Supe’s ethics plan gets mixed reviews in town hall

07/09/2015 6:00 AM |

A proposal to ban elected officials from being members of a political party’s executive board didn’t garner much support from Riverhead Republican Committee members at a public hearing Tuesday.

Several members said they felt the proposal was just an attempt by Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter to exact revenge against Republican chairman Mason Haas because he didn’t win the party’s nomination for reelection.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who received the Republican nomination for supervisor over Mr. Walter by a slim margin, said the proposal only affects one person — Mr. Haas, who is also an elected assessor.

Others felt similarly.

“My personal opinion is that it’s just going after one person,” said Edward Enders of Baiting Hollow.

The plan did, however, get some support from Democrats.

Riverhead Democratic Committee chair Marge Acevedo said she suggested the same proposal two-and-a-half years ago when she resigned from the Board of Assessment Review upon becoming party leader.

“Now it appears that this has become a political football, since the Republican party recently denied Sean Walter the nomination for supervisor,” she said.

Ms. Acevedo suggested the board adopt the amendment but that it include a grandfather clause for anyone currently serving.

The proposal, which was originally discussed in 2013 but didn’t gain any traction, would ban members of a political party’s executive board from serving on the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Architectural Review Board, Industrial Development Agency, Board of Assessment Review, Conservation Advisory Council, or Ethics Board. It would also apply to the executive director of the Industrial Development Agency and town department heads.

Laura Jens-Smith, a Democratic candidate for Town Council, supported the proposal at the hearing. So did Anthony Coates, the Democratic candidate for supervisor, who said he felt the plan was “the right legislation brought up at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons.”

When the proposal was being considered two years ago, the town sent the issue to its ethics board, which concluded that only policy-making elected officials should be banned from serving on political committees. However, the ethics board left the definition of a “policy-maker” up to the Town Board.

But the Town Board — whose members have remained the same since 2010 — never clarified the term.

Bob Peeker, a retired town police officer and a Republican candidate for Town Council, said the board should follow the ethics board’s recommendation.

Tammy Robinkoff, a member of the Republican executive committee, said the proposal first surfaced when Mr. Haas challenged Mr. Walter by screening for the supervisor position two years ago.

But when Mr. Haas dropped that challenge, the ethics issue was also dropped, she said.

Ms. Robinkoff feels the proposal violates the Constitutional rights of political party committee members.

“We’re talking about one person,” said Remy Bell, a Republican committee member and the Republican candidate for county legislator on the North Fork.

He said Mr. Haas was elected by the people.

“If the people feel there’s an ethics problem, let them not re-elect him in November. The Town Board should have nothing to do with it.”

If anything, Mr. Bell said, Mr. Walter and Councilman Jim Wooten, who also wasn’t backed for re-election by the Republican committee, should abstain from voting on the proposal.

Mr. Haas didn’t speak at the hearing.

Mr. Wooten and Councilman George Gabrielsen recently voiced support for the ethics proposal; Ms. Giglio and Councilman John Dunleavy have said they don’t support the plan.

The hearing is being left open for written comment until Friday, July 17, at 4:30 p.m.

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