danced as a child and would like to try again, this program will help you achieve your goals. Classes will be held on Saturday mornings beginning Saturday, Nov. 8. Each class is 55 minutes long and the session will run through May. The cost of this program will be $220.  

Reminder

With the fall sports season upon us, the department of recreation and parks would like to remind all residents that pets are not allowed in any neighborhood parks, Community Park, or St. Paul’s fields. Non compliance with this rule will result in the issuance of appearance tickets.

Register For The Online Registration Option

Garden City’s Department of Recreation and Parks will offer the option of online registration with credit card payment beginning with its winter programs in early December.

In order for a family to use the online registration option, the family will first need to visit the recreation and parks office at 108 Rockaway Ave. to verify residency and their family information and receive their password.  A list of instructions as to how to use the website will be included.


Calendar

 Murder, Madness & Poe

Thursday, October 30

Marvelous Movie Matinée

Monday, November 3

Manhasset Comes To Garden City

Through November 25



Columns

1959: The Year The Music Stopped Playing
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com

The Eccentric Heiress Of ‘Empty Mansions’
Written by Mike Barry, MFBarry@optonline.net

Yellow Margarine And A Pitch For The Ages
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com