After nine years as a councilwoman on the board of the Town of Oyster Bay, Rebecca Alesia has stepped down, and was appointed unanimously by the remaining board members to a position on the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
In remarks announcing her resignation at a recent board meeting, Alesia, a resident of Plainview, noted the achievements for which she was most proud, including her contributions to “a vision for economic rebirth in downtown Hicksville, new fields for the Challenger baseball program, and … the addition of a turf field for the Plainview-Old Bethpage community.”
Alesia said she had recently started a small business in the travel industry, which had been more successful than she had anticipated. “As my business has grown,” she said, “there are just not enough hours in the day to give me time for my family, my clients and my constituents that each deserves.” She told the Herald Gazette that, while technically a part-time job, she didn’t feel she could do it well enough without devoting a significant amount of time to being present to field constituents’ concerns.
“She’s one of the council members that was willing to listen and act on behalf of the residents,” Lisa Reinhart, a Hicksville resident, said. “Not that [the other council members] are not willing to, but she’s the one that was most open to doing that.” Reinhart added, “She’s been extremely helpful in a number of issues over the years.”
Her resignation was “effective immediately,” and following her remarks and a subsequent vote appointing her to the ZBA she descended from the dais and walked out of the building.
The outgoing councilwoman said that she was excited for her new position on the ZBA. She got her undergraduate degree in urban planning, a field in which she is a self-described “geek.” She enjoys “figuring out what things fit and don’t fit in the character of a neighborhood,” she said.
Alesia, along with Councilman Tony Macagnone, comprised a small bloc on the seven-seat board that didn’t always vote along party lines. The pair voted against the board’s moves in 2017 to appoint Councilmen Thomas Hand and Louis Imbroto to vacant seats on the board. Filling vacancies in an election year, Macagnone had said, was not “open and transparent,” but “wrong.”
The councilwoman’s resignation and ZBA appointment is the latest in a long line of similar events. Imbroto’s seat was left vacant by the resignation of Joe Pinto, who took a position as the town parks commissioner. Hand was appointed to replace Christopher Coschignano, and Supervisor Joseph Saladino was appointed to replace John Venditto. “This is the classic Republican playbook,” said Sea Cliff resident James Versocki, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for the town board in 2017. “It’s a disservice to the voters. There’s no reason for the town board to fill this seat.”
Versocki added that the subject of election year appointments was a “topic of conversation” among his Oyster Bay neighbors, and that he thought that recent press coverage would make it a bigger issue in November’s election than it had been in past years. “A lot more of the press is being attuned to what’s called, ‘The Oyster Bay Way,’” he said.
Former democratic candidate for the town board and current spokesman for the Town of Oyster Bay Democrats, Bob Freier, said, “I think this is going to be, once again, a continuing practice of denying the citizens their voice. Whoever’s going to run for that seat, let them run as a candidate instead of being appointed.” While Alesia could not be reached for comment, Freier alluded to the fact that as a ZBA member, she would continue her pension eligibility and continue to receive health benefits through the town.
With Alesia’s resignation, Macagnone is now the only sitting board member who was not appointed to a vacancy prior to an election. He told the Guardian that he had been approached with an offer to resign in exchange for a full time job with the town, but he turned it down.
Of the pattern of election-year appointments, Macagnone said, “I think it’s a flawed system. Town Supervisor [Joe Saladino] should lead the charge to change the procedure to make it that any vacancy in office, they should should have a special election, or keep the seat vacant until the election.”
Alesia herself said that she could see the arguments on both sides. “On the one hand,” she said, “people are better served by having representation … On the other hand, I can also understand that having an incumbency does give a candidate an advantage.”
Several residents at the meeting expressed frustration with these past practices, and asked the board to leave the seat vacant until election day. “What’s the rush to fill it?” Reinhart asked, and then answered herself, “From their perspective, it’s to get somebody in who’s republican, to fill that seat with a crony.”
Because Oyster Bay’s council members are town-wide representatives rather than voices for discrete communities, “No one is losing their representation by keeping that spot empty,” town resident Rachel Klein said, “until there can be a free and fair and open election. We talk a lot about transparency,” she continued, “but I think moves like this really make people lose faith in local government.”
At the time of publication, the board had not made any moves to fill Alesia’s vacant seat.