Timothy Bolger

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Timothy Bolger is the Editor in Chief of the Long Island Press who’s been working to uncover unreported stories since shortly after it launched in 2003. When he’s not editing, getting hassled by The Man or fielding cold calls to the newsroom, he covers crime, general interest and political news in addition to reporting longer, sometimes investigative features. He won’t be happy until everyone is as pissed off as he is about how screwed up Lawn Guyland is.

Hempstead School Crisis Persists While Garden City Flourishes

The Hempstead School District's troubles run deep.

It was the best of schools, it was the worst of schools.

U.S. News & World Report ranked Garden City High School among the nation’s top 300 high schools and its football team, the Trojans, is grabbing headlines for its two-year winning streak. Three miles away at neighboring Hempstead High School, the graduation rate was until recently among the lowest in the nation, 37 percent, which made it the subject of a CBS 2 News documentary about the school administration’s long-festering corruption. Now, as New York State lawmakers await word on whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo will sign or veto a bill creating an oversight panel to help fix the Hempstead School District’s troubled finances, a convicted pedophile regularly roams its school grounds while class is in session, documents obtained by the Press show.

“We can’t turn a blind eye to these children,” says Melissa Figueroa, a former Hempstead School District board member pushing for reforms in the district that the state has termed “persistently struggling.”

Hempstead is not the only troubled school district on Long Island. The Wyandanch School District suspended its superintendent this summer and its athletics program was saved just before the school year by donors. And a handful of other districts have come under state scrutiny for their fiscal practices. But what sets Hempstead apart are the deep-seated issues that have been entrenched for decades and the routine infighting that stifles reforms.

Backing the current Hempstead School District board majority is a group called Hempstead for Hempstead, whose self-proclaimed founder is Thomas Parsley, a former Hempstead school board member who was removed from the post in 2004 after being convicted of stealing a principal’s debit card and withdrawing $500. In 2010, records show, he was convicted of sexual misconduct against a 15-year-old boy, sentenced to a year in jail, and ordered to register as a level-three sex offender — the classification given to those at the highest risk of recidivism. 

Sex offenders can be barred from being on school grounds as a condition of their release, but law enforcement sources confirm that Parsley is no longer on parole. Video surveillance footage obtained by the Press shows Parsley freely walking the halls of the school, chatting with campus security and school officials. Although he’s allowed to be there, the district terminated its use of Arrow Security after ABC 7 News reported that one of the company’s guards was also a level-three sex offender not on parole working evenings at Hempstead Middle School while waiting for his license to be approved.

Parsley could not be reached for comment. The current school board did not respond to a request for comment.

Surveillance footage of Thomas Parsley in Hempstead schools.

SEMESTER OF DESPAIR 

Parsley isn’t the only convict with ties to the administration. Randy Stith is a disgraced ex-village cop who pleaded guilty this spring to criminal possession of a forged instrument and petit larceny in a plea deal that allows him to keep his elected school board membership. But the district’s issues don’t end at school grounds, either. 

Nassau County prosecutors have also recently arrested three Hempstead village police commanders and a village trustee in an alleged bribery scheme. And Hempstead, the state’s largest village, has seen such an uptick in gang violence that state police were called in this summer to help patrol the streets. The same streets on which students are required to walk to school because the district doesn’t offer buses. 

Of the District’s 7,600 students, some 70 percent come from families who receive public assistance; 40 percent are not proficient in English; and 10 percent are students with disabilities. Over the last decade, the school district’s enrollment has shifted to 70 percent Hispanic or Latino, 31 percent black or African American, and 2 percent white.

By comparison, the neighboring well-to-do, mostly white Village of Garden City — where the average household income is $137,788 annually, versus $94,158 in Hempstead — and its high-achieving schools seem like Shangri-La. 

“Growing up in Hempstead, I immediately became very aware of various social, educational, and economic inequities,” says freshman Assemblywoman Taylor Darling (D-Hempstead), who was a lead sponsor of the bill that passed in June to create a three-member panel of Hempstead School District fiscal oversight monitors. “I could not understand how the largest village in the country had one of the worst-performing school districts. I could not understand how I received a phenomenal education a few miles away in the Uniondale School District. 

“I could not understand how I could walk to Garden City from my home and immediately be transferred to nirvana — a place with beautiful green space, smooth roads, economic development, and a high-performing school district,” she continues. “Why was Hempstead struggling to survive while the surrounding areas were thriving?”

Asked if the governor intends to sign or veto the bill, a spokesman for Cuomo says, “The bill is under review.” The spokesman added that the 10-day clock for the governor has not yet started because his office has not received the bill. Darling says that’s because the governor’s office has not yet requested the bill be formally sent to his office. 

All bills passed during the legislative session have to be acted on by the governor before the end of the calendar year‎. If the governor does not act within 10 days after requesting and receiving a bill, the bill automatically becomes law.

Among those who sent letters of support urging the governor to sign the bill are Long Island Association Vice President of Government Affairs & Communication Matthew Cohen, U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), and Rockville Centre School District Superintendent William Johnson.

“Corruption, mediocracy, irresponsibility, lack of leadership, and the failure by the state of not doing the right thing for supporting the rights for the thousands of children ‘without a voice’ has occurred for years,” Gil Bernardino, executive director of the nonprofit Circulo de la Hispanidad, also wrote in support of the bill. “This situation would not happen in other school districts like those surrounding this district: Garden City and Rockville Centre.”

The Hempstead School District board has been on record opposing the measure, which would give the oversight panel veto power over spending.

Suspended Hempstead Superintendent Shimon Waronker with his legal team during a January news conference. (Photo by Tab Hauser)

WHAT’S BEFORE THEM?

The push for more oversight in Hempstead schools comes amid changes in leadership locally and at the state level. 

State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia resigned last month to take a new job and her replacement was not named as of press time. And the Hempstead school board elevated Regina Armstrong from the title of acting superintendent to interim superintendent following the board’s controversial firing of reform-minded superintendent Shimon Waronker last year.

Waronker maintains that his firing was retribution for trying to clean up what he referred to as a “cesspool” of corruption he uncovered during his brief tenure — findings he referred to law enforcement. He sued to get his job back but lost and the district filed administrative charges against him, but has yet to schedule a hearing on the issue.

A state-appointed monitor, Jack Bierwirth, credited the district with making some progress, but noted that it could take five to 10 years for a true turnaround to occur. The district says it increased its graduation rate to 61 percent, which is still below the national average of 84 percent and Long Island average of 90 percent. 

Will the Hempstead School District’s board graduate to a functioning entity before it’s too late? Stay tuned.

Move-Over Cameras May Be Next Eyes On The Road

Cars pass a police cruiser during a traffic stop. (Getty Images)

Now that school bus stop-arm cameras have begun catching drivers illegally passing stopped busses this fall, a similar system aimed at recording motorists improperly passing stopped police vehicles could be next.

That’s because New York State lawmakers are considering a bill that would authorize law enforcement to install photo equipment on police cars to generate summonses that get mailed home to drivers who violate the law against not moving over or slowing down for stopped emergency vehicles. It’s essentially a red-light camera program for the Move Over Law.

“The only way to correct dangerous driving behavior is making people understand that there are consequences,” says Charlie Degliomini, executive vice president of government relations and corporate communications for Rekor Systems Inc., a company that makes the move-over cameras.

Rekor has been shopping the system around to police departments nationwide. Besides New York, Maryland is the only other state where such a proposal is under consideration, although the idea has been informally discussed elsewhere, Degliomini says.

As for the need, he cites a study that found 70 percent of drivers nationally were unaware of the move-over laws. New York State’s law went into effect in 2012 and was designed to protect officers from being fatally struck by cars while performing roadside traffic stops. When Rekor equipped two police cars with their devices in Suffolk County for two weeks in a study last winter, they found 2.3 violations per minute — significantly higher than the national average of one violation per minute, the company says.

“The findings pretty much confirmed what we’ve seen in many other studies,” says Rod Hillman, president and chief operating officer of Rekor.

Should move-over cameras pass in Albany after the state legislative session resumes in January, the measure would be an expansion of the photo-enforcement trend that includes red-light cameras, school zone speed cameras — repealed on Long Island, but still used in New York City — and bus lane cameras, also in use in the city. State lawmakers are also considering a bill that would authorize construction zone speed cameras.

Critics have called such traffic-enforcement cameras intrusive and a ploy for lawmakers to plug budget gaps in the name of public safety. Jason Starr, the former Nassau County chapter director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, has said that such traffic-enforcement cameras need safeguards to ensure there are no abuses of driver data in order to strike a balance between public safety and privacy rights.

“You can capture all types of data about someone that has nothing to do with public safety,” Starr has said of photo traffic-enforcement cameras. “They have to have some protections there for the data.”

Degliomini notes that without photo enforcement, there’s no way to enforce the move-over laws unless there’s a second police officer monitoring another’s traffic stop who can chase down violators, which isn’t always an option.

While red-light cameras, speed cameras, and bus camera laws are clear-cut, the move-over law has a little more ambiguity. The law requires that drivers change lanes to give space to emergency and service vehicles performing roadside operations, but if drivers are unable to safely change lanes due to traffic, they’re required to slow down. So the move-over camera takes video footage of both lanes of traffic to see if drivers followed the law, and also tracks their speed.

“If there’s a wide-open lane and you couldn’t move over, then it’s a violation,” says Hillman. “Any one of these violations has to be reviewed and ultimately signed off on by a sworn officer.”

Unlike the speeders and lawbreakers they’re trying to stop, Hillman and Degliomini aren’t in a rush to get the move-over camera laws passed.

 

“As we see with the school bus [stop-arm cameras], even though it took many years, we hope that it will be a much more prominent thing,” Hillman says.

Amber Alert Issued For Girl Abducted in Hamptons

L. to R.: Patchita Tennant and her daughter, who is the subject of an Amber Alert

UPDATE: This child has been reported found and safe.

Authorities issued an Amber Alert seeking the public’s help finding a 3-year-old girl who was allegedly abducted by her mother who shot the girl’s father in Flanders on Thursday night, Southampton Town Police said.

Authorities urged the public to be on the lookout for a 2018 Hyandai Santa Fe with the New York license plate number HUS7151. Police said the mother, Patchita Tennant, 42, of Riverhead, is driving the vehicle with her daughter, Vanessa Tennant-Mitchell. Tennant was last seen wearing a gray sweatsuit and her daughter was wearing a red shirt, blue pants, and black sneakers, police said.

Officers responded to a shooting in Flanders at 8:20 p.m. Thursday when they found the victim, Andrew Mitchell, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. Mitchell was conscious and alert and able to tell investigators the mother of his child had shot him during a domestic dispute, police said.

Mitchell was airlifted by Suffolk County Police Aviation Unit to an area hospital for treatment. Southampton Town Detective Divison is actively investigating the incident. If anyone comes in contact with Tennant use extreme caution, police warn.

Hempstead Buildings Department Deputy Commissioner Arrested for Theft

www.houstondwiattorney.net
Photo by www.houstondwiattorney.net

The Town of Hempstead Buildings Department’s deputy commissioner was arrested Thursday for allegedly stealing more than $59,000 from Cedarhurst Republican Committee, Nassau County prosecutors said.

A grand jury indicted John Novello, who is also executive leader of the Cedarhurst Republican Committee, on 11 counts, including felony charges of grand larceny, and misdemeanor charges of petit larceny and election law violations.

“These allegations are an outrageous betrayal of trust by a public official and party leader,” Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said. 

Prosecutors said the 51-year-old Hewlett Harbor man spent the money from the committee’s campaign account on his home mortgage, winery trip, luxury candies, entertainment, and personal expenses from January 2016 through last month.

He also allegedly stole more than $37,000 from donations to the committee’s annual golf tournament fundraiser and the Mayor’s Cup in 2018 and 2019, according to investigators.

Novello pleaded not guilty, was released without bail, and is due back in court Sept. 26. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

The arrest comes on the same day that Richard Porcelli, a former campaign manager for ex-Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of conspiracy and was sentenced to a year of community service for his role in a corruption scheme.

Passing Dorian Brings Rain, Wind to Long Island

Hurricane Dorian reaching the Bahamas on its track to Florida, on Sept. 1, 2019 (Graphic via Pierre Markuse)

Hurricane Dorian is bringing wind gusts and rain to Long Island as the storm passes southeast of the region this weekend, forecasters and officials warned.

Upton-based National Weather Service issued a hazardous weather outlook, high surf advisory, coastal flood advisory, and rip current statement for Nassau and Suffolk counties and parts due to Dorian passing by, although impacts are expected to be felt most on the East End as the storm passes about 300 miles southeast of LI.

Dorian peaked as a category five storm with 185 mph winds — making it among the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record — as it stalled over the weekend in the Bahamas, where it has claimed at least 30 lives. It was slowly heading westbound when it stopped short of making landfall in Florida and turned north. It weakened to a category one with 110 mph winds Friday as the storm’s massive eye became less organized and made landfall over the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran urged residents to be prepared, just in case the storm track changes for the worse.

“Hurricane Dorian is a serious storm, and although current predictions indicate it will pass east of Long Island, we’re remaining vigilant in the coming days to prepare for potential forecast changes,” Curran said. “I urge all residents  especially those in low-lying areas  to make a plan with your family so you are prepared should Dorian, or any other storm, affect Nassau County.”

Local government and utility crews are battening down the hatches, staffing up emergency management teams, and coordinating with New York State agencies and the Red Cross, just in case.

Officials also issued a reminder that residents should create an emergency preparedness kit with food and water, batteries, medications, important documents, and other basic supplies for each family member to last at least three days. 

Residents are also urged to know their evacuation route if they live in a flood zone, create a family evacuation plan, keep a list of emergency numbers, check on elderly or disabled neighbors, make sure all leaks and repairs are secure on your home, and if a storm is predicted, remove any loose items from your yard.

Graphic courtesy of National Hurricane Center.

Tornado Touched Down in Manorville, NWS Confirms

This photo is believed to be of a water spout off the coast of Fire Island shortly before a tornado was reported in Manorville. Photo Michael P. Mulhall.

A tornado touched down in Manorville, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake during a severe thunderstorm on Labor Day, but no reported injuries, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

The twister came shortly after the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a tornado warning for the Manorville area shortly before 5 p.m. Monday. It was confirmed as an EF0, the weakest on the Enhanced Fujita Scale that ranks tornado strength, with 85 mph winds. The cyclone was 50-feet wide, traveled 1.6 miles, and lasted five minutes after it touched down at 4:33 p.m.

“The tornado first touched down on Dayton Street, about 400 yards south of the intersection of South Street and Dayton Avenue in Manorville,” Upton-based NWS meteorologists said in a statement. “The tornado continued northeast through the south end of neighboring Rosewood Street and then across its intersecting cross street of South Street.”

The tornado sheared large tree limbs and tree tops and uprooted at least a dozen shallow rooted large trees, which downed several electric poles and caused collateral tree damage to a few houses in the neighborhood, NWS said. A shed was destroyed and damage to residences included sporadic blown off shingles and siding, missing storm screens, and a couple of broken windows, the agency added.

“The tornado then continued northeast through a wooded area, where more tree damage was noted, before crossing the Long Island Expressway near Exit 69 while lifting,” the statement continued. “The path of tree damage and debris ended on the service road on the north side of the LIE near the intersection with Wading River Road.”

Ryan Hanrahan, chief meteorologist for NBC Connecticut, tweeted that radar indicated a tornado debris signature in the area. Twitter user Gary Bennett also posted a video of an apparent water spout over the ocean off the coast of Fire Island Pines on Monday evening. 

It was the first tornado to hit Long Island since a weak EFO touched down on Fishers Island in October. That was a month after another EFO twister hit Ronkonkoma.

Before that, the last time a tornado hit Long Island was in 2016, when another small tornado hit Mattituck, although a twister touched down in Whitestone, Queens last year.

And the last tornado to hit LI before the Mattituck twister was in 2012. That tornado traveled from Great River to Lake Ronkonkoma.

 

The Stuff-A-Bus Program: Helping Kids Succeed

The Stuff-A-Bus program returns to help needy kids this fall.

While many Long Islanders were vacationing in August, volunteers with the United Way of Long Island’s Stuff-A-Bus Program were gathering school supplies that they’ll donate to needy local students in September.

The initiative, now in its 11th year, aims to help more than 7,000 low-income students succeed by giving them the critical gear they need, including pencils, markers, notebooks, rulers, and backpacks. Volunteers will donate the supplies on Sept. 11 — Community Service Day — to students in 12 schools across 10 districts.

“Stuff-A-Bus is an incredibly important program that directly impacts young students’ success in the classroom,” said United Way of Long Island President and CEO Theresa A. Regnante. “It provides a confidence boost and motivation to learn for children whose families may not be able to afford new notebooks or other needed school supplies.”

Since 2008, Stuff-A-Bus has helped deliver 850,000 items to more than 35,000 children. The 10 districts in which students will receive the donations are Brentwood, Central Islip, Copiague, Freeport, Huntington, Longwood, Roosevelt, South Country, South Huntington, and Wyandanch.

“The students here at Loretta Park Elementary School are so grateful to be recipients of United Way of Long Island’s Stuff-A-Bus program,” said Bob McCarthy, principal of Loretta Park Elementary School in Brentwood, the community where the program started. “They always anticipate the arrival of the bus and they can’t wait to unpack all their new things and get started using them.”

Sponsors of the program include Suffolk Transportation Service Inc., Huntington Coach, LLC, East End Bus Lines, Baumann Bus Company, Educational Bus Transportation, Inc., Long Island Nets, The Boxery, Village Office Supply, and National Grid.

“I could have never imagined that Stuff-A-Bus would have this tremendous impact when we started 11 years ago,” said Suffolk Transportation Service, Inc. President John Corrado. “I am incredibly proud to have been part of this program from the start, and to see all the lives that have been touched by something as small as a pencil.”

To learn more about Stuff-A-Bus, visit unitedwayli.org/stuffabus

NYCLU Says Saladino Blocking Facebook Critics, Violating First Amendment

Joe Saladino

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) sent a letter this week to Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino, warning him that censoring critics on his Facebook page violates the First Amendment.

NYCLU lawyers send the letter to the Republican town leader Monday. But Saladino denies that he blocked, deleted, or banned critics from commenting on his Facebook page, as NYCLU alleged in its letter.

NYCLU “has received reports of you repeatedly hiding comments and blocking users who express views critical of you,” Antony Gemmell, staff attorney at the NYCLU, wrote in the letter. “This suppression of speech in a public forum like you Facebook page violates the Constitutional right to free speech under the First Amendment and is an attack on the core values of our democracy. We ask that you stop this unconstitutional behavior immediately and unblock those whose voices you have silenced.”

The letter comes three months after the NYCLU similarly warned U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) to stop censoring critics on his Facebook page for the same reason. King responded by creating a new Facebook page that is his official congressional account instead of the his previous account that he said was his campaign page.

Fellow Republican President Donald Trump has been sued for his practice of blocking Twitter users that are critical of him. A federal judge ruled that Trump cannot block Twitter critics since the president’s social media account is used in an official government capacity. An appeals court recently affirmed that decision and the administration has not yet signaled whether it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Oyster Bay, town representatives say Saladino has not done what the NYCLU accused it of doing.

“The ACLU has never had a conversation with the administration and sent their letter prior to learning any of the facts,” said Brian Nevin, the town’s spokesman. “We are committed to having an open and healthy dialogue about our successes in the Oyster Bay and no one is excluded from expressing their viewpoint. No one is banned from the page, no comments are deleted, and anyone suggesting otherwise deleted their own comment and is lying to to sensationalize a story two months before Election Day.”

Vaccine Opponents Appeal Ruling Upholding Law

vinas

Attorneys challenging New York State’s repeal of the religious exemption allowing unvaccinated children to attend public school appealed Wednesday a recent ruling that denied a lawsuit attempting to temporarily block the law.

Attorney Michael Sussman filed in the state Appellate Division an appeal of Albany County Judge Denise Hartman’s decision Friday denying Sussman’s request for a preliminary injunction that would have kept the new law from going into effect before the new school year starts. 

“We are appealing the denial of the stay,” Sussman wrote on Facebook. “We will continue to litigate the underlying case, but know how critical it is to get children back into school now if at all possible and not await the ultimate outcome of the case.” 

Sussman’s suit is on behalf of an estimated more than 26,000 public school students statewide that can no longer claim a religious exemption for not getting vaccinated. State lawmakers repealed the exemption in June following a measles outbreak in New York City and Rockland County, the largest in a quarter century. The law keeps in tact a medical exemption for not getting vaccinated. 

Hartman’s ruling cites a 1944 U.S. Supreme Court verdict that “the right to religion does not include the liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease.”

Critics of the law had also filed another suit in Brooklyn federal court this summer but recently dropped that case. Parents steadfast in their belief that their children shouldn’t be vaccinated had been hoping the lawsuits would either overturn the repeal or at least give them more time to find another school for their kids while the lawsuit was pending. Considerations include home schooling, moving, or splitting up their family come September.

Some Long Island school administrators were among those that spoke out in favor of delaying the law.

“These kids have been our students in some cases for nine or 10 years and next year, they can’t come to school anymore,” said William H. Johnson, superintendent of the Rockville Centre School District. “It would be very helpful if more time was given to both the families and the school district to work this out.”

Related Story: For Unvaccinated Students on Long Island, Uncertainty This Back-To-School Season

 

Long Island Agencies Sue Over Drinking Water Pollution

(Shutterstock photo)

DuPont and 3M wittingly sold products containing toxic chemicals that contaminated Long Island drinking water supplies for decades, three local government entities claim in new lawsuits.

The Village of Mineola, Carl Place Water District, and Port Washington Water District filed the suits against the manufacturing conglomerates in Central Islip federal court. The goal is the get the companies to pay for installation of expensive treatment facilities to remove the toxins from drinking water wells, as now mandated by recently increased New York State drinking water standards.

“Mineola, together with a few other forward-thinking municipalities, has commenced its lawsuit seeking to force those responsible for the pollution to pay for these costs so that our taxpayers do not have to absorb the costs of the polluters’ decades-old misconduct,” the village said in a statement Tuesday. “This lawsuit does not affect the water flowing today to homes, businesses, or schools, but is designed to protect our taxpayers.”

The toxins are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances [PFAS], a class of chemicals that include perfluorooctanoic acid [PFOA] and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid [PFOS], which have consumer, business, and industrial uses. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns that the chemicals can be toxic at low levels and can be carcinogenic. The suit notes that the chemicals are particularly dangerous to pregnant women and young children.

Representatives of 3M Company issued a statement indicating that it will “vigorously defend its environmental stewardship.” Also named as defendants are 3M subsidiary Dyneon and The Chemours Company, which was spun off from DuPont.

The suits allege that the companies “manufactured, marketed, sold, and/or promoted” PFAS and “knew or should have known that PFAS are highly soluble in water; extremely mobile; persistent; very likely to contaminate surface and groundwater, including drinking supplies; and present significant risks to human health and welfare if released to the environment.”