Board Meeting Heats Up, As Residents Question Change
In front of a nearly standing-room-only crowd, Floral Park Mayor Kevin J. Greene swore in the village’s new police commissioner, retired NYPD veteran Stephen G. McAllister, at the board of trustees meeting on Tuesday, July 20. McAllister succeeds Michael Reid, a 34-year Floral Park Police Department veteran who served as the villages’ police commissioner for 17 years.
McAllister was welcomed to his new post with a standing ovation. Among his supporters present at the ceremony were his wife, Christine, and his five children, who range in age from 7 to 24. Many extended family members, friends and NYPD dignitaries were present, as well. Shortly after signing the Oath of Office Book, Commissioner McAllister and his entourage left the meeting. There was a noticeable change in tone within the room thereafter, from celebratory to concern.
Many residents were not pleased with the method by which the board selected the new police commissioner. According to a letter to the editor in the July 2 issue of the Floral Park Dispatch written by then Police Commissioner Michael Reid, Reid recounted, “On Sunday, March 28, 2010, I received several phone calls at home asking me if it were true, that I was not going to be commissioner anymore. Puzzled, I asked about the origin of these rumors. Apparently, the day before, at the Reliance Engine Company’s 100th Anniversary Celebration, the village board told a number of people that I was not going to be re-appointed as commissioner on April 5…. I only wish the village board had been professional enough to discuss this matter with me before letting it out to the public.
“The next day, Monday evening, I had a brief meeting with two board members who thanked me for all the wonderful things I had done, but informed me that I would not be re-appointed as commissioner. Maintaining my professionalism, I asked to have their decision in writing. The week went by, then around 7 p.m. Friday evening, after I went home, an envelope was dropped off at the police desk. Not even the courtesy of a personal visit.”
Jean Wittosch, a Floral Park resident for more than 70 years, voiced her opinion at the July 20 meeting. “I’ve always been proud of this town, but I really object to the way the board has treated Mike Reid. He was your commissioner for 17 years. You didn’t have the decency to talk to him. He got a letter saying that he was not being renewed. I think it’s terrible.” Witosh referenced the letter Reid wrote to the Dispatch and asserted that someone purchased all of the papers so that residents could not read what Reid wrote. Speaking directly to the board, she said, “I think you handled it very poorly. I’ve always been proud of this town, and you make me ashamed. I’m sorry.”
Mayor Greene assured the audience that not all decisions are easy to make and that “there are two sides to every story…In no way, shape or form would I ever do anything without talking to [the affected individuals]…I have a friendship with Mike Reid. He did an outstanding job as commissioner.”
Greene explained that the board took a look at the police department and wanted to explore what options were available to enhance the department. Greene stated that of the 23 applicants for the position, six were from within the Floral Park Police Department. Greene admitted that he does not have a full understanding of the operations of the police department but said he has a better understanding, as a result of the interview process, of “what we can do to make our department even better.” That’s not to say, however, that Greene doesn’t believe that the police department is doing a “fantastic” job already. “The reason why people live in Floral Park is because we have a wonderful police department [which ensures the safety of our residents].”
Floral Park Chamber of Commerce president Salvatore Bonagura called the mayor to the mat on his vision for the police department. “You have stated tonight that you want the department to go in a certain direction, but yet you have not told the village residents what that direction is,” he said.
Mayor Greene emphasized the need for automation within the police department. “We have an antiquated server system that does not allow us to track time or track methods. We need to step up … I have no way to get any information out of [the department], none, other than paper, paper, paper.”
Referencing recent vandalism that has taken place in town, Greene said, “I want to eliminate meters getting ripped off.” Referring to a new youth program under the guidance of a Substance Awareness Council that keeps the park open for an extra hour at night, giving teens a place to spend their time constructively, Greene said, “I want to develop a program where our kids can get more focused.”
The prevailing theme throughout the meeting was the quality of life, which highlights residents’ safety, that has always existed in Floral Park. The consensus remains that Floral Park is “a great place to live.” What has come into question with the recent change within the police department, however, is the best course along which to steer the village to perpetuate that environment.
For his part, Mayor Greene is confident in the recent change. “I think Steve McAllister is going to be a welcome addition to the police department. I think he’s going to do good things for the police department. He’s going to do what we need to get done…He’s going to reengineer the department to the point where we’re going to be able to understand how the department works…And I know that the members of the police department are going to support him 100 percent. I know they will.”