Written by Jordan Lauterbach Friday, 22 April 2011 00:00
(Editor’s Note: Details were added by D.F. Karppi, Oyster Bay Enterprise Pilot editor.)
What began as a contentious evening ended as one filled with compliments and a greater understanding of a recent governmental decision at the Muttontown Board Meeting at Village Hall on Tuesday night.
The four-and-a-half hour meeting on Tuesday, April 12, concentrated mainly on Muttontown’s controversial decision to form its own police department. Mayor Julianne Beckerman, with the assistance of former Nassau County Chief of Patrol William McHale, spoke to the standing-room-only crowd about the reasons behind the decision.
In a letter to Muttontown residents Mayor Beckerman explained the board’s decision saying, “On March 25, the necessary infrastructure and hardware for police operations will begin to be acquired, interviews for officers will be scheduled and the paperwork for Civil Service compliance for the appointment of a Chief officer to oversee our new Police Department will begin. I will be recommending the appointment of former Nassau County Chief of Patrol William McHale to help establish and head-up our new department.
“Chief McHale’s 30-plus years of law enforcement duties encompass everything from holding command of a precinct to overseeing all responsibilities for communications and patrol for the Nassau County Police Department. As a resident of the Village of Laurel Hollow, Chief McHale also has the unique perspective of a village resident, which he brings to his new responsibilities in Muttontown,” the mayor explained in the letter.
Under the current police protection agreement, Muttontown is served by the Old Brookville Police department. The contract that commissions the department is not a direct partnership between the Old Brookville Police and Muttontown, but instead an inter-municipal agreement between seven villages: Old Brookville, Upper Brookville, Brookville, Matinecock, Mill Neck, Cove Neck (and Muttontown).
These seven partners entered into a five-year contract that included a clause for a 20-year extension if four conditions were met. Only one was, according to Beckerman. The contract expires on May 31.
After talks with five mayors of the other six villages about renewal or extension of the contract broke down. It began on Feb. 5, when an initial agreement was met to accept the previous year’s budget figure; agree not to discuss the proposed new OBPD headquarters site – a longtime project and to take one year to consider what the new contract would be. The original contract had a clause that could turn that contract into a 20-year contract. The mayor looked at the cost to the village; the services given; and the voting structure and wanted to discuss alterative methods. Although she was never given a reason the agreement was off the table and, Muttontown moved towards the independent department resolution, finalizing the decision on March 25.
The Mayor repeatedly urged residents not to look at the issue as a disagreement with the Old Brookville police, but instead as the best option for dealing with the impasse between Muttontown and the other six partners in the police protection agreement.
“To go forward without an agreement on how this village would be provided (with) police protection after May 31, I believe would have been irresponsible,” Beckerman said.
Following Beckerman’s update, McHale spoke about the more intricate workings of how Muttontown plans to begin the new department; two patrol cars trolling the village; hooking into the NCPD electronic system for which they already pay in the NC Headquarter Tax; and using the second floor of village hall as their base of operations. [The mayor explained later that it was the former caretaker apartment and was vacant.] His portion of the evening quickly turned into a forum for concerned residents to ask questions and air grievances about the department.
A major point of contention was the structuring of 911 responses under the new protection unit. McHale assured residents that response time and efficiency would be just as effective as it was under the Old Brookville Police. The 911 calls are not directed to individual departments, but instead to a county dispatcher that alerts the local precinct using the NCPD’s GPS technology.
Even as McHale tried to calm residents’ concerns about the effectiveness of a department conceived in less than three months, members of the crowd remained unhappy. The prevailing thought among the angry attendees was that they had been wronged by the village after not being given the option to participate in a referendum, or vote, regarding the decision to break away from the other six municipalities and begin the new department. As a result, a petition is being signed.
Former trustee Kevin Spillane said in a telephone interview, “The petition is getting a great response: tremendous after last night’s meeting. The room is too small and the entrance hallway was filled with people that couldn’t hear anything. A lot signed the petition and left. I knew to get there early.
“I am in favor of putting it out to residents to vote on. Instead of seven people deciding the biggest issue of our lifetimes. And it is about the security of our families and our properties. I signed the petition since I think it is up to the residents. I’m not in favor of starting another police department. We should consolidate not separate, and the police have been perfect for 63 years. Why bother to fix something that isn’t broken. And as to the voting rights issue in the consortium, in Presidential elections when Dagmar owns a 100 acres and Kevin owns half an acre, we have equal votes in elections.
“And it has worked for 63 years with the OBPD and all of a sudden we have a little spike in the assessed value in Muttontown. We are the largest land mass in all the villages, and the largest population in consortium [Brookville has the largest population, auto accidents, aided calls and is where the college is located]. Although the mayor says because of C.W. Post we aren’t the largest population – but we are the largest owners of land and we have 25 miles of roads in the village so it is a lot of territory to look after. And I have yet to hear a complaint from the OBPD,” concluded Spillane, who ran for mayor in the last election but lost.
Steven Leventhal, the board’s lawyer, clarified this issue by stating that a referendum dealing with a public service, such as a police department, is not allowed under New York State law.
As the meeting went on and more questions were answered, many citizens who entered unhappy about the new law enforcement developments began to quiet their jeers and realize that the anger may have been misdirected at the wrong governmental body.
Beckerman began the meeting wanting to assure residents that the inaction of others in the local town partnership had forced the Muttontown hand. After surfing through a wave of initial skepticism, the board ended the discussion to a round of applause.
East Norwich Civic Association Presdident Matthew Meng attended the meeting. While the meeting was reported as ending in applause, he said “Some of the people started to leave and the crowd thinned out as the meeting ended and more of the disconnected and angry people left. Mayor Beckerman really handled a meeting with standing room only of about 150 people, that easily could have gotten very hot very quickly and people were looking to be contentious.”
He said as the meeting ended it did seem as if more people left thinking ‘It’s in our best interest, its in our best interest’ however the other villages are not talking about this and what are the motives of the other villages that are not dialoging and not being transparent.”
Meng said at the meeting, most people liked McHale. “He seemed to be well qualified and his credentials were accepted by the audience. And, it was made clear by the mayor that this was not about the quality of work of the OBPD. She said, ‘We love them.’ And they all agreed to that. I was just interested in whether the board can still turn back and sign the OBPD contract if the other villages agree to her requests.”
Meng said of Beckerman’s approach, “She’s forward-thinking and puts everything out there right in front and center and kept command of the whole evening. Eventually the other villages might want to join with her. They could take on Cove Neck – it would be closer, and even Upper Brookville.”
Meng had a question about cell service. At an April 13 meeting in Muttontown that lasted about three hours, the mayor continued to clarify the decision. McHale agreed the cell service was a problem, but Becherman said their current provider was adding service on the major roads.
Additionally, the Wednesday night meeting brought up the question of hiring police. The mayor said the civil service law allows them to transfer if they so wish to do. She has written letters to the OBPD members inviting them to join the Muttontown Police Department.
As of press time, Anton Newspapers was unable to reach Chris Sweeney, president of the OBPD PBA.