Another year, another opportunity for the New Hyde Park Fire District/Department to be transparent in its operations to the residents they serve. Another year and yet another opportunity squandered.
At the first open Board meeting on Jan. 2, 2018, I made a public statement providing the Board and the public attending the meeting with an update to the federal court action against the New Hyde Park Fire District/Department brought by ex-chief and former Commissioner Michael Dolan Sr. and his son, firefighter Michael Dolan Jr.
My report at the meeting noted that Judge Bianco of the Eastern District of New York issued his final decision in response to the defendants’ attempts to overturn the righteous jury verdict that found the board/department and certain members, commissioners’ Richard Stein, Michael Bonura, John DiVello and John Brown had wrongfully subjected the ex-chief and commissioner and his firefighter son to malicious criminal prosecution and abuse of process.
Among the highlights of Judge Bianco’s decision, the court found trial evidence indicated that Commissioner Richard Stein, with the approval of the board, provided false information to the police, which resulted in the wrongful criminal prosecution of the former commissioner and ex chief and his son.
It was also revealed that Commissioner Stein, and other defendants – commissioners Michael Bonura and John Brown, along with District Counsel Joseph Frank, subsequently met with the Nassau DA before charges were dropped to encourage felony charges be pursued and that they continued to provide the false narrative and false information that led to the wrongful prosecution of these two decorated firefighters and military veterans. Commissioner Bonura even verified this subsequent meeting during his sworn trial testimony on March 8, 2017.
The judge found there was evidence of malice on the part of all defendants, such that the jury’s award of punitive damages was warranted, upholding the jury’s $625,000 verdict. The Dolans’ are also entitled to attorneys’ fees, including accruing interest, which will place the judgment in excess of $1 million.
What this shows is that despite the purely malicious and political motives of the defendants, the truth will eventually prevail.
The Dolans have had to fight to clear their good name and have succeeded in victory after victory in federal court, in the criminal court and with the trumped up departmental charges made against the ex-chief and commissioner.
I am proud to say the result has been a very successful outcome for both my father and brother – having gone through the courts (in criminal, state, appellate, and now federal court) and each still come up on top!
Despite all of these legal rulings, the malicious and petty behavior continues.
The district decided earlier that same day on a conference call with the court right before the open board meeting, to needlessly continue to expend taxpayer funds in prosecuting an appeal that will likely fail, like every other attempt the District has made to push their malicious and petty narrative about these two fellow firefighting members.
It is a sad commentary on how this district operates.
As a sitting commissioner, the jury’s verdict that Commissioner Michael Bonura maliciously and wrongfully prosecuted the Dolans’ dictates that he conducted himself in a manner unbecoming of a Firefighter and elected official.
His actions, along with all named defendants: Richard Stein, John Divello, and John Brown, have brought disgrace upon the fire district and department.
Immediately following my public statement at this Jan. 2, 2018 open Board meeting, the one and only spectator supporting the defendants’ at trial, newly-elected chairman, Commissioner Stephen Derenze, announced the board had created a tailored policy regarding restrictions on public comment at open meetings, including for firefighter members, and the use of agendas for the first time at meetings.
These restrictions provide that the public may only comment on the agenda items – and any member of the public who wishes to speak on any other district business must submit a request in writing and seek approval of the board.
Firefighter members are not permitted to speak at all at meetings. One has to wonder what the motivation of certain board members was.
The board’s startling move continues to show its incompetence through its failure to collectively understand the need for transparency at these open meetings to protect the District residents and taxpayers.
Indeed, since agendas are not available until displayed minutes before commencement of an open board meeting and public comment is only permitted at the beginning of the meeting, the board has effectively foreclosed any public comment.
The board, undoubtedly on advice of counsel, has used the Open Meetings Law to shut down public speech. The exact opposite of what the law was meant to do.
For these reasons, I reiterate, the duties of the board do require the utmost professionalism – and should not be taken lightly. Let me be clear, the Board is obligated to report back to the residents as necessary during an open meeting to examine your decisions made, so as to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
Since no policy is set in stone, and there is a sitting Commissioner with a spotted record, it’s in the Board’s best interest, and the best interest of the residents and taxpayers, to provide the high-quality standards that the residents – those who have put you in office and who you serve – expect from you.
Given the board’s, and district counsel’s, vindictive actions, it is important to note, taxpayer funds have been endlessly spent on the ongoing litigation matter regarding the Dolans’ and on separate legal fees for district counsel, Joe Frank.
Taxpayers pay $2,900 each month to Mr. Frank (which a 2014 signed retainer agreement contains a provision where it automatically renews each year) – when he was apparently well aware of the district’s improper actions – and did nothing.
This is despicable! Under his guidance, the district has lost at every step. A $10 smoke detector issue has now cost the district and taxpayers at least $1 million!
Clearly, it is now time that we seriously consider the retention of new counsel.
All of this leads me to renew my call for the board to place more pertinent information on the www.nhpfd.com website.
Indeed, it was five long years ago when I went door to door obtaining signatures on a formal petition, over 500, to have Board meeting minutes placed online for a more accurate accountability of the record of District work and for ease of public view.
My call for transparency and the ensuing petition all arose out of impropriety and egregious errors relating to meeting minutes. Indeed, votes on actions by the board that did not take place in April and May of 2013 were magically recorded by former secretary and treasurer, Marie Cochran, as taking place.
Just more in the way of questionable actions by the Board.
In the past, Commissioner Michael Bonura’s position was that the website pertains only to the fire department. As I have previously mentioned at open board meetings, this is no longer a valid excuse for failing to provide greater access to the public.
There are departments currently working in conjunction with their district members in providing fire district information to their respective community. Two leading examples are: the Oceanside Fire Department and the Syosset Fire Department- with more to follow.
It is now 2018. The Board is sorely mistaken to think that the lack of promoting openness and transparency in their governmental operations and budget process will continue in this New Year – or even in the next five years.
Now more than ever, with district and certain department members found guilty of malicious prosecution and abuse of process – is cause for public concern to say the least.
I will continue to remind the board that a formal petition with 512 constituent signatures requesting meeting minutes be placed online had been previously submitted to the District. That is a pretty commanding public response!
Yet, to this day, this District fails to keep up with the ever-changing needs of the public and technology.
Your role as an elected official of the Board that serve the public is to provide an open and transparent government for the public. Especially when the law, and the public, require it of you all. Now more than ever, this needs to be your top priority.
And I intend to keep the public updated of your actions, or lack thereof.
It should be noted, it was at the open board meeting back on Jan. 3, 2017, when then newly appointed Chairman John Waldron, son to recently hired, District Treasurer Concetta Waldron, while acknowledging the past service of both, then retiring Commissioner Rick Stein, and exiting chief, Paul Sokol, announced: “people forget that this is a volunteer position and it’s not easy all the time…”
Just because you are volunteers, does not mean that you have the right to conduct the Fire District business in an unprofessional, unethical and improper manner.
While you volunteer, and we do appreciate the hard work you do for the community, as fellow Department members, you are, in fact, compensated generously through LOSAP payments.
Free 2-year community college tuition is also afforded 100% for members.
Keep in mind, in addition, all purchases made – and every expense incurred – are paid for by District taxpayers’ monies as well.
This includes liability payments, for numerous District vehicle and apparatus accidents, used in personal travel and in emergency situations, including food/drinks payments, for special Department meetings and standby situations – which are all reported at open board meetings.
Additionally, wasteful legal fees are paid for in all litigation cases the district/department is embroiled in – even the ones you have lost – where records will show, on many occasions.
To top it off, annual door-to-door fund drive money you request, and receive, from District residents – the substantial extra wealth of donated tax-payers dollars collected gets evenly dispersed and spent at your leisure, between the department’s – 5 firefighting companies, your softball, bowling and Termites racing teams, plus the Ladies Auxiliary.
You all also get to enjoy hosted taxpayer-funded celebrations – at annual Installation Dinner and Dance events.
An event, where last year in attendance I was shocked and appalled to learn from fellow member and master-of-ceremony, Mr. John Gieschen, that certain department members were planning a walkout when my father was presented with his 50-Years of Service award.
Fortunately, they opted against the walkout, which would have made such malicious and petty behavior a You Tube sensation!
Clearly, there are members who are sour over my father’s achievements and success – envious, instead of inspired, to attain the same goals. Some never fulfilled, and knowingly never will, the level of excellence my father has achieved in 50 years of service – a proven record of being an honorable 50-Year Member and actual Chief who represented this Department.
Bottom line, people don’t forget – apparently both the District and Department do! And we will repeatedly remind you, if need be.
New Hyde Park