Editorial: Munsey Park leads in the wrong direction

The Village of Munsey Park’s problems with open government and common sense continue.

The village’s latest assault on civic duty took place last week when officials there refused to release the names of residents who filed petitions to run in the March 20 election for two trustee seats and a village justice spot.

A woman in the village clerk’s office told Blank Slate Media on Feb. 16, three days after the village’s filing deadline of 5 p.m. Feb. 13, that a Freedom of Information Law request would be required to get the list of candidates who have filed to run.

As if the identity of candidates for public office is some kind of top secret.

By comparison, three other villages in Manhasset – Plandome Village, Plandome Heights and Plandome Manor – were somehow able to respond to requests for candidates’ names within 24 hours.

Village Clerk Tara Gibbons said in an email on Saturday that acceptance-or-declination letters had been sent to the people who filed petitions and that once the petitions were received by the village the names of the candidates would be released.

Which raises the question: why would people who filed petitions in the village clerk’s office on Tuesday to run for office be required to confirm that they want to run on Friday?

Isn’t the filing of petitions a sufficient indication that people are seeking office without asking them to prove they really, really mean it?

And what does a requirement that a person must reaffirm his or her candidacy have to do with releasing the names of the people who filed for office? All that was requested was the names of those who filed – not a blood oath that they would campaign until the end.

Candidates can pull out of a race at any time, whether they’ve submitted a letter confirming their intention to run or not.

Gibbons did release the names of those who filed petitions on Monday. But why the wait?

The village’s motivation in requiring candidates to confirm their intentions is also suspect.

Attorney Brian Dunning, who said he filed a petition to run, said he received his letter in the mail around 1 p.m. on Friday and sought to return it to the village prior to a phone interview with the Manhasset Times at 3:30 p.m.

But, he said, Village Hall was closed.

Perhaps the Village of Munsey Park just doesn’t like people challenging incumbents – particularly Dunning and Nathy Yakaitis, another attorney who has filed to run for trustee.

Last year, Munsey Park Mayor Frank DeMento refused to allow Dunning, Yakaitis and two former village officials who regularly attend meetings to speak. His reason: “because it is not your public hearing,” and he was tired of hearing from the same “peanut gallery” at every meeting.

Mike Armstrong, the Long Island regional director for Reclaim New York, a conservative good-government group, said DeMento’s behavior reflected a “disturbing attitude.”

This followed DeMento’s appointment of his brother-in-law, who was then working for the village as a utility worker, as village administrator without a job search or warning of the impending appointment.

The then village clerk-treasurer, Barbara Miller, said she was not made aware of the appointment before a village board meeting and was “shocked” that the creation of the position was not mentioned on the meeting’s agenda.

After a public uproar, DeMento’s brother-in-law, Daniel Breen, spared the village further embarrassment by announcing he would not accept the appointment.

This was followed by Miller stepping down and her replacement by the aforementioned Tara Gibbons.

We wish we could say that Munsey Park was alone in its assault on common sense and good government, but while the village certainly stands out in brazen disregard for norms it has much company on the North Shore.

North Shore villages scored below average in a Press Club of Long Island audit that graded Long Island municipalities and government agencies on New York State Freedom of Information Law requirements.

The audit, which was conducted over 16 months and graded the responsiveness of 195 municipalities on a 0 to 100 scale, found that villages on the North Shore averaged a 66.2 or D rating, lower than the C average for all governments and agencies.

Seven North Shore villages — Roslyn Harbor, Manorhaven, Baxter Estates, Sands Point, Kings Point, Lake Success, New Hyde Park and Floral Park — received grades of F.

And in recent weeks, Town of North Hempstead officials have refused to answer questions about Robert Troiano and his decision to resign as the Nassau County acting commissioner for traffic and parking violations a day before he was to be considered for confirmation by the Nassau Legislature – apparently over problems with tax liens he had when serving in two town positions.

The questions asked of both the Village of Munsey Park and the Town of North Hempstead by Blank Slate Media were intended to inform the public. That’s why there’s a First Amendment.

And when officials delay or deny information to the press they are delaying or denying information to the public – the people who pay their salaries.

This is a lesson that should have been learned in grade school. Perhaps it now needs to be taught in the voting booth.

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