Better communication. More resources. A formal emergency management plan.
These are a few thoughts offered by Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent candidates Dan Losquadro and Kathleen Walsh, who will be squaring off in a special election next month. Given the many issues Brookhaven had with snow removal during this past weekend's blizzard, this race could garner more interest from local residents than originally anticipated.
Many parts of Brookhaven Town remained snowed in more than 72 hours after a blizzard touched down last weekend, forcing another civic to cancel a meeting with Losquadro and Walsh three days after the snow hit, and even prompting a small effort on Facebook to recall Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (despite the fact that New York State does not permit recall elections), that brought more than two feet of snow in town.
In light of what one Democratic councilman called a "complete and systematic breakdown in the ability of the Town Highway Department to respond to this crisis," Losquadro, R-Shoreham, and Walsh, I-Centereach, shared their thoughts about what they can offer when voters head to the polls on March 5.
Pointing to not only Romaine's absence, but that of interim Highway Department head Michael Murphy, who reportedly took medical leave starting on Friday, Walsh noted that an absence of leadership has resulted in an information vacuum, leaving the public unaware of what the town is doing to help them.
"I believe most people understand that this snowfall is not something they have seen before, but the communication is not out there," she said. "Who is the lead advocate for the people? I know we have staff, but we need strong leadership. That's not happening if nobody is around."
Deputy Supervisor Dan Panico has filled Romaine's seat in his absence. He has not returned repeated calls from Patch seeking comment on the town's response to last weekend's blizzard.
Walsh pointed to her brief tenure as acting supervisor, after former Supervisor Mark Lesko resigned, when the town faced Superstorm Sandy: "We were having briefings with the town council and people in emergency services at least two or three times a day. We've had one briefing ... we're on the front line, getting calls and emails. And I don't have information to share with residents. That shouldn't be happening."
Losquadro has said that his interest in the highway department position started after Superstorm Sandy hit. He told Patch in December, "seeing the aftermath of the storm, a lot of people started to call me up, constituents, leaders of different parties, all indicating their support for me if I were to run for this position."
Speaking in more detail what he can bring to the department based on what he has seen between last weekend's snowfall, and last fall's crippling hurricane, he added that the town needs a concrete management plan it can turn to in times of emergency.
"If you try to do things in a reactionary sort of way, that doesn't work," he said. "We need an approved vendor list of outside contractors we can rely upon in extreme circumstances like this."
He said he was unsure what proportion of the town's snow removal resources were in-house, and what were contracted out, but establishing a list of contractors and fee schedules would put the town ahead of any crisis, he said.
A request to the town spokesman, asking what the highway department's current policy is in the case of an emergency, was not returned. Though Losquadro had touted formalizing an emergency plan before last weekend's blizzard touched down, as early as the beginning of 2013.
In order to make his plan work, he said, "this is something where my experience working on the legislative side of government would help, being proactive with the town board and supervisor."
He has even spoken about Romaine about such a plan in recent weeks, he added.
While both Walsh and Losquadro noted that the department could use more updated equipment, and more of it, the two disagreed on why the town doesn't currently have it.
Losquadro pointed to previous budgets Walsh has been a part of that cut highway department resources – the 2011 budget axed six jobs. But Walsh referenced the 2013 budget, where she and Democratic council members Connie Kepert and Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld were unable to find support for $6 million more in the highway budget – equaling roughly $38 more in taxes per household – that would have offered the department more resources.