Summary of Meet the Candidates Night--Please Read and View Tape and Share on Your Social Media Pages

Meet Candidates Night was held on May 8, 2019. Thank you to all residents who took time out of their busy schedules to attend Meet the Candidates Night. A big thank you to our candidates: Steve Enella, Rob Crowley, Megan Ryan Smith, Jennifer Hyland and Gerry Acuna for their time and great presentations. We would also like to thank the Fayette PTA for hosting the event and Nassau Regional PTA for moderating and time keeping. Video of the event can be viewed by clicking below:

CRONM believes some events not captured on video and occurring before the start and during the event need to be addressed and shared with the community. Please share this link to your social media feed and make sure the community is aware and start a dialogue.

CRONM got to the event early to sit in front and set up our camera so that it only captured the candidates on stage and was not in anyone’s way. Meet the Candidates Night (MCN) is a public meeting and subject to §104 of the Open Meetings Law. This law permits videotaping and recording of the event, by any resident, so long as the recording does not interfere with the procession of the event. Some more background. MCN is hosted and organized by the PTA. The three PTAs rotate each year regarding hosting the event and choosing the moderator. Depending on the PTA, some work with the moderator to choose the format of the event and some just rely on the moderator to determine format. Last year, Camp Ave hosted MCN and they worked together with the LOWV to come up with the format where residents were permitted to ask Candidates questions directly. This year, MCN was hosted by Fayette’s PTA who chose to have Nassau Regional PTA moderate and keep time. Per the PTA presidents, they merely hosted and had no idea or could control, which format the mediator was going to choose for residents askign questions; comment card vs. microphone. This event is not controlled or hosted by the District or Superintendent. Based on our understanding, the Superintendent had no say or control which moderator is selected, or rules used by moderator, or PTA during event.

Prior to the start of the event, Dr. Seniuk approached us to extend greetings and wanted to give us notice that according to what she read, the League of Women’s Voters (LOWV) prohibits videotaping of Meet the Candidate night. She referenced this rule in some papers she was holding. We immediately informed Dr. Seniuk that the LOWV were not moderating the event this year, their rules did not apply and since it was a public meeting, we had the absolute right to videotape. We checked with the LOWV, and they have no such prohibition. In fact, they post videos of candidate debates taken in other districts. In any event, we then observed Dr. Seniuk walk over and greet the time keeper and moderator, reference the same papers she referenced to us regarding videotaping MCN.

You can watch the first 7 minutes of the video to see how this played out. The moderator asked twice in her announcements that the event not be videotaped. We did not turn off the camera. Things then took a bizarre left turn. Susan Winkel, the President of the North Merrick Faculty Association (NMFA), was observed becoming increasingly annoyed that we continued to videotape. She was observed telling Ed Corona, a Board Trustee, “do something they are still videotaping!” At the 4:50 mark, Ed Corona, a Board Trustee, asked us to turn off the video camera. An exchange can be heard where we point out that we are sitting in a public meeting. The moderator tells us that it is a “rule” and the League of Women’s Voters (which did not host the event) would tell us the same thing. She also suggested we “copy down” the information. She then stated it was one of the PTA’s rules. When we asked where the rule was written/where we could find it, there was no response. She asked that if we videotape, she would like a copy of the videotape (we happily consented and have sent it to her and ALL the candidates before posting this). She then said she’s not saying we are not allowed to videotape, they just don’t want us to videotape and she also told us she would not call the police on us…

The problem with “copying down” notes is that information can be misconstrued, and the event can be written from the point of view of the writer. CRONM has spent this past year videotaping all meetings so that information is not misconstrued. In fact, the residents of this town have been in favor of videotaping, even asking the Board and District as far back as a year ago to start doing it. We are happy to hear the Board plans to videotape their meetings and post them on District website but why would the President of the NMFA and a Board Trustee object to three moms wanting to videotape MCN and share it with residents and stakeholders of our community? Why would the Superintendent interfere with this before an event that neither she nor district is even running?

At about the 8-minute mark of the video, a Resident questions why residents are not permitted to ask their own questions. This Resident then asks the audience whether they are “ok with this” and receives a loud resounding “NO!” The Resident then protests that “this is not right; it is our only opportunity to speak to the candidates.” In response, some members of the audience including non-residents, begin yelling at this Resident asking her to “stop complaining.” Some bickering in the audience continued afterward but there was general discontent from our residents about the use of index cards. Residents were concerned that their question may not get asked at all or be summarized/read incorrectly. Which did happen (more on that in a separate post). Further, since only Residents were permitted to ask questions, it was unclear if questions being asked were asked by non-residents. 

The moderator then took control and the event began at 7:10 p.m. In total, 10 questions were asked over a one-hour period. It’s unclear how the moderator chose to read each question. CRONM submitted multiple questions on index cards. At the end of the hour, not one of our questions was read. When the moderator announced that it would be the last questions, many residents expressed their frustration that their question was not asked. A resident then asked the audience “How many of you had your questions asked” and only a few hands were raised. The moderator and candidates agreed to extend the time another 15 minutes (and it actually ended up being 30 minutes) so additional questions could be asked. We thought that was very nice of the moderator and candidates. Thank you to the resident who was not afraid to express their view publicly and rally the audience!

The common theme in the questions that were read by the moderator last night was how the Board, and District, was being portrayed negatively via social media and what could be done to rectify social media posts criticizing the Board and Superintendent or providing “misinformation.” Many candidates answered that real transparency, better communication, and residents believing that Board and District were listening to their voice was a good start. The other common theme was transparency, with questions around the use of executive session, the discussion of selling the land behind Fayette, and the comment cards used at Board meetings. It was clear that there is a lack of trust between Residents and the Board and a general frustration that their voices are not being heard. What happened at MCN is another example of why the residents of this town are so frustrated that their voices are not being heard with the current Board and Superintendent. And if we didn’t report this on social media, and have it on video, you would not be aware that it happened.

We need to change the climate in our wonderful community. This starts with the makeup of our current Board. Please share this on social media, discuss with your friends and family and make sure that you and everyone you know in this community votes on May 21, 2019. Let’s work together to TAKE BACK OUR BOARD for our community and kids!