A Long Island town supervisor who was on vacation in Jamaica during the blizzard that dumped nearly 3 feet of snow and took what infuriated residents claim was far too long to clean up apologized to his community Thursday for his absence during the storm.
"I am sorry the storm happened and I am sorry I was away," said Brookhaven town supervisor Ed Romaine. "Please accept my apologies."
A number of town roads went unplowed for days after the storm, leaving some residents stranded in their homes. Some eventually took matters into their own hands, clearing streets with shovels and snow blowers.
Frustrated residents, including Medford homeowner Gene Heidrick, told NBC 4 New York Romaine should have been there to help with the weather emergency.
Romaine says his presence on Long Island in the days after the storm would not have improved the town's response.
"I was in constant contact with my staff by phone," Romaine said. "I felt I was doing what I could from where I was, which is no different than sitting at my desk."
Romaine blamed Brookhaven's response to the storm on a "lack of leadership" by acting highway superintendent Michael Murphy. Murphy resigned Wednesday amid swelling public furor over the community's perceived insufficient response to the storm, but he will retain a post at the highway department at a salary around $100,000 a year.
According to Romaine, his office has "no control" over the highway department because the superintendent is an independently elected official. Murphy had been appointed by former superintendent John Rouse, who left Brookhaven late last year after being elected to a judgeship.
"I can’t say how sorry I am that a branch of government failed us," said Romaine.
One Brookhaven Democrat said his office was inundated with calls blasting the Republican supervisor.
"People have been calling my office referring to him as Caribbean Ed," said town councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld. "For him not to say the buck stops with him right now is really sad."
Fiore-Rosenfeld said Romaine could have exerted more control had he been on Long Island after the storm because Brookhaven was under a state of emergency. In a situation like that, Fiore-Rosenfeld said, the supervisor can assert more power to get things done.
The supervisor refused to say he has been made a scapegoat in all this and called for a "top to bottom" review of highway department operations to ensure more efficient snow responses.
Some Brookhaven residents say Romaine isn't the only one to blame for the plowing failures.
"There should have been enough people behind him who should know how to handle the situation and that's what we lacked," said John Sagl of East Setauket.