A word to our volunteer firefighters and EMTs: Please make no offer to appease the mayors of Great Neck, the ones who have manufactured a crisis.
Think of them as dabblers in the people’s business.
This past month, my fellow residents have captured in words in their letters to the newspaper why we value the Alerts and the Vigilants: They are volunteers who treat their work as if lives depend on their knowledge and dedication. They serve our community, as mayors used to.
So let’s talk about the elected officials.
In June 2011, I wrote a letter to my Great Neck Village mayor when he earned the distinction of being the first mayor to mug our volunteer ambulance service.
He put our Vigilant ambulances in his crosshairs.
A mayor controls the printed meeting agendas, and my letter disappeared at village hall.
Then, as now, some of the mayors of the Great Neck peninsula used the volunteer fire departments and our volunteer ambulance service as a distraction from the real problems the mayors are without the creativity, or the brain power, or the inclination to solve.
The mayors want to spend money as they choose to; at the same time, they want to give us the impression they are responsible spenders. So they picked a target and made a commotion.
If we were remote rural villages perhaps it would make sense for each to act independently. But here in the suburbs, we are a cluster so tightly packed together that a street may begin in one village and end in another.
You would think our nine villages could not possibly lose sight of how planning in one village affects the village down the block and up the road.
But they have lost sight.
Here on our chockablock peninsula, each corner of the community has forgotten what makes it hum in harmony with the rest of the community.
The time came, and I admit I did not see it coming, when Great Neck emerged as a place not merely separated within by predictable differences but rather a place without cohesion; some (or much) of this is attributable to lousy leadership.
As walls went up, what was public became private. Some trustees and commissioners decided they were entitled to salaries and also gave themselves the gem of health benefits in office and into retirement on the taxpayers’ tab. In other words, what appeared to be pure public service accrued private lucre.
Volunteerism, a hallmark of a vitally connected community, ceased to be appreciated by officeholders, as evidenced by the current assault on the ambulance service.
Local municipalities began conducting the people’s business in private, so that residents at a public meeting might hear a resolution hatched elsewhere, behind closed doors. This subversion of the Open Meetings Law has inflicted a much higher cost than citizens would allow, if only they knew.
If you ask for and read minutes of past village board public meetings, look for the words “adjourned for advice of counsel,” which signals the trustees adjourned to executive session to discuss this or that developer’s plans away from the incredulous ears of residents.
Thus was born, in a climate of concealment, the current inclination to discontinue our volunteer ambulance service.
Perhaps we should privatize, is one notion that comes to light, let each resident receive a bill. Perhaps one village will opt out and leave other villages to make up the difference in the annual cost of operating our community’s ambulance service.
Perhaps, runs another mayoral view, villages should pay according to how many ambulance calls are generated from within the walls of each village, as if this were a valid measure, as if a resident of Great Neck Estates or the Village of Great Neck might not get hit by a car somewhere else on the peninsula… as if a fire in the 175-acre Kings Point Park, such as the week-long burn in 2013, imperils one person in one home with smoke inhalation.
I myself consider an applicable paradigm should include the possibility of lives saved, but there are mayors who treat “lives saved” as a touchy-feely standard.
Questionable patterns in spending by Great Neck municipalities have been reported in Newsday. In hiring, nepotism and favoritism have trumped merit, and civil service requirements are game for sleight-of-hand. An employee sleeping on the job, an employee with make-believe hours, or a secretary who cannot spell receive lucrative pay from elected officials indifferent to the theft.
Our web of villages and overlapping special districts together devour money.
Each municipality here is an individual taxing entity, each with its own multi-million dollar budget, some with grand inclinations, few of them sharing.
How many villages — count them — have exclusive police forces zealously dedicated to writing traffic tickets on the peninsula’s three main arteries — East Shore Road, Bayview Avenue, and Middle Neck Road — just to cover the operating budget of the self-same police and village court.
Is there a mutual aid agreement among these paid police forces similar to that among the volunteer fire companies? No.
We live on a peninsula. No one travels through Great Neck to reach somewhere else.
We are a destination, and therein lies our barely-there crime rate.
Yet we have enough police scattered around in visible village police cars that Nassau County felt justified in closing the 6th Precinct.
Do you find it as strange as I do that in all the Great Neck kerfuffle about restoring the 6th Precinct not one village offered to divest of its vanity police force to bring back Nassau County police?
As with so many things, each civic issue is treated as separate and unconnected.
In other words, the villages are unwilling to give up a redundant police force but willing to give up our ambulances.
Our peninsula seems by and large without crime. Nassau County police could patrol us for no additional charge.
After all, we Great Neck residents pay on our taxes for Nassau County police and police headquarters whether we use them or not.
So some villages are paying double for policing while their mayors campaign against paying just once for the volunteer ambulances that have served us capably for 80 years.
Spending has become the hallmark of a community captivated by its own self-image and ripe for municipal mis-spenders and mis-builders. Some mayors like to be visible deal-makers, and some like to spend money as the pharoahs of old. Some special districts, though less in the public eye, routinely inflate the statistic of the population they serve and publish that number, the better to justify their consumption of our tax dollars.
In the spring of 2005, I sent all the mayors a table of population statistics a friend and I had painstakingly researched and assembled.
After receiving it, one mayor inquired of the then-library director who I am. The answer is relevant.
I am married to Raymond J. Gilliar, who is fourth generation on this peninsula, the great-grandson of Edward R. Gilliar, who, in the 1800s, rebuilt the stone foundation and the sea wall of the Grist Mill that still stands in the village of Saddle Rock.
He is the grandson of John B. Gilliar, a charter member of the Alert Fire Company in 1901 and shortly thereafter contributed the first $100 to launch the fund drive to create the Vigilant Fire Company in 1904. On behalf of Great Neck, John B. accepted the keys to our new railroad station in 1925.
My husband is the son of Frank J. Gilliar, Vigilant Fire Chief and founder, in 1937, of the Vigilant Ambulance Service. He and his fellow volunteer firefighters rallied the Great Neck community and held a fundraiser that in just a few months gathered $7,500 to purchase our own ambulance and sustain it for its first two years.
Previously, Great Neck’s ambulance had come from Mineola and Glen Cove, a role taken over for a time by the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department and finally brought home by the Vigilants.
What a cruel trick it would be if our mayors turned back the clock to a time when medical help was slow in coming from too far away.
In 1937, there were no nay-saying mayors railing against our home-grown fire companies, against the cost of equipment for an all-local cadre of volunteers to rush to the aid of Great Neck residents.
Had the mayors of today been around back then, many Great Neck residents between then and now would have suffered and died waiting for a far-away ambulance to arrive in a storm.
How many times does it have to be said that there is an immeasurable value to having EMTs and firefighters in our midst, invested in our community?
The volunteer firefighters who ride our ambulances have the skills and training required by law of all EMTs. They save our lives. Here.
While mayors toy with the idea of contracting elsewhere for paid EMTs, the truth is that no amount of money can buy good neighbors trained to provide emergency medical care.
Unlike people who “volunteer” for local office and then let it go to their heads, no one could accuse our EMTs of being glory-seekers.
On the subject of hidden glory, a footnote: On a warm day when I was 57 years old, quite unexpectedly I went into cardiac arrest in my home. Medical help came from my family and from the fire department volunteers close by, and here I am, able to give you the benefit of what some might reverence as wisdom and others might endeavor to dismiss. Either way, certain things are just worth the money.
What does it cost my household in my village for annual ambulance service? $100?
A sum lost every day under the lazy aegis of local trustees playing politics with our welfare.
Our mayors met with Northwell Health in secrecy months ago. They were treated to a presentation, whose particulars are still secret. Northwell is my mayor’s choice for ambulance service, judging by his verbal dodging and weaving in response to a reporter’s questions, though I cannot imagine why.
Why were none of the mayors forthcoming after that meeting with Northwell?
Why do we residents have to wonder what was spoken in that clandestine gathering?
Did Northwell discuss the fact that their ambulances are primarily contracted in New York City?
Did the mayors ask Northwell how it would adjust its city contracts in order to cover our community’s needs?
Nothwell does not even hold the contract for supplying ambulance service on the real estate directly in front of its own North Shore University Hospital: The Community Drive roadway, by contract, is covered by Nassau County ambulances, not Northwell.
In other words, wherever they are, Northwell ambulances are not here, so the mayors should tell us why the Great Neck community should be Northwell’s experiment.
It comes as no surprise that village mayors who publicly devalue public schools, as they did recently, also disdain our local history. And it comes as no surprise they damn with faint praise and double-talk our volunteer fire companies.
Homeowners here do not like it when officeholders dabble with what we take seriously: our safety, our property, our local history and heritage, and our American democracy, where decisions are made with the consent of the governed.
Perhaps it is mayors we need to replace, not ambulances.
Rebecca Rosenblatt Gilliar
Village of Great Neck