In their attempt to win votes for Peter Kenny's expired 3-year seat on the Police Department Board of Commissioners, Bob Persons and Peter Kenny squared off at the League of Women Voters' Candidates Debate, disagreeing primarily about the department's budget and number of personnel. Neither candidate recommended the abolition of the local police force. Approximately 48 people attended the forum, which took place in the Schreiber High School Cafeteria the night of Tuesday, November 18.
Background & Platforms
After a review of the debate's format, rules and procedures, the League of Women Voters moderator, Joyce Fieldsteel (not a resident of the Port police district) introduced each candidate and invited each to give a one-minute biographical sketch of himself, plus a three-minute summary of his platform. Mr. Kenny did not use all of the time allotted to him. Bob Persons, on the other hand, had to be told his time was up after his biographical summary and again after his platform summary.
Mr. Kenny said that he had been a resident for 45 yearsand that he owns an electrical contracting business that specializes in roadway and outdoor lighting. He was elected for the first time three years ago but stressed that he was not a politician. He said that he had been the first police commissioner to organize a town meeting, which he had done six months after taking office. Kenny also thanked the voters for electing James Duncan to help him on the board.
Mr. Persons said that he graduated from Cornell in engineering and that he moved to Port Washington with his family in 1959 when he accepted a job as a forensic engineer. He has been working from his house since 1966.
Mr. Persons said he was basically running to fullfill Peter Kenny's unfulfilled 1994 campaign promise to hold the line on taxes. Mr. Persons continued that he intends to do this by carrying out the recommendations of a manpower deployment study, which Kenny originally agreed should be done, that was conducted by the New York State Bureau of Municipal Police in Albany. According to Persons, the study recommended that a community of Port's size have only 55 police officers, instead of the current 59. Mr. Persons suggests that the Port Washington Police District put a freeze on hiring until the force diminishes to 55 by attrition. He believes that the department needs to be leaner & meaner, that it is suffering from a "bloated bureaucracy syndrome," and that some desk jobs could be fullfilled by lower-paid civilians, rather than by $90,000-a-year cops.
Commenting that "half the people here are either policemen or relatives of poliemen," Mr. Persons stressed that he was no longer promoting the abolition of the Port Washington Police Department and absorption by the Nassau County Police Department, as he had done the last time he ran for police commissioner. He did, however, recommend that Port get more for its money's worth from the Nassau County Police Department, especially its detective unit, which he said could do work that Port's detective unit currently duplicates.
Mr. Persons was particularly critical of the 1998 tax rate, which he said was 15.48 percent more than the Nassau County tax rate. He said that the tax increase could be reduced to 10-20 percent, rather than the 55 percent increase supported by Kenny.
While expounding his views, Mr. Persons described his active involvement with the work of the Police Board of Commissioners, which includes serving as a member of the charter revision committee and attending most meetings and budget workshops. He also explained his research efforts, that included a detailed analysis of the Albany report and a study of the manpower at other police departments on the island. He reported that his study of the Glen Cove department is being used by Glen Cove's mayor. Copies of the Albany report were placed in the Port library by Mr. Persons.
Questions were asked primarily by the same three or four people despite the moderator's attempt to entice others to speak.
Q: Joan Kent asked each candidate to state two or three goals he'd try to achieve if elected.
Mr. Kenny said he had one goal, which was to establish the financial stability of the department. He said that this is the most important goal and that he could have been more popular if he had chosen to reduce taxes. He had chosen not to finagle the budget to lower taxes, however, because he's more concerned about long-term financial stability.
Mr. Persons said his primary goal would be to establish a hiring freeze and let the department shrink by attrition. He cited the Albany study again and quipped that this is not the South Bronx or Beverley Hills. He said that we should therefore be more realistic about what we can afford. Our police force should stick to the basic job of patrolling and responding to public safety needs.
Q: Peter Tarpinian asked Mr. Kenny if he agreed with Person's claim that there are too many people on the force.
Kenny replied that he did not agree and said that the Albany report was written by two men who only spent six hours in Port Washington. He further noted that the report gives a minimum number of necessary police officers but does not account for special positions, such as the school resource officer. Kenny said he put more faith in the judgment of the current police chief and captain who have college degrees and 45 years of combined experience. He said, "I want more officers because when they're visible, we have less crime." He said lower salaries are the solution, not fewer officers.
Q: Barry Loeb asked if the Albany report called for fewer men or fewer squads.
Robert Persons responded that the recommendation was for fewer men but with the same number of squads and patrols and that the report did not call for extra services, such as bike patrols. Persons said we should rely more on the Nassau County Police Department services, given the fact we pay $2 million a year for them.
Kenny said, "My comment is that Mr. Persons doesn't know what he's talking about." Kenny said Port's low crime rate is due to the police chief and his officers.
Q: Mr. Tarpinian directed a second question to Kenny: "How many additional police officers did we hire?
Mr. Kenny's reply was three and that they were budgeted for. He stressed that the higher taxes are not attributable to the hiring of these officers but instead are to cover money that needs to be set aside for police officers' retirement and that prior boards did not set aside enough. He said that a fund (surplus) balance is also needed to cover potential emergency expenses.
Persons criticized the previous board for granting officers such a generous contract. He said they affectively agreed to a 14.3 percent pay increase over three years, even though inflation is only 2 1/2 to 3 percent.
Q: David Fertig then asked Persons if the sole tenor of his campaign was that the previous board hired three police officers.
Persons replied no, "The problem is that no one retired," to allow the department to shrink.
Kenny defended the current board's decision to hire more police officers. He said that the commissioners should not get involved in the daily operation of the department and that the current board listens to the chief who recommended hiring more officers to keep crime down.
Q: Another man and Rita Tanski asked related questions about what police services are provided by Port's $2 million Nassau County police tax and what police protection would be provided if Port reduced its local police tax.
Kenny listed some of the Nassau County services that the Port department already uses: labs, records bureau, helicopters, police academy, and jails. Kennny insisted that the Nassau County tax does not pay for services duplicated by the Port department. He said Nassau County provides backup and additional services.
Persons said that the problem is that Port doesn't use all the services that are available and already paid for, and that Port, in effect, therefore subsidizes all the other municipalities that rely soley on the Nassau County Police Department. Persons said that if we didn't have detectives in Port, we'd use Nassau County's more often. He claimed it's excessive to have seven of our 59 men on detective duty.
Q: Joan Kent asked if the budget forequipment had gone up to keep Port up to date with technology.
Persons said that it's better to invest in high tech equipment. He said 85-95 percent of the current police budget is for payroll.
Kenny intimated that the vintage of the department's computer equipment is almost embarrassing, but that the current board hopes to use some of the department's drug asset forfeiture money to purchase new equipment.
Q: Another man asked if the $2 million fee to Nassau County is mandatory and commented that Port should get its money's worth if it is.
Persons said that the tax rate is set by the county and that all municipalities pay the same rate. Because of local police taxes, Port residents pay a rate of 11.1 cents; whereas the rest of Nassau County (that lacks a local police force) pays a rate 7.7 cents, said Persons.
Q: David Fertig asked what the department plans to do with the drug forfeiture money, other than purchase new equipment.
Kenny cited some organizations that are targeted to receive money: PAL, Port's Children's Center, Port Washington Youth Council, Port Summer Show (see related article on page 1 of 11/20/97 Port Washington News).
Persons had no comment on the question but took the opportunity to reiterate that he no longer advocates the elimination of the Port Washington Police Department, just a reduction of its size.
Each candidate was then givenT the opportunity to summarize his position with wrap up comments. Mr. Kenny didn't use all his alotted time. Mr. Persons would have run over if not stopped.
Robert Persons illustrated his primary tax concern by displaying a graph that showed how drastically local taxes had skyrocketed since he moved to Port in 1959. He quoted Ben Franklin's addage about death and taxes and said he'd rather die a natural death before he's taxed out of existence.
Peter Kenny accused Persons of making statements based on pure conjecture and reminded everyone present that Persons had promoted the elimination of the Port Washington Police Department until just recently. Kenny again defended the chief's staffing decisions and closed by saying, "I stand on my record."
The League's moderator closed the forum by reminding everyone to vote at the Polish American Hall on Pulaski Place, on Tuesday, December 9, from 3 to 9 p.m. Because of League efforts several years ago, the polling place is accessible to the handicapped.