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County exec hopeful gets ‘sex offender education’ in Riverhead

By: 
Tim Gannon
Publication: 
North Shore Sun
Mar
15
2011

Babylon Supervisor Steve Bellone, who is considering a run for Suffolk County executive, stopped in at Riverhead Free Library on Monday as part of his countywide “listening tour.”

He got an earful about the county’s homeless sex offender trailers, one of which sits outside the county jail in Riverside, just a short walk from the library.

“This has been a real education,” Mr. Bellone said. “We’ve been involved and very aggressive on the issue of sex offenders in Babylon for many, many years now, but what you are experiencing out here is unlike anything I’ve seen.”

Mr. Bellone, a Democrat who has been Babylon supervisor since 2002, said he is “seriously considering running for county executive” against incumbent Steve Levy, who was elected as a Democrat but changed his registration to Republican last year when he was considering running for governor.

East End county legislators Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) and Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) and other civic leaders have been fighting for four years to get the county to remove the trailer outside the jail and another in Westhampton Beach.

“This is probably the most frustrating issue of my political career,” Mr. Schneiderman told Mr. Bellone.

Mr. Schneiderman said that in addition to the trailers, the county had used some motels, including the Budget Host Inn in Riverside, to house some sex offenders.

“To take all of the county’s homeless pedophiles and sexual predators and bring them out to these two locations just is unfair,” Mr. Schneiderman said of the trailers.

Legislative efforts to find another way to lodge the county’s homeless sex offenders have been opposed by County Executive Steve Levy, who favors a voucher program that many legislators dislike. The homeless people could use the $90-a-day vouchers to pay for motel rooms and meals.

Mr. Bellone said the county executive’s office needed to explain Mr. Levy’s position better so the public can understand it.

He noted that Babylon Town uses a GPS tracking system to monitor the whereabouts of sex offenders.

Most of those at the library event Monday were local politicians. Besides Mr. Romaine and Mr. Schneiderman, they included Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, and Riverhead Town Assessor Mason Haas.

Others in attendance were Brad Bender, president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association; Flanders resident Janice Artandi; and Bill O’Leary, a social worker who is involved in a lawsuit against the county filed by a group representing homeless sex offenders, challenging the living conditions in the trailers.

The trailers lack shower and cooking facilities, and the approximately 30 sex offenders who live in them are mostly from western Suffolk County and are transported to locations in western Suffolk during the day by taxis paid for by the county, Mr. Romaine said.

The cost of these cabs averages $15,000 per sex offender per year, he added.

“Leadership has let us down time and time again,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “We’re just being batted back and forth here.”

“I feel we’ve created this,” Mr. O’Leary said.

Strict state and county restrictions on where sex offenders can live ban them from areas near schools, parks and other locations.

Department of Social Services commissioner Greg Blass said this week his department was moving forward with a plan to have small shelters, with no more than six offenders in each, scattered throughout the county. Supervision and counseling would be provided, he said. Mr. Levy has opposed the plan in favor of his voucher concept.

tgannon@timesreview.com