Following his mid-day press conference at Brookhaven Town Hall to address snow removal problems across the Town, Supervisor Ed Romaine met individually with members of the media to take specific questions on Brookhaven's response to this past weekend's blizzard.
During his press conference, Romaine apologized to residents for the Town's poor performance in clearing streets of upwards of three feet of snow that fell in parts of Brookhaven. But the supervisor also pinned blame for the poor response on a lack of leadership in the highway department.
Here, Romaine address specific questions about his being on vacation during the blizzard, what went wrong with the snow removal effort and what needs to change going forward.
Q. Why not just come back [from Jamaica]?
Ed Romaine: First off all day Friday or Saturday, I don’t know if you could have gotten any flights.
Q. You said you hadn’t taken a vacation in two years, but are newly elected as supervisor of Brookhaven. Many private sector employees do not get vacation time right away in a new job. Could you explain your vacation policy?
ER: Our vacation policy is you normally get two weeks a year. This Town Board, and I’ll say it again, meets every week - every week. We normally have a meeting on Tuesday night one week, or work session on Thursday afternoon the following week. So you don’t get an opportunity to put six or seven days together.
This was the one week that did not happen, which is why not only myself but I think two other members of the Town Board had scheduled vacations. We do not wish to miss a work session or Town Board [meetings]; we take that very seriously."
Q: Did you anticipate people would be this angry with you?
ER: I think considering the damage the storm did people would be angry. They don’t have someone to focus in on such as our acting highway superintendent, who was not appointed by me but by the [previous] Highway Superintendent. I said we have to get some change in leadership here. We are having an election on March 5, so there is an acting highway superintendent. Part of the aggravation is some of the backdrop of that election, which is unfortunate. Our focus should be on getting the job done.
Q: Councilman Dan Panico was appointed deputy supervisor after you came into office and some implied he may not have had sufficient experience. How would you rate his performance?
ER: I think his performance was excellent. He did a very good job. He kept me constantly posted. He opened our emergency operations center at 4:30 p.m. on Friday. He declared a state of emergency at 6:30 p.m Friday. He updated me and was able to reach out to other municipalities and get the equipment we needed that eventually helped us turn the corner.
By Monday evening, 90 to 95 percent of the roads in Brookhaven were passable. The shame of it is there were still people who had to wait until Tuesday or later to get it done. That’s something we cannot allow to happen again because I did not have direct control or supervision, neither does the Town Board or the highway department.
I’ve been in office two and a half months and haven’t had the opportunity to do that review. I am hoping the new highway superintendent will work with me to make sure this never happens again."
Q: If you could do it all over again, would you have gone on vacation?
ER: Absolutely not. I would not go away. This is not something you want to miss, you don’t want to do this. You also don’t want to start it. I wanted to stay in contact and have control and direction over what we were going to do.
Q: You spoke of putting a GPS system and other systems into the highway department. Do you have any reason to feel the crews did not work optimally or may have negligent?
ER: Absolutely not. I think the men and women of the highway department have given it their best effort but what they need is better direction.
If you have GPS you can use computerized tracking and have communication systems that tie in with the Town. I hate to see their efforts wasted. Many of them worked hard and many of them worked three or four days without sleep. So you can’t fault them for lack of effort, but I think they need better direction.
I am certainly willing to work with the highway department to make sure they have the tools to do the job."
Q: How concerned are you in the next election people might take it out on you at the ballot box?
ER: I’m not concerned at all because my focus is not on getting re-elected. When you concentrate as a politician on the next election, you do yourself and your constituents a tremendous disservice.
You should be concentrating on the job that you are doing every day, that’s what I do. Let the consequences fall where they may, whether fair or unfair. My job is to concentrate on what my job is: being supervisor and doing everything I can to add to the benefit of the residents of Brookhaven.
Do I feel terrible that this happened? Absolutely. Do I accept the responsibility? I have to accept some because there’s no one else to accept it.
What I am going to say is not only do I accept it — I accept responsibility to try to set this right. I hope that our next highway superintendent, whoever it is going to be, will work with me doing that.