By Amanda Copkov
The Munsey Park mayor silenced four village residents — including two former village officials — during a public hearing Wednesday night, saying they “did not have the right” to offer comment about a new walkway slated to be built in the village.
Sargent Place resident Brian Dunning, former Trustee Jim McGivney, former Deputy Mayor Deborah Miller and Allston Place resident Nathy Yakaitis were prevented from speaking about the walkway, which would lead from the Congregational Church of Manhasset’s parking lot to the Village Hall property and then to the Munsey Park Elementary School.
Saying he was tired of hearing from the same “peanut gallery” at every meeting, Mayor Frank DeMento chose not to recognize the four residents during a public hearing about the plan. The residents had been raising their hands and waiting to speak.
“You do not have the right to speak at this public hearing because it is not your public hearing,” DeMento said.
The meeting then continued, with trustees Jennifer Noone and Lawrence Ceriello saying the village “owes it to the residents” to not make Sargent Place, a nearby street, a “driveway to the school.”
The walkway project will allow parents to park in the church’s parking lot so that they can “safely walk their children to and from school while avoiding the sidewalk along Northern Boulevard,” the village website says. The village Board of Trustees approved the plan Wednesday night.
DeMento implied that Dunning’s lack of support for the walkway meant he did not care whether children died because none of Dunning’s children attend Manhasset public schools. Dunning demanded an apology from DeMento but the mayor refused.
Miller, McGiveny and Dunning, a onetime village justice candidate, have previously criticized DeMento over the Board of Trustees’ creation of a village administrator position, to which it appointed Daniel Breen, DeMento’s brother in law who works as a village utility worker. Both moves happened in May without prior public notice. Breen later declined the job.
Dunning and Yakaitis, who live on streets near the school said the main concern some residents are having is that parents will use this new walkway as an opportunity to come down the block and drop off their older kids who do not have to be escorted to the school, only to turn around and go back home. They think that this will create more traffic on their blocks.
“The problem is going to be this becoming a second entrance to the school for kids who don’t have to be escorted,” Dunning said in an interview after the meeting.
Jean Kendall, principal of Munsey Park Elementary School, said the school sees the walkway as way to increase safety and alleviate some congestion on Abbey Road, a larger street leading up to Sargent Place, which has been used as the main drop-off point for parents.
Kendall said this walkway will be helpful when special events at the school are going on when a lot of children may be walking in the streets.
“We understand there are some issues with where people live, but we are going to work together as a village,” Noone said. “We can solve this problem by giving the children a safe pathway from parking lot to parking lot.”
Trustees said the village secured a grant from Nassau County for $75,000 for this project, and another $75,000 grant from state Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill). DeMento said the board “would be surprised” if the walkway project were to cost more than $125,000.
Village officials should not allow certain people to speak but silence others when hearing public comment, said Kristin O’Neill, the assistant director of the state’s Committee on Open Government.
Mike Armstrong, the Long Island regional director for Reclaim New York, a conservative good-government group, said DeMento’s behavior reflected a “disturbing attitude.”
“Any official should know that this is a line that you don’t cross,” Armstrong said.
Also on Wednesday, the board appointed Tara Gibbons as the new village clerk. She replaces Barbara Miller, the former village clerk, who was not reappointed to a new term in April after working in the village for nine years and in municipal governments for 42 years.
Maureen McClean was also reappointed as the deputy village clerk, while Rob Farrer was appointed to the village’s board of zoning appeals, replacing Carol Dunning.
McGivney was allowed to speak on Miller’s behalf during another portion of Wednesday’s meeting, reviewing some of her notable work as village clerk, such as helping the village through Superstorm Sandy.
“She wanted it to be on the record that she did not resign or retire — she was not reappointed,” he said. “I would have hoped that if there were perceived deficiencies, she would have been given the chance to correct them. She indicated that until the May meeting, she had no indications that there was dissatisfaction with her performance.”
Noah Manskar contributed reporting.
CORRECTION: This article has been corrected to reflect the fact that it was Deborah Miller, Munsey Park’a former deputy mayor, who was not allowed to speak during the public hearing. Barbara Miller, the former village clerk, was not at the meeting.