Another year, another opportunity for the New Hyde Park Fire District (NHPFD) to be transparent in its operations. Another year and yet another opportunity squandered.
At the first [fire] board meeting of 2018, I made a public statement providing an update on the federal court action against the NHP Fire District/Department brought by Ex-Chief and former Commissioner Michael Dolan, Sr. and his son, Firefighter Michael Dolan, Jr. I reported that Judge Bianco (EDNY) issued his final decision in response to the defendants’ attempts to overturn the jury verdict that found the board/department and Commissioners Rick Stein, Michael Bonura, John Brown and others wrongfully subjected the Dolans to malicious criminal prosecution and abuse of process. The court found evidence indicated that Stein, with the approval of the board, provided false information to the police, which resulted in the wrongful criminal prosecution of the Dolans. The court found that Stein, Bonura and Brown, along with district counsel, Joseph Frank, met with the Nassau District Attorney, before charges were dropped, to encourage the pursuit of charges against the Dolans. These parties continued to provide the false narrative and information that led to the wrongful prosecution of the two decorated veterans.
The judge also upheld the jury’s award of punitive damages and verdict of $625,000.
Immediately following my public statement, Board Chairman Stephen Derenze announced the board had created a policy restricting public comment at open meetings and the use of agendas for the first time at meetings. These new restrictions provide that the public may only comment on the agenda items and any member of the public who wishes to speak on any other district business must submit a request in writing and seek approval of the board. One has to wonder what the motivation was in issuing these new restrictions.
The board’s startling move demonstrates its inability to understand the need for transparency. Indeed, since agendas are not available until minutes before a meeting and public comment is only permitted at the beginning of the meeting, the board has effectively foreclosed any public comment.
This leads me to renew my call for the board to place more pertinent information on the [fire district] website. It was five years ago when I went door-to-door obtaining 512 signatures on a petition to have meeting minutes placed online for a more accurate accountability of the record of district work and for ease of public view. It is now 2018…the board is sorely mistaken to think that the public will allow for this lack of openness and transparency in governmental operations.