Written by Pat Grace Friday, 21 October 2011 00:00
Candidates for Town of North Hempstead Councilperson for District #4 spoke at the Council of Greater Manhasset Civic Associations on Oct. 12–Republican Jeff Bass and Democrat Anna Kaplan, both residents of Great Neck. The current councilwoman, Maria-Christina Poons, also from Great Neck, has decided not to run.
District #4 encompasses the villages of Roslyn, Roslyn Estates, Munsey Park, North Hills, Great Neck, Great Neck Gardens, Kensington, Kings Point, Thomaston, and the unincorporated areas of Manhasset and Great Neck.
Jeffrey Bass began by stating he was a three time elected trustee of the Village of Great Neck. He said he was a strategic advisor to business owners and executives of major corporations and not for profits. He was formally partner in charge of strategic advisory services at Margolin Winer and Evens LLP, and explained it was one of the country’s largest regional accounting and business advisory firms. He was also in a management role at Price Waterhouse and in the Koch administration. Bass said he was the only elected delegate to the White House conference on small business from Long Island and co-chaired the New York State Northeast Regional Capital Formation committee. He said he rewrote Blue Sky Laws that make it easier and less expensive for small companies to acquire financing. He listed other accomplishments: past president of the American Jewish Conmmittee on Long Island; a founder of the Great Neck Arts Center; member of the Manhasset Bay Protection Committee; and active in and founder of the Great Neck Business Circle. Bass also said he has a significant amount of business, government and academic experience as he taught graduate courses in public administration and public finance. He earned two graduate degrees, one in urban planning from the City University of New York the other in public administration from New York University.
After providing information on his background Bass said, “I’m running for this position because in my position as trustee, frankly, and more importantly as a resident of the Town of North Hempstead, I’ve witnessed over the years the town council become very complacent in its role, it has become a rubber stamp seemingly to whatever the supervisor puts before them whether it’s a budget, or whether it’s a proposal to acquire private property and take it off the tax rolls such as currently being discussed relative to the Roslyn Country Club.” He said the town council’s acquiescence, by not saying anything, “has come to comport itself with an air of entitlement and an air of arrogance towards citizens, perhaps most reflected by the town building department. Our building department is the worst on Long Island and is known to be that, as said by architects, developers, and more importantly, by homeowners.” Bass mentioned a woman in Manhasset who said for 13 months she’s been waiting to get her kitchen done. Thirteen months waiting to get approvals, inspections and she still can’t use her kitchen. “That impacts quality of life,” Bass said. “It impacts economic development in our town. It impacts the creation of jobs in our towns. It impacts the ability of this town to sustain itself as a wonderful place to live.”
This town, Bass continued, over the past eight years has had a practice of increasing taxes by 40 percent. Taxes are going up again, he added, with the proposed budget in the upcoming fiscal year. “Someone said the average is only $8 per household but that’s not true,” he said, “[it] depends upon the house, and my response to that was to some people $8 is not a significant amount while to others it is. Some are elderly, some on fixed income. It’s not the $8, it’s the fact it is being done. The fact it is one tax on top of another tax, and it is cumulative.” He believes every unit of government has to recognize that incremental increases are just piling it on. This town, Bass continued, “despite the protestations of its supervisor, is a horribly inefficient town.” He said that there are operational efficiencies that can be made “that make it more effective in service delivery, and I’m not just talking about the building department, but also public works, and less expensively.” Bass added that perhaps it should come to the point, and soon, to make the next budget tax neutral and perhaps “do what we did in the Village of Great Neck for three years in a row— no tax increases and one of those years we actually decreased the rate and the tax.”
“If I am blessed to be elected to a position to serve the public,” Bass said, “I’ll work hard with the supervisor and the town council to bring all my business skills, my government skills to bear to make that happen.”
Bass also commented that the Town of North Hempstead is the most indebted town of all the towns in New York State, saying it is over $300 million in debt. That information, he stated, came from the comptroller’s office. “We have to do something to hold the line on debt,” Bass said, “retire the debt and live within our means and improve effective services.” He concluded saying, “I have the experience to do what I say.”
Greater Council President Rich Bentley asked Bass to provide a few examples of “increased efficiencies.” The public works department, Bass answered, has a significant number of employees but they don’t always work in a logical way. There is no particular routing program, he said, that allows them to fill potholes after a storm. There is no logical way public works employees perform simple tasks like mowing, or have a regular program of street sign/pole replacement, he said.
Bass explained he was responsible for operations planning in the NYC Department of Sanitation where there were significant productivity problems; employees came in late, took off too many days, including sick days, garbage wasn’t being picked up. He said they used differential deployment to change the way garbage was picked up in New York City. He said he set up the first labor management committee ever used in a public works environment in the U.S. and they were able to design routes for the trucks using two men, not the three that had been the norm, increased the workload by 50 percent and developed productivity targets so if those targets were met the staff would participate in the gain the city realized. Bass said that “gain sharing” allowed employees to get a differential in their salary when productivity targets were met and it worked like a charm. He said, “In the first year we saved $120 million. We fired no one, or laid anyone off.” It was important, he said he learned, to use the knowledge of the people who know about the job they do to make it run more efficiently. “It is,” he said, “an asset to be tapped.” In response to another question, Bass said unions were difficult to deal with but when they came up with the labor management team, eventually they enthusiastically supported the changes.
What about being a Republican candidate in a democratic town? Bass said running government is like running a business. He said: As they say, there isn’t a Republican or Democratic way to pave a street. “The experience I bring to the table,” Bass answered, “ will enable me to work with my colleagues if elected.” As a member of the town council, he said he would have a duty to advise the town, generally, of what is going on.
Bass was asked how to capitalize on the asset of the Manhasset train station. The town, he said, is an asset and the station is a component of that asset. He said he became aware of the Plandome Road Visioning Process at a meeting (Plandome Heights Civics Meeting, Oct. 5) where State Senator Jack Martins spoke. In 2008, he learned, the Safe Routes to School Program informed the town it would provide a phased grant for the wholesale redesign of a portion of Plandome Road. The papers, Martins had said, weren’t filed until January of 2011—three years later! Senator Martins researched it, Bass recounted, because someone questioned him about the grant. And, Bass continued, Senator Martins said the project is advancing in fits and starts as there are still some open issues the town must respond to. The last submission by the town, Bass said, was done in July 2011. “Why did it take three years?” Bass asked.
“Why, as well, did the town in my neck of the woods go to the U.S. Park Services, Bass asked, “which was looking for municipalities to take over lighthouses and so forth, very necessary lighthouses, the Kings Point Lighthouse is a great example.” Asked if he wanted to take over the lighthouse, Bass said, the Supervisor said sure, why not. Bass said Supervisor Kaiman was informed that if you take the lighthouse you must commit to the U. S. Park Services that you will maintain it and operate it forever. The town said sure, claimed Bass, they would sign the papers and then apply for grants. But the town did not apply for any grants, Bass said, and the lighthouse now sits in disrepair. “It is a navigational hazard as such,” Bass said, “and I witnessed recently that you can’t see the lighthouse at night anymore because the light no longer works. Why take it in the first place?” asked Bass.
His last question was from a frustrated resident who said her 311 call may get logged in but she never gets a call back: “If we call 311 and ask for you, will you take the call?”
Anna M. Kaplan said she is pleased to be running to represent the 4th Councilmanic District of the Town of North Hempstead.
“I came to this country from Iran as a teenager,” she began, and then went to school here where she earned a law degree from Manhattan’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. Soon afterward, she said, she became a mom and was involved with the PTA. Like many other women who pursue politics, that, she said, was her start. Kaplan said she saw how important involvement in the PTA was, then became a member of the executive board of the Great Neck North Middle School.
Kaplan said her achievements include being a trustee of the library that in the last three years appointed a new director, architect, and won approvals from the Town of North Hempstead Board of Zoning and Appeals (BZA), from which she recused herself, she noted, because she is also a member of the Town of North Hempstead BZA
Although she is a Democrat, Kaplan said she is not one to argue Supervisor Jon Kaiman’s case. She wants, she said, a relationship with her constituents; to get to know them and help them with their concerns. Kaplan said she noticed on the Oct. 12 Greater Council’s agenda many notations “No Response TNH” prompting her to say she would maintain an open door policy.
Her town taxes have gone up the last few years, she said, but only up a few dollars. “I know people are hurting in this bad economy,” Kaplan continued. “It is not about us anymore but about our kids. School taxes have gone up a lot. I made the choice to move her for the schools, the library, the parks and as much as I hate my taxes increasing there are certain programs I cannot do without. I come from a country where we did not have libraries. I take my children to the library and they have a love of reading from such an early age. I will never have that.”
She said is not about politics for her, but about making a difference. This town, she noted, works much better than on the county level. “You can criticize the administration,” she said, “but they have had double A ratings from Standard and Poors and Moodys for the last several years. They have instituted good programs for seniors, children and residents. There are problems with the building department but I give you my word that I will be there championing every constituents issue.” Kaplan said she will try to work with the building department.
Kaplan is backed by the Democratic and Working Families parties, and by Independents.
Anna Kaplan has called Great Neck home for 21 years and is a 17-year resident of the Village of Kensington.
Current Councilwoman Maria-Christina Poons, also from Great Neck, was first elected in 2007 as the town board’s first Hispanic member. Poons has announced she will not seek re-election. If elected in November, Anna Kaplan would be the first Persian American elected to the town council.
Rich Bentley, Greater Council President, commented that the councilperson represents other neighboring towns as well as Manhasset and those towns have larger voting constituencies. “What we find,” Bentley said, “is once they are in office they say ‘Oh, Manhasset, they don’t even vote and when they do it’s not Democratic. So we don’t care if they vote or not.’ As a result Manhasset’s agenda, what we need in our downtown area—our downtown area is atrocious—is not addressed.” Neighboring towns, Bentley said, are better cared for by government officials and Manhasset, supposedly a town of enormous affluence, is really a rinky-dink town that can’t get the simplest things done. We were told, he said, that we couldn’t repave Plandome Road because we have this visioning plan that will eventually tear up the road. “But,” he continued, “if we knew four years after receiving the grant nothing would have been done, we should have paved the road four years ago anyway. We need our councilperson to give us access to them and to act on our behalf.”
Bentley told Kaplan in many peoples perception the town board is a boy’s club and asked if she can she handle that. Kaplan said she is a small person but she is mighty. She said she sits on the BZA where she is the youngest and only female and makes her opinion known.
It is hard to get past 311 another Greater Council member complained, saying she had to go to Denton Avenue to talk to the Commissioner of Highways because she couldn’t get through by phone. She said, “That is an outrage.” She continued, saying, “We have five to 10 tree stumps in spite of there being a law that stipulates once a tree is removed, within 10 days it will be replaced; it’s in the code. It’s been a year or more and we have all these stumps around. These things don’t get done because they are working on something up in Port Washington.”
Anna Kaplan began to extol the virtues of 311 but was told that while the call is efficiently logged in, “no one gets back to you.”
At the meeting, Kaplan was corrected for stating on the BZA, to which she was appointed in 2010, she heard town and village zoning issues. That is incorrect, she was informed, the BZA does not hear village concerns. Kaplan said when villages need variances they have to come before the board. No, she was told again, that is incorrect. Villages have their own BZA.
There was commentary on the proposed purchase of the Roslyn Country Club with questions of where, in the budget, are funds for such purchases, and questions about staff needed to manage it. Basically, Kaplan was for it with some reservations and Bass was opposed.
Greater Council members questioned how the town establishes a priority list when the bend of Bayview Avenue is falling into the bay and nothing is done. It was asked, what is the system of priorities and the procedure to maintain what we have?
Bentley commented that one of most frustrating things as a civic organization is the amount of time spent getting information from the town. She said that unless you and your neighbors are reading all the fine print of the legal notices in the Manhasset Press where a very broad statement, that seems like nothing, is, in fact, a major application residents might have a problem with. “Access to information is paramount,” Bentley said, “and it is made difficult.”
The Council of Greater Manhasset Civic Associations thanked the candidates for their time. Jeffrey Bass remained for the general meeting.