Reform and bipartisanship were two themes as Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena delivered the 35th annual State of the Town address on March 31 at the Clubhouse at Harbor Links in Port Washington. The speech capped a luncheon program hosted by the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Port Washington-Manhasset.
DeSena quickly addressed the very public disagreements and often contentious exchanges at the town board meetings ever since she assumed office as the first Republican supervisor in more that 30 years. The Democrats hold a 4-3 majority on the board and have stymied some of her initiatives.
After introducing her colleagues in town government, the supervisor stated, “While I know some have rushed to paint a picture of us as a dysfunctional town board, I like to think we are just going through some growing pains. It may have been painful at points so far, but we’re in this together, and we’re all here to do the people’s work. I am committed to making our town board successful through collaboration and bipartisan cooperation, and I look forward to continuing to work with all of you. Together we can accomplish many great things.”
DeSena has viewed her upset victory over former Town Clerk Wayne Wink last November, ending decades of a Democrat leading town government, as an expression of the voters’ mandate for change.
“My goals since day one have been to streamline town government wherever possible, increase accountability to our taxpayers, operate in a fiscally responsible manner, and lead our town in an open, honest, and transparent way,” she told the assembled.
The bulk of her speech focused on reforming the town’s building department, which has come under a lot of criticism.
“My team and I have identified a provision buried deep within the town’s code, that has bogged down departmental operations, created needless and legally questionable interference, and shifted accountability away from our trained professionals in the building department,” she charged.
It was a provision adopted in 2007 that gave the supervisor and trustees the power to reverse the building commissioner’s decision on expediting building permits in their councilmatic districts. Expedited permits are considered under a number of scenarios spelled out in the code. Later that day, at the town board meeting, DeSena introduced a resolution to set a public hearing on April 28 to amend the chapter by stripping the provision. The board unanimously passed the resolution, minus absent trustee David Adhami.
“Transparency is the key to a responsive government,” DeSena declared, announcing new transparency initiatives.
Though town board meetings are livestreamed and archived, she wants to see them carried live on the more easily accessible North Hempstead TV. She called the public access channel a great resource with informative programming, and has directed the channel to begin broadcasting the meetings.
DeSena will also institute town hall type meetings in each council district to enable her and the councilmember to meet with residents who may not have the opportunity to attend town board meetings and speak during public comment time.
“For too long, many residents have felt unheard and unseen, so what better way to offer them the ability to comment directly to their elected officials on the state of the town than in a face-to-face meeting, filled with open dialogue and fresh ideas?” DeSena stated.
Before winning office, DeSena was executive director of the Manhasset Coalition Against Substance Abuse (CASA) where she “worked passionately to educate and empower parents to protect their families from the risks of alcohol and other drugs. While I am no longer in my official capacity at CASA, I still passionately believe that this should be a top priority of not just all elected officials but all families.”
She announced the establishment of the Town of North Hempstead Substance Misuse Advisory Council, noting the horrific figures of more that 100,000 Americans dying of drug overdoses and another 100,000 of alcohol misuse in 2021.
“Many lives can be saved through prevention, treatment, and recovery, and I believe not only is the town able to do something to help the problem, but we also have a moral obligation to do so,” she observed.
DeSena also intended to revitalize the town’s Disability and Veterans Advisory Committees, and work with them “to make our communities more diverse, inclusive, and equitable.”
Turning to infrastructure, she highlighted the initial phase of the North Hempstead Beach Park renovation project “that will protect the esplanade and beachfront park from future flooding and erosion, while improving the quality of park experience through the creation of a living shoreline.”
DeSena also called for an update to the town’s Master Plan, noting that it was last updated in 1989, and an increase in the town’s budget for road paving; of the town’s 300-plus lane miles, only 6 to 8 were paved each year, and this was unacceptable to her.
In a nod to Women’s History Month, DeSena said, “We owe so much to the intelligent and determined women who have come before us, and it’s an honor to continue the tradition here in the Town of North Hempstead of strong female leadership.”
May Newburger led the town from 1994 to 2003 and was the first female supervisor on Long Island. Judi Bosworth, DeSena’s immediate predecessor, was in office for eight years.
“While we are still faced with many challenges, I am certain that the best times for the Town of North Hempstead are ahead of us,” DeSena concluded.