Don’t cry for me, Munsey Park

Don’t cry for me, Munsey Park

Village of Munsey Park Mayor Frank DeMento appears to be confused about the job to which he was elected in March.

How else to explain DeMento’s refusal to allow four residents — including two former village officials — to speak during a public hearing last Wednesday night on a proposed walkway between the Congregational Church of Manhasset’s parking lot and the Munsey Park Elementary School?

“You do not have the right to speak at this public hearing because it is not your public hearing,” DeMento told the four.

DeMento went on to say that he was tired of hearing from the same “peanut gallery” at every meeting.

Sorry, mayor, but in a democracy the public has a right to speak at a public hearing. That’s why they call the hearing “public.”

The fact that the four residents — Sargent Place resident Brian Dunning, former Trustee Jim McGivney, former Deputy Mayor Deborah Miller and Allston Place resident Nathy Yakaitis — regularly attend meetings and comment on issues before the board is to their credit and should not diminish their right to speak at future meetings.

And here is another concept with which the mayor might have a problem: the residents can also disagree with the village board — or any other government institution.

There is no exemption to free speech in the Constitution for citizens whom elected officials are tired of hearing from.

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.

Village officials should not allow certain people to speak but silence others when hearing public comment, added Kristin O’Neill, the assistant director of the state’s Committee on Open Government.

Almost as bad as DeMento’s attitude is that of his fellow board members who failed to object to DeMento’s refusal to allow the residents to speak.

Their silence is deafening and little different than agreeing with DeMento.

This is not the first time that DeMento has drawn criticism in recent weeks for a style of government that seems something out of “Evita.”

In May, two months after he was elected mayor, DeMento appointed his brother-in-law, who was then working for the village as a utility worker, as village administrator. DeMento said there was a “clear need for greater assistance with administrative work.” DeMento’s brother-in-law, Daniel Breen, would receive no additional money under the appointment and would continue to also work as a utility worker.

But others were puzzled.

The 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.

She said the appointment was unnecessary and was concerned that Breen lacked the qualifications to oversee other employees.

Miller, who worked for the village for nine years and municipal government for 42 years, was replaced as village clerk on Wednesday, after she was not reappointed to a new term in April.

Former Mayor Harry Nicolaides, described the village as “the joke among the other municipalities” following Breen’s appointment, according to Newsday. “They’re running this village like a private club.”

Nicolaides, who was unseated by a slate that included DeMento in 2013, said he did not see why there was a need for a village administrator position when the village has hardly grown over the past 30 years.

But village trustees rushed to DeMento’s defense.

“Everybody comes out of the woodwork and says it’s nepotism. . . . There is no salary increase,” Trustee Larry Ceriello said. “We selected the most qualified person who happens to be the mayor’s brother-in-law. It’s absurd.”

The basis for Ceriello’s claim that Breen was the best qualified person is uncertain since the village did not advertise for the position. The search apparently did not extend beyond DeMento’s family.

Several residents — including members of the “peanut gallery” — objected to the hiring.

They said the creation of the administrator’s post was a structural change in the village government, but it was put through without public notice or discussion.

Breen saved the village from further embarrassment by declining to accept the promotion.

“The village Board of Trustees will continue its search for a well-qualified candidate, in an effort to increase efficiency within the village, decrease delays in certain village business, present an overall cost savings to the village and in general to contribute to a more user-friendly environment for the residents of the village,” the board said in a statement after Breen’s decision to decline the position.

Perhaps they should also seek someone who wants to head a village government that adheres to democratic norms.

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