Residents in the Tri-Hamlet Community will be asked to decide on one library trustee seat when they head to the polls on April 4 at the Mastic-Moriches-Shirley Community Library on Wiliam Floyd Parkway. Polls will be open from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. Incumbent Trustee Wendy Gross is seeking her second five-year term and is being challenged by Ray Keenan.
Gross, a lifelong resident of the Tri-Hamlet Community, is married with three children. Born and raised in Shirley, she is an alumna of the William Floyd School District and now resides in Mastic Beach. Gross is a kindergarten teacher in the William Floyd School District.
Keenan is married with one child, and is a 31-year resident of Shirley. He is vice president of ABCO (Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organizations), and president of Manor Park Civic Association. He is a retired FDNY Fire Marshall where he worked for 22 years. He is an attorney specializing in labor employment and environmental law with a private practice conducting business under the Law Office of Raymond G. Keenan.
In her bid for re-election, Gross cites a “strong commitment to the betterment of the school and community” which she maintains has always been one of her priorities. “One of my biggest goals of being a lifelong resident is working to meet the challenges in our community where the library is the epicenter in our community,” Gross said. While Gross is a proponent to build a new library adjacent to The Links in Shirley, she stated: “I want to give the community a choice something to build off of, whether it’s a new building or to make improvements on the existing building; it’s their choice.” Gross added, “We have a beach and parks, but no real indoor/outdoor community center where kids and community members can read outside or to have a place to go on a walk, and there is already a walking trail. We as a library are growing with the increasing popularity of such programs as yoga,” she said. Gross launched the Teachers’ Corner in the Children’s Department: “Here, we have a very popular summer reading program when teachers, volunteers, the superintendent and administrators come in to read to the children,” Gross said. “We also have a program where incoming kindergarten children and their parents come in to alleviate their anxieties about starting school,” she added.
Gross is President of the Ocean Art Organization, she is involved in St. Jude’s Music Ministry, conducts fundraising for St. Jude’s Church’s Food Pantry and she is co-founder with her husband of the annual Family Literacy Run. She is social chair with the William Floyd United Teachers’ Association.
Asked why he is running for library trustee, Keenan, who admits he doesn’t go much to the library, but said his “grandchildren visit the library which does have good programs,” stated: “I’m running for library trustee to shed light on actions of a library board that is dysfunctional and does not represent the interest of this community.” Keenan asserts the library “misuses” public funds: “I notice they have monthly expense to a local pizzeria averaging three to eight pizzas being delivered to the library daily. I’ve been trying to figure it out and when I ask,” Keenan said, “I get no answers. The library bought a table at a Rotary event for $900 and $600 for Colonial Youth, and that’s not counting journal ads.” In response to Keenan’s fiscal assertions, Library Director Kerri Rosalia told South Shore Press: “Any food items purchased by the Library, including pizza or programs, are intended for the benefit of community residents who we serve, thus are allowable purchases.” “Pizza brings teens into the library,” Lorraine Squires, head of the library’s teen devices said in a written statement. “If kids know there will be pizza at a program, they are more likely to attend, and the communal act of eating together lowers barriers and allows teens to share their thoughts about books and library programs.”
Addressing Keenan’s claims about Rotary and Colonial Youth Services, Rosalia stated: “The library has a long and consistent history of working with other community organizations on mutual projects of benefit to the William Floyd School District. As part of our strategic outreach efforts,” Rosalia continued, “we work to embed our librarians in a variety of organizations. We do this as part of our outreach program, as part of our communication plan to get the word out about the many varied services the library offers, as a way to act as an information resource to community organizations, and to be part of the fabric of the community-at-large. The role of public libraries continues to change and we work outside the building and in the community as a key tenet of our strategy to meet the needs of those we serve. Any journal ads are part of our advertising efforts on behalf of the library. Attendees at community events and meetings is a key part of our job,” Rosalia explained. “So whether it is a joint food drive or a literacy program, we work the local Chambers of Commerce, Kiwanis, Rotary and Colonial Youth and Family Services and the William Floyd School District in ways that can make a difference in the lives of our residents.”
Keenan is a proponent of building onto and making capital improvements to the existing library and a staunch critic of the library being relocated further south along William Floyd Parkway. “Almost every library on Long Island is in a commercial zone where it should be,” Keenan said, using Sayville, Patchogue-Medford and Center Moriches libraries as examples. From a budgeting standpoint, Keenan is a sharp critic of this year being a second consecutive year of a zero tax library increase. Gross stated: “Two years of a zero tax increase while continuing the integrity of the programs, accommodating one-thousand visitors to the library a day, while the cost of living continues to rise takes tremendous effort,” Gross said. She points out: “Legally, we have to maintain certain reserves for contingency expenses or emergencies, and we have an amazing business office staff who works closely with the library staff to ensure that the integrity of this library’s programs are maintained.”