2019 Public Servant of the Year: Allen Smith

Editor’s Note: The video below was prepared for our 2019 Times Review Media Group People of the Year event in March. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we were forced to postpone and ultimately cancel this year’s event. Each Sunday in August and early September we are sharing the video presentations that would have celebrated each of the honorees that evening along with the original People of the Year features published in January. A special thank you to our event sponsor, People’s United Bank, for helping to make these awards possible each year.

The Riverhead News-Review’s pick for the 2019 Public Servant of the Year was chosen as much for what he’s done recently as for what he’s done over a long career in public service.

Allen Smith, currently a Riverhead Town justice, has a résumé that includes being Riverhead town supervisor, town attorney, Riverhead Fire Department volunteer, co-founder of the East End Regional Intervention Court, Riverhead Board of Education member, assistant Suffolk County district attorney, Riverhead Rotary Club member and private attorney.

As a town justice, he has urged town officials to improve the Riverhead Town Justice Court, saying it’s too small and presents a danger to them and the public.

Judge Smith was elected town supervisor in 1975 and served until 1980. Before that he was a town attorney and an assistant district attorney.

“I never realized he was never a person of the year,” said Peter Danowski, who served as town attorney when Judge Smith was supervisor. “You would think he had already won that award.”

Mr. Danowski said Judge Smith “hired some top-notch people” in Town Hall. “Young people, professional people and he professionalized Town Hall.”

He said he was a “big-time fireman and really kicked butt cleaning up some really bad landlord situations, such as 821 East Main St. — the ‘Raspberry Hotel,’ which no longer exists.”

Mr. Danowski recalled Judge Smith being in a meeting with a Manhattan lawyer, and then leaving that meeting to answer a fire call.

“The lawyer said he’d never seen anything like that, where the supervisor had left to answer a fire,” Mr. Danowski recalled.

Judge Smith, 78, is still an active member of the Riverhead Fire Department.

He was appointed to the Riverhead justice position in 2000, following the death of Judge Henry Saxtein, and has held that office since.

In 2003, Judge Smith and Southampton Town Justice Deborah Kooperstein received approval to administer the East End Regional Intervention Court, more commonly known as the East End Drug Court.

“If you take someone with this type of problem, send him to jail and then release him into the same settings he was in before he got arrested, he’s likely to exhibit the same pattern of behavior afterward,” Judge Smith said in a 2003 interview.

“At least 70% of the criminal calendar is drug-related in one way or another,” Judge Kooperstein said in a 2003 interview. “You have people selling drugs to support a drug habit.”

The drug court aims to treat drug offenders so they will be able to beat their addiction and become productive members of society after they are released from jail. Judge Kooperstein said that former Administrative Judge Alan Oshrin and State Supreme Court Judge Gail Prudenti supported the idea, which was more than a year in the making.

Judge Kooperstein said she and Judge Smith took classes in-state and out-of-state to become certified for the drug court position.

“We even had fun along the way,” she recalled. “We actually have nicknames for one another. We didn’t know each other when we started, but 16 years later, we’re committed colleagues and friends.”

Judge Smith has received numerous awards and acknowledgements over the years.

In April 2019, the Kiwanis Club of Greater Riverhead honored him and four other residents at its 18th annual Breakfast of the Stars, which recognizes people “who are quietly supporting the mission of Kiwanis, changing the world one child, one community at a time” by giving back to the community.

In 2015, the East End Emerald Society named Judge Smith grand marshal at its second annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Jamesport.

“We picked Allen as grand marshal because we were looking for a prominent member of the community who was established and had a history in town,” said John Cuddy, one of the parade organizers. “We wanted somebody who had a track record of law and order, somebody with good moral character, that would help us establish the Emerald Society as an organization that was held in good regard in the community and Allen Smith’s reputation is someone that was of good character.”

Previous Winners

2018: Dashan Briggs
2017: Richard Ligon
2016: Tom Lateulere
2015: Susan Wilk
2014: Carl James
2013: Dennis Cavanagh
2012: Ed Romaine
2011: George Woodson
2010: Robert Brown
2009: Barbara Grattan
2008: Liz Stokes
2007: Michael Reichel
2006: Gary Pendzick
2005: The Riverhead Ambulance Corps
2004: Richard Wines
2003: Ken Testa
2002: “KeySpan Coalition”
2001: Ed Densieski
2000: Judge Richard Ehlers
1999: Barbara Blass
1998: Vicki Staciwo
1997: Lenard Makowski
1996: Buildings & Grounds
1995: Jack Hansen
1994: Jim Stark
1993: Rick Hanley
1992: Lawyer Jackson
1991: Andrea Lohneiss
1990: Monique Gablenz
1989: George Bartunek
1988: Patricia Tormey