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Vecchio: Town Gov't Not in the Dark

Though Smithtown supervisor said Irene knocked Town Hall off the grid.

For Town of Smithtown residents left in the dark by Hurricane Irene, news of how their local government would help them was hard to find.

Long Island Power Authority reported more than 30,000 Smithtown residents are without power after the storm. Supervisor Patrick Vecchio was one of them, and he blamed widespread power outages for the gap in communication between town officials and the public.

Multiple phone calls to the supervisor’s office and the Department of Public Safety made over weekend were not returned until Monday afternoon. Vecchio said Smithtown Town Hall and many town offices lost power during Hurricane Irene, resulting in a loss of phone lines and public communication.

Despite the silence, Vecchio said Town of Smithtown workers were on top of the storm as Highway department crews were dispersed across Smithtown to begin assessing the damage and removing fallen trees from roadways at 1 a.m. Sunday.

"The overall damage [to Smithtown] is that we are removing at least 500 trees and still counting at this point. LIPA estimated 50,000 customers in Smithtown lost power, and electricity has been restored to roughly half," Vecchio said.

Despite taking heavy damages, Smithtown was the only Suffolk County township not to declare a state of emergency – even though the Village of Nissequogue evacuated residents on Long Beach Road east of the marina.

What seemed like a lack of concern by the town was heavily criticized by Smithtown residents.

Patch reader Diana Marshall commented, "Don't you think it's better to be proactive rather than reactive Smithtown. Wake up!"

Meanwhile, reader Mark Marino raised concerns of his own.

"I would not be surprised if the failure to 'declare an emergency' impacts on the Town's ability to obtain disaster funds from [New York State] and the Feds," he said.

However, the supervisor said there was "no need" for him to announce state of emergency after New York State and Suffolk County declared one. But Mark Smith, spokesman for County Executive Steve Levy, said, "we cannot make a town declare a state of emergency, its up to them individually."

Vecchio told Patch Monday that "a supervisor has no power to declare state of emergency, they are superseded by county and governor." Though he conceded that New York State Executive Law Article 2-B allowed him to do so.

According to state executive law, an emergency declaration allows town leaders to declare such measures for their respective municipalities such as a curfew, evacuation zones, emergency shelters and opening and closing of roads to the public, among others.

"We don’t have a fire department or a police department. Our Parks Department and Highway Department were already standing by, any other department is standing by for emergency services," Vecchio said.

A state-affiliated source said Vecchio was correct, Suffolk County's town supervisors didn't need to declare a state of emergency.

"Once Suffolk County is in state of emergency, the town is superseded. It's true. If county does, town doesn’t have to," said the source.

Our source confirmed that the Town of Smithtown will be eligible to file for and receive both federal and state aid for Hurricane Irene when Suffolk County does.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy declared a state of emergency 8 a.m. on Aug. 25. Gov. Andrew Cuomo followed, declaring a state-wide emergency on Friday.

In fact, nine out of 10 towns in Suffolk County declared emergencies.

Both Islip Town Supervisor Phil Nolan and Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko declared a state of emergency before the hurricane, then surveyed the damage afterwards. Both Township’s websites were changed during the storm to a single page providing relevant emergency phone numbers and alerts to emergency evacuations and shelters.

By comparison, the Smithtown’s website provided links to the Suffolk County site and the National Weather service. There was no information posted on the Long Beach Road evacuation.

Correction: This article originally  incorrectly stated Suffolk County did not declare a state of emergency. Joseph Williams, Suffolk County's Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services commissioner, said County Executive Steve Levy declared it 8 a.m. on Aug. 25.

Margaret August 30, 2011 at 12:00 PM
Vecchio has always done an outstanding job for Smithtown. We trust in his decision. We are glad he did not succumb to the overblown scare tactics of the media.
Diane Kraut August 30, 2011 at 02:51 PM
Vecchio needs to retire!! He is so out of touch with reality!! He didn't have power?? Neither did 75% of Commack, but in many houses I heard an invention going called a GENERATOR!! You mean to tell me that Town Hall has no backup plan for such an emergency?? As for there being no need to declare a state of emergency in Smithtown, let him come rife through my neighborhood and count all of the trees that fell, many on top of houses. then he can explain to the people whose property got damamged why they can't get FEMA!
Di August 30, 2011 at 03:43 PM
Not impressed with the LIPA response nor the fact that Smithtown did not declare a State of Emergency. Still no power, no hot water, no refrig. I think that since there are so may Smithtown residents in the same boat we should have some say as to declaring a State of Emergency in our town, but who are we.
KA August 30, 2011 at 03:44 PM
Agree with Ms. Kraut wholeheartedly and not at all with Margaret. Been in Smithtown over 25 years and have been hoping for someone..anyone at this point tor replace Vecchio. He is and always has been untrustworthy and makes decisions that are not based on the best interests of residents. He is so far from outstanding it is laughable. Just his response to this storm alone shows that. "We" do not trust him and certainly wish him a speedy retirement.
Craig August 30, 2011 at 04:20 PM
If NYS declared a state of emergency then the whole state is in a state of emergency. Why does a town need to also declare it. From what the article says, it has no meaning. So what is the issue?
lisa costello August 30, 2011 at 04:41 PM
vecchio is awful and that has nothing to do with irene!no one should be allowed to have an elected position that long.term limits.not healthy for effective gov't.
Jeff Kraut August 30, 2011 at 06:14 PM
He is not at Steve Levys press conference along with other town supervisors because town hall was dark. Why didn't town hall have a generator. Then, he declines disaster status, denying low cost loans for rebuilding to town residents, as there was not sufficient damager. Not only was Pat "in the dark", but he lost my vote as well.
Doony August 30, 2011 at 06:40 PM
I appreciate that everyone is in a no win situation- i live near the KP Bluffs and not only do I not have power but since we are on wells up here I have no water! Help! LIPA please hurry, no electric for a few days I can deal with but no running water is difficult
Craig August 30, 2011 at 07:21 PM
As far as I can see, he did not deny disaster status. The entire state has been declared a disaster. If he really went to NY state and refused the disaster status please point us to this information.
Craig August 30, 2011 at 07:28 PM
Hi Denise - feel really bad about your situation. I have a few bags of ice left over if you need. Contact me via e-mail at cromeman@verizon.net if you want them.
Annie D. August 30, 2011 at 09:27 PM
Hey, Syd...obviously the public doesn't agree with you about Supervisor Vecchio! The public voted him back into office!
lisa costello August 30, 2011 at 10:59 PM
hey annie, who ran against him?..............and we pretty much know 93% of the public are dumber tham dirt.and it's being proven as you look around neighborhoods and the "public" are putting their storm debris inthe streets!brilliant
Candyee September 01, 2011 at 08:39 PM
Very disappointed with Mr Vecchio...He always did good job.. so this was upsetting to me...
Michael September 01, 2011 at 11:55 PM
If doing nothing is doing a good job, then Vecchio is our man. Unpaved roads, crumbling sidewalks, overgrown trees on town property and street lights that are either on all day or not on at all are the hallmarks of today's Smithtown. We deserve better infrastructure and services.
HeyJoe September 03, 2011 at 12:27 AM
Vecchio is doing a good job? have you seen how many empty stores are on main street. the street between town hall and maple avenue is almost totally vacant. you can roll a bowling ball down the sidewalk in the middle of the day and not hit anyone. look out your window vecchio and see how your town is doing.
angela wellsen November 02, 2011 at 11:54 PM
ed Wehrheim Bio: -------------------- - Never attended a 4 year College - Never attended a 2 year Junior College - No Degree past High School - No Finance Degree - No Law Degree - Never Ran a Business - Has ZERO Business experience - ZERO Accomplishments after 8 years as Council Man (Except: Crime and Abandon Stores have Increased) As a parks worker, Ed pushed a broom, fixed swings and raked leaves. NEVER ran a business and has ZERO financial experience.
Barry Bonds November 15, 2012 at 12:22 AM
Our only communication was Newday,never missed a day. Every town had information for their residents. Smithtown- NOTHING-. Vecciho sent warm greetings. The Highway Dept is out standing--to bad that their not running the show. Town Hall with out back up power!--What planning!- What leadership!
RC November 15, 2012 at 01:33 AM
I do have to say .. I listened to the radio for 15 days and WBZO -B 103 , did a great job of keeping is informed . They broadcasted channel 12 news for 12 of those 15 days every night ..

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