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Candidates for North Hempstead Supervisor

Anton Newspapers asked Democratic incumbent Jon Kaiman and Republican challenger Lee Tu to respond to the following questions

Jon Kaiman

In the area of “good and open government” how can the Town of North Hempstead keep its constituents better informed of pending Town Board actions?

Town government sometimes publishes short and vague, almost cryptic, synopses of its Town Board Agenda and public hearing items which hinders constituent involvement. What are your thoughts about increasing the level of detail made public, and made public in a more timely way?

What are your thoughts on increasing the involvement of local civic groups into the Town planning process on matters that directly affect a specific community prior to formal public hearings, so that the public hearing is not the first time the local constituencies have an opportunity to review a plan?

What are your thoughts on Town board actions being announced and acted upon during summer months when constituents are often unable to participate?

The Town publishes its calendar online and sends it to civic associations prior to the meetings.  Civics and individuals have regularly reached out to town officials when there are issues of concern.  When requests come in to delay matters so that more information can be gathered, the town board continues the matter for that purpose.   Any issues of significance are presented to the local press which usually publishes such information.  I am not aware of any issue in Manhasset where the town board voted and then heard that the community was not properly advised.  In fact, numerous significant issues have come before us and all have been vetted thoroughly by local civics and community residents, usually with the results that the community wanted.  I am not aware of any issue that was voted on during the summer months that had any negative impact on Manhasset or that residents within the Manhasset community believe was given insufficient time or attention. 

The TNH Planning/Building Department continues to be criticized for its delays in processing applications. The delays negatively affect local businesses and anger homeowners. Why the wait? What are your thoughts on how to streamline the process? Comment on the practice of hiring “expediters” recommended by the town allowing an individual to obtain a permit in 10 or so business days.

The negative attention focused on the Buildings Department is there because the Buildings Department does not authorize certificates when there are violations remaining on the property.  This is frustrating to those who want to make changes to their property, but have other code issues that may have been dormant for years, but now require resolution consistent with the NYS Buildings Code.  For years we were criticized for not having enough inspectors and not universally enforcing the code.  We now enforce it to the letter and it has resulted in difficulties for many residents.  The most common problem is when architects or contractors make promises to homeowners, only to find that their promise involves building something that is in violation of our zoning and buildings code.  The level of misinformation provided to us is staggering.  When they don’t get away with it, they blame the town and the homeowner gets more frustrated.  It is our hope that with our high level of management, professionals and trained inspectors and our soon to be acquired national accreditation, all involved in the process will understand the rules, abide by them, and be dealt with consistently, fairly, and quickly by all Buildings Department personnel.  

In your opinion what is the most pressing issue currently facing the town?

The most pressing issue facing the town is the economy.  We provide a high level of service to our seniors, to our residents and to all who live or work in the Town of North Hempstead.  We have the highest bond rating in our town history and we have been recognized by independent agencies and associations for the great accomplishments and the superior management processes that we have achieved.  A poor economy has led the county to fiscal ruin and that puts a greater drain on towns such as ours.  In times of economic stress, we must be extra diligent in preventing our community from stagnating or diminishing. We must still maintain our parks and roads and the services that our residents count on and need.  A bad economy makes it more difficult to do that, but so far we have been successful and we will continue to make every effort to protect every dollar and serve every resident to the best of our ability. 

Lee Tu

In the area of “good and open government” how can the Town of North Hempstead keep its constituents better informed of pending Town Board actions?

Town government sometimes publishes short and vague, almost cryptic, synopses of its Town Board Agenda and public hearing items which hinders constituent involvement. What are your thoughts about increasing the level of detail made public, and made public in a more timely way?

What are your thoughts on increasing the involvement of local civic groups into the Town planning process on matters that directly affect a specific community prior to formal public hearings, so that the public hearing is not the first time the local constituencies have an opportunity to review a plan?

What are your thoughts on Town board actions being announced and acted upon during summer months when constituents are often unable to participate?

Transparency is the modern day gold standard of good government.  The first obligation of elected officials is to insure that the tax dollars collected are spent with care and in the light of the day.  In North Hempstead, where residents pay some of the highest property taxes in the country, it is all the more important to be transparent.

For example the Town posts its board agendas online. The existing policy is to post it on the Friday before their Tuesday meetings.  This gives local residents very little time to view the proposed agendas, which are either very vague or contain no synopsis whatsoever, in particular when it comes to zoning or code changes.  I will ensure that all agenda items are described in detailed, easy-to-read language.  There should be no mystery about what the town board is voting on.

In addition, I will use an electronic distribution system (email) for residents who request an electronic notice.  Likewise, I would post backup material through the Town website.

We must bring the community back into the decision making process and a big part of that is reconnecting with our civic groups.  I will hold periodic meetings with the “Civics” so that their concerns will be given due consideration before a decision is ready to be made. This is a critical approach that will benefit our community outreach especially for Town board meetings during the summer months and around the holidays.

As supervisor, I want our residents to have full access to town board meetings, whether they can make the meetings in person or not.  North Hempstead has time on a public access TV channel. Board meetings should be broadcast and re-broadcast for the public. In addition, the Town board’s public sessions should be streamed live online via the Town’s website.

The Town also needs to deal with public comment prior to the calendar.  I would assemble meetings earlier and schedule an “open mike” session before the evening’s calendar rather than leaving the public comment period until the very end. There’s no reason a resident should wait for hours and sit through 40-plus agenda items waiting to be heard. 

The TNH Planning/Building Department continues to be criticized for its delays in processing applications. The delays negatively affect local businesses and anger homeowners. Why the wait? What are your thoughts on how to streamline the process? Comment on the practice of hiring “expediters” recommended by the town allowing an individual to obtain a permit in 10 or so business days.

The North Hempstead building department is dysfunctional.  After the worst corruption scandal in the history of the Town, where five building department employees, including the buildings commissioner, deputy commissioner and three inspectors, were arrested for taking bribes and leaning on residents with pending applications before the department for political contributions, the board promised to make things better. But instead of reforming the system, it now takes months, and in some cases years, to get permits or certificates of occupancy.

The buildings department has now become the biggest roadblock for residents to improve their homes and for commercial property owners to rent out their space.  Why should residents have to pay an expediter to do the job that the Town is supposed to do in the first place? 

Supervisor Kaiman is out of touch with Town residents on the state of the buildings department because he does not need to use it.  He has the luxury living in a Village where he is immune to the day to day waste and cost of the Town’s Building processes.  Meanwhile the homeowners and businesses of the Town’s unincorporated areas suffer. Instead of revamping the department, the administration places the blame on the professionals serving the residents.

The Lee Tu administration will streamline the buildings department and bring in a professional management team; appoint to the board of zoning and appeals individuals who have knowledge of their communities; and institute a Property Owners’ Bill of Rights. It’s time that we make the buildings department work for us.

In your opinion what is the most pressing issue currently facing the town?

The most pressing issue today is keeping the Kaiman administration and the Town board from borrowing millions of taxpayer dollars to buy the privately-owned Roslyn Country Club (RCC) in Roslyn Heights.  Despite his statements in public, this costs all taxpayers. The property will be removed from the tax roll, which means the rest of us will have to pick up the tax burden in addition to repaying the debt.

With the current state of the economy, taxpayers cannot afford any additional taxes, especially to buy a country club! There are more than 225,000 residents in the Town of North Hempstead, but buying the RCC’s high end pool and tennis courts is all about appeasing the fewer than 700 homeowners who live nearest the RCC.  The Kaiman administration, having raised the Town’s property tax levy 40 percent over the past eight years, and increasing spending this year by 4.42 percent, with 90 cents of every tax dollar going to pay debt, wants us to believe that the typical North Hempstead resident would be happy to pay up to $2,000 a year to join the RCC.

The Democrats on the Town board are out of touch and, as usual, appear ready to rubber-stamp the Kaiman administration’s economically deceptive proposal.  The voters have a chance on Tuesday, November 8, to keep North Hempstead from buying any part of the Roslyn Country Club.  It can be done by electing me and my running mates, Jeff Bass, Dina DeGiorgio, Ed Scott and Jane Centrella.