Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino is up before the sun rises and on the phone by 6:30 a.m. with his deputy supervisor, Gregory W. Carman, Jr. And Saladino can often be found still working at his desk at 8 p.m. He has never married and does not have children, which, he reasons, gives him more time to work on what he says residents will soon see come to fruition — “a new day in Oyster Bay.”
Saladino, 55, a lifelong resident of Massapequa, served as a state assemblyman for 13 years. A Republican, he resigned from the Assembly as he was starting his 14th year to take on the position of supervisor.
But Saladino, who is amiable and quick to smile, doesn’t want people to think of him as a former assemblyman, and definitely not as someone who is unapproachable. He plays drums and percussion in a band, is a blues enthusiast and loves to fish and hike. He’s a regular guy, he says.
He is eager to receive input from residents, recognizing that he is there for their benefit. “I’m very hands-on,” he said, sitting behind a desk on which sits a bust of Oyster Bay’s pride and joy, President Theodore Roosevelt.
And the new supervisor believes he has a firm understanding of what it takes to be an effective leader, which he plans to be.
“A good leader is someone who will do anything that they ask others to do and puts others first,” Saladino said. “One needs to use their experience to guide those that they lead wisely, listen to others and never put himself before the public.”
Saladino’s father, Joseph J. Saladino, a Korean War veteran, served as an Oyster Bay town councilman and was a State Supreme Court justice. He died in 2000.
“One of my earliest memories was attending town functions with my father,” said the younger Saladino. “Being the supervisor of Oyster Bay has been a dream my entire life. For me this is coming home to do a job where my experience is needed the most.”
Saladino has more than 30 years of governmental experience, having served as an executive assistant in the Town of Hempstead and, before becoming an assemblyman, as the director of operations for the Town of Oyster Bay.
Oyster Bay’s 70th supervisor has many plans. One of his priorities is to bring decorum and professionalism back to town board meetings, where the atmosphere, he said, has often been counterproductive.
“We will answer some of the public’s questions, but I believe some discipline is required,” he said. At his first board meeting, he announced that members of the public could ask questions at the podium, but in order for them to receive answers, the town would need to receive the questions in writing, either by email or regular mail. “We do not intend to stifle the flow of information,” he pledged, “but we want the ‘real’ residents to come up and speak at the podium,” not just those that may be seeking public office.
Saladino said he was hopeful that the public would see that he is truly interested in hearing their concerns and that this will encourage them to attend town board meetings and participate.
“My vision is to ensure that the town conducts itself with the highest ethical standards in the nation, [and] that our town departments and workforce are resident-friendly,” he said, adding that he also plans to cut back on spending. “I plan to utilize my relationship in Albany to provide help with cost-saving measures.”
For example, he said, “We will reissue our debt through the state to cut our interest rate, which I’m working on now.”
Saladino wasn’t always in the political arena. After earning a masters degree from the New York Institute of Technology in broadcast journalism, he worked for six years in journalism. That included stints as the news director and morning anchor at WNYG-AM — an affiliate of WBAB — and as a reporter for TV New Zealand and News 12. He can still remember his first story while working there. “It was for Chemo the mountain lion,” he said, smiling broadly, adding that the cougar was living in a home in Lindenhurst. “I put my fist in his mouth,” he recounted. “I love animals. Playing with Chemo was like playing with a puppy.”
His years as a journalist, he says, will be advantageous in his current position. “My experience gives me the ability to get to the heart of a story, to know how to find the solution,” Saladino explained. “My on-air experience helps me to keep my comments succinct and gives me the ability to use the best message to get my point across.”
Also, he says, he knows how to work with the media.
His plans also include motivating the town’s workforce. The supervisor is proud of what he believes was a successful snow removal after the Feb. 16 snowstorm. “This was Day Two for me on the job,” he said.
Not only was the snow plowed quickly, but the town realized significant savings by using minimal overtime. Also, cutting in half the length of the robo call — which residents receive from the town, relaying information to them during an emergency — was cost-effective. And under the new supervisor, residents stopped receiving the calls after 9:30 p.m., providing for even greater savings.
Saladino is currently focusing on hiring professionals — like Joseph Nocella, a federal prosecutor with expertise in municipal law, as the new town attorney.
A team of people are also interviewing candidates for Saladino’s new ethics board, which will include participants from all political parties that are professionals and community leaders. “I’m not doing the interviewing or selecting,” Saladino said. “The team is being led by attorney Steven Leventhal, the nation’s leading ethics council.”
All town employees will be required to take an ethics training course. And in the near future, Saladino will announce plans for dealing with those who attempt to steal from the town and town employees who act inappropriately.
The town’s building department will be reconfigured to make it more efficient, and the public will find it easier to deal with the department.
The recently hired commissioner of the Department of Public Works, Richard Lenz, will be merging the following departments: sanitation, SORT (the recycling division), engineering, highway and the department that manages town vehicle maintenance. This will improve efficiency and reduce costs, Saladino explained, adding there will be fewer commissioners and deputy commissioners. “We will be hiring John Caruso” — from the Nassau County Department of Pubic Works — “a leading expert on contract reviews, who will join Mr. Lenz in going over all of the contracts and cutting back costs. I expect the savings will be in the millions this year alone.”
Saladino is aware there will be challenges. “Getting to these things quickly and getting the message to the public of our goals to save money, cut budgets, create the highest ethical standards, transparency to let the public know what we’re doing and why will all be challenging,” he said. “Also, rebuilding trust.”
Another cost-saving measure that has already gone into effect is directed at town employees, who are now required to return 2 percent of their salaries to the town, and thus to taxpayers. “I’m doing it too,” Saladino said. “And new hires will pay for 15 percent of their health insurance, which current employees do not pay for at all. I’m the first one to do this.”