Guest Spot: Walter’s attorney work in Town Hall smacks of conflict

02/15/2011 1:19 PM |

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter receives a salary of more than $115,000; family medical, dental and optical benefits worth about $18,000; annual state pension contribution of about $10,000; deferred compensation of about $7,000; and a town car. Riverhead taxpayers pay for a full-time supervisor.

After his election, Mr. Walter announced he would continue to practice law at his Wading River law office while continuing to accept full-time compensation.
Mr. Walter finds this arrangement acceptable despite the fact that his budget laid off more than a dozen town employees and our town is in 2011 enduring the highest tax increase of any Long Island town. The question of greed I leave to your contemplation, but not before pointing out that Mr. Walter’s predecessor, Phil Cardinale, worked full-time for the town and returned to the town nearly $20,000 of his salary.

While Mr. Walter may be pleased by his post-election announcement that he is continuing law work in Wading River, many Riverhead residents may not be — especially after a review of Mr. Walter’s Annual Financial Disclosure and Conflict Statement for 2010.

Asked to list the names of clients “who have applications currently pending before any of the elected or appointed Boards or Committees within the Town of Riverhead, or who have had applications pending within the last twelve months,” Supervisor Walter answered: “This information for clients is covered by attorney/client privilege.”

Five months later, on June 23, 2010, Mr. Walter acknowledged receipt of a letter from the Town Ethics Board advising that the above answer was “not complete and needs to be amended.” Supervisor Walter then submitted what he termed “information which should satisfy its completion.” He listed 15 appearances he has made before the Town Board, Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Justice Court, Conservation Advisory Committee, Board of Assessors and Town Attorney on behalf of clients during his supervisor term.

These 15 appearances by him were on behalf of clients whose names were redacted, or blacked out, from the 2010 Annual Financial Disclosure and Conflicts Statement document delivered in response to my recent Freedom of Information Law request.

When a town supervisor practices law a dangerous potential for conflict of interest results. To avoid this conflict, lawyers who previously served as supervisor did not simultaneously practice law.

Mr. Walter put his own personal interest over the public interest when he announced after his election that he will continue to practice law. He adds insult to injury by refusing to disclose the identity of his clients. By hiding from the public the identity of the clients he represented before Riverhead town boards and committees, Mr. Walter spits in the face of the law and good public policy.

As Riverhead residents we are left with these questions: Considering the compensation paid, aren’t we entitled to a full-time supervisor? Shouldn’t Mr. Walter have stated prior to his election his intention to continue his law practice? What possible value does Mr. Walter’s Conflict and Financial Disclosure Statement have if critical information is kept secret and hidden from the public?

When Mr. Walter proposes to change the town’s master plan or zoning laws, how can we know if it is for the benefit of his paying clients or for the benefit of town residents? How can Mr. Walter simultaneously serve two masters?

Mr. Villella is a former Riverhead supervisor and chairman of the Riverhead Democratic Committee.

93 Comment

  • Valid points considering Sean’s administration is all about doing things behind the scenes in secrecy, and whose motto is “the less town residents and employees know the better”. Anything to avoid exposure of the truth. On top of that, he has an “assistant” making $70K to boot.

  • The Conflict of Interest Policy of the town and the financial disclosure requirements, reviewed by the ethics committee of the town provide for the adequate protection of the public interest. If the ethics board has reviewed the disclosure forms and has not determined there is a conflict of interest, then the activity is not prohibited. The time this supervisor, or any other past or future one, spends in the position, should not be judged by the number of hours on the job, but how effective they are in moving the town forward in accomplishing its goals of making this town a great place to live, work and play. Given a two year term, I don’t blame anyone in the position for protecting themselves and their family, unless of course the residents are happy with a career politician in the job and not a citizen public servant.

  • What is with the News Review digging up these Democrat hacks for opinion pieces?

    Vinny, if we wanted to do things YOUR way, we wouldn’t have fired (and continue to at every opportunity) you and your cronies.

  • About the economics of continuing to work in private practice while Supervisor: I agree w/Ron that results matter more than hours on the job. However, the fact that Walter didn’t reveal his intention to continue lawyering while in office until AFTER the election is stunning. If there was nothing wrong with that plan, why not share it with those about to vote?

    Since every prior lawyer-Supervisor has set his legal practice aside while serving Town business, did Walter mislead voters by letting them assume he’d do the same? I’d like to see the News-Review conduct a poll next time around on whether people think the Supervisor should pledge full-time commitment to the Town.

    As for the ethics issue: “appearance of impropriety” is the term used to describe what elected officials [& lawyers] must avoid. Does anyone really think there’s no appearance of impropriety in:

    A] the Town CEO appearing as advocate for some client or cause having Town business…as if his presence won’t influence in the slightest the Assessors, Planning Board Members, Town Attorney & others, who either report to the Supervisor or were appointed by him?

    B] the Supervisor telling the Ethics Committee that the names of clients he’s representing on business with the Town, while he’s employed by the Town, need not be disclosed?

    C] Town employees, who work for the Supervisor, refusing to disclose to the public—via FOIL—what clients, on what business with the Town, the Supervisor is representing?

    If Wikipedia seeks an example to illustrate the concepts of “appearance of impropriety” & “conflict of interest,” they need look no further.

  • Anyone who believes Vinnie Villela wrote that article, stand on your heads?

  • I have to question how the town supervisor can represent ANYONE in any case involving the town.

  • Next election, break the Riverhead incest circle. Vote for everyone who has not been in the past half dozen administrations. Time to flush.

  • …and as long as we are looking at changing contracts, let’s recall all the tax breaks for business buddies. These are hard times (so I am told) and we should make businesses pay their fair share instead of hiking our property taxes. Time for a real overhaul of the budget, both revenue and expense.

  • just another politician taking advantage of his popsition. still refuses to put epcal to good use. 2 year waste of time coming up. we could of had a motorsports facility hiring people and paying taxes for ten years now.

  • **Yawn**

    Vroom Vroom, watch the little cars go around! Get a job taking tickets and selling beer and hot dogs! I know those are the kind of jobs I want!

  • small mind there pace, this is why there are so many problems in RHT, you can’t think and see the bigger picture…but don’t worry if there was a club for missing the picture, you would have plenty of company

    Let me give you a town to watch that is using our plan , except for the free driving school for kids
    Americus GA,. compare there economy to yours in another year, then compare there businesses and jobs created…

    Motorsports brings manufacturing from companies testing products, nothing is more in demand then automotive break thru tech, new designs…
    With a govt demanding big increases from the automotive market this is the wave to be on, not watching it go by…. Motorsports is where the ideas and tech come from…then the business, and then jobs..

    Your small mind, while not alone, is killing this island

  • Check a map of the US and look at how central Americus, Georgia is to the rest of the country. It is not at the end of an island like Riverhead is. I don’t believe you will see the growth and demand as there. There are many better uses for the site.

  • Lets goooo

  • Congratulations Tuckers!! What a great team effort! You came out strong in the second half with everyone contributing, gave it your all, and took the game away from them. You should all be very proud- now bring home the Long Island Championship!!
    Papa P.

  • congratulations to a wonderful group of men both on and off the court,all the hardwork payed off.Lets support our champions as they continue there banner season on wednesday in farmingdale versus port jefferson. Hoop Troop

  • Riverhead was going to IMPEACH Walter,but they could not afford a lawyer.

  • Build it,and they will come.You have no CLUE how much growth the Motorsports industry will bring to Long Island.

  • “The State of New York actually started sanitary the land fill in 1975 and in 1978 it was turned over to Brookhaven Town. The original plan called for the use of the sanitary landfill for 15 years. The land fill itself was to be built into a ski slope and the surroundings turned into town park. That of course never happened. The first two cells leaked toxic leachate southerly and cntaminated all the wells south of the dump, leading to the town to install water mains to the housholds south of the dump. The dump was built in the head waters of Beaver Dam Creek and the toxic leachate entered the Beaver Dam creek and may very well leach into The Carmans River which is part of the Wertheim Wildlife Refuge, a state designated scenic river and one of the few rivers still pristine. The dump was and may still be a hot bead for all kinds of illegal dumping too. The dump was and still is poorly managed and nothing more then a cash cow for Brookhaven Town. Most of the houses south of the dump predate the dump. Meaning the dump was built in our back yards we did not build around the dump it moved in behind us. In 1985 the State of New York wanted to start the Long Island Regional ashfill, meaning incinertor, that would burn all garbage for all the towns. That was opposed by local citizens and it was never developed but the ash could be buried there, better known as trash for ash, and that is in effect today. Babylon Town burns Brookhaven town’s garbage and Brookhhaven town gets Babylon and Brookhaven towns ash and Brookhaven Town would charge Babylon a fee or their ash.The town of Brookhaven has been a bad neighbor and has lied from day one. “

  • We need to go back to basics we learned as children, “Protect Mother Nature” as she provides for us.

    Well, as I stated at the Brookhaven Town Hall meeting, “We need to stop Prostituting our very limited land resources!”

    I also “recognized our Town Supervisor, Mr. Lesko and the Council Members” who passed wonderful legislation to save homeless dogs in our Town Shelter. This proves to us that they are knowledgable in knowing how to do good things to save living things.

    Our land, our forests, rivers, streams, lakes, parks and waterfronts are filled with living things! And… SO ARE WE, OUR CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN AND THE GENERATIONS TO COME!

    PROSTITUTION is the only word I can find that fits!

    No, the current administration IS NOT TO BLAME, but, THEY ARE CHARGED WITH CURRENT OVERSIGHT AND RESPNSIBILITY TO OVERSEE OUR SAFETY AND BEST INTERESTS!

    All that seems to be of concern is to build more “affordable housing” to bring more VICTIMS to live under these deplorable conditions that someday MAY KILL YOU!

    I have to laugh out loud that that is complimented with thousands of dollars in studies to justify that a “sidewalk on King Road will save lives. In 2008, a completed and costly study report was sent to Brian X. Foley, brookhaven Town Supervisor, and Councilwoman Jane Bonner. It referenced reports from Federal Accident Mandatory reporting agencies, and reported King Road had no recorded injuries or fatalities. Further outlined problems in doing such a project and a clear statement of no need could be justified for such a sidewalk. The document was FOIL requested from Brookhaven Town Hall and is on record.

    I urge everyone to find the time to watch government closely, stay in touch with what is going on, and more important, if something bothers you… make it a point to attend a Town Hall Meeting, arrive early, appraoch the desk at the left – front location and ask for a “Speaker card” which will give you 3 minutes to voice how you feel. You have rights, use them!

  • SOME MORE COMMENTS…..The State of New York actually started sanitary the land fill in 1975 and in 1978 it was turned over to Brookhaven Town. The original plan called for the use of the sanitary landfill for 15 years. The land fill itself was to be built into a ski slope and the surroundings turned into town park. That of course never happened. The first two cells leaked toxic leachate southerly and contaminated all the wells south of the dump, leading to the town to install water mains to the housholds south of the dump. The dump was built in the head waters of Beaver Dam Creek and the toxic leachate entered the Beaver Dam creek and may very well leach into The Carmans River which is part of the Wertheim Wildlife Refuge, a state designated scenic river and one of the few rivers still pristine. The dump was and may still be a hot bead for all kinds of illegal dumping too. The dump was and still is poorly managed and nothing more then a cash cow for Brookhaven Town. Most of the houses south of the dump predate the dump. Meaning the dump was built in our back yards, we did not build around the dump, it moved in behind us. In 1983 the town was not covering raw garbage with the mandatory DEC requirement of six inches of sand. Debris from the dump blew all over. The smells admitted were terrible and fires at the dump were rampant. Again the local citizens and the Brookhaven Fire Dept. complained to DEC. In time the problem was stopped. In 1985 the State of New York wanted to start the Long Island Regional ash fill, meaning incinerator, that would burn all garbage for all the towns. That was opposed by local citizens and it was never developed but the ash could be buried there, better known as trash for ash, and that is in effect today. Babylon Town burns Brookhaven town’s garbage and Brookhhaven town gets Babylon and Brookhaven towns ash and Brookhaven Town would charge Babylon a fee or their ash. In 1995-2001 Supervisor Felix Grucci allowed construction debris to be brought in from any town for a fee and would balance the budget of Brookhaven Town. In seven years the town filled a cell that was designed for eighteen years! The town of Brookhaven has been a bad neighbor and has lied from day one. ”

  • are you kidding me? i too followed the case and know that the baby tested positive for marijuana & alcohol, she is guilty and 3 people are dead because of it!!!!

  • are you kidding me? i too followed the case and know that the baby tested positive for marijuana & alcohol, she is guilty and 3 people are dead because of it!!!!