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Ethics board questions if outside counsel is needed for Giglio case

05/16/2018 5:55 AM |

Riverhead Town’s ethics board has asked the Town Board if the attorney assigned to it should be an outside legal counsel rather than a someone from the town attorney’s office, as is the case now. 

At issue is whether the town attorney’s office should recuse itself in cases involving an ethics complaint against a Town Board.

Town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz said his office serves the entire Town Board and, therefore, in a case that might pit one board member’s opinion against another’s, there would be a conflict. 

“We want to avoid any appearance of impropriety or conflict of interest,” he said. 

The ethics board has been asked to comment on whether Councilwoman Jodi Giglio should recuse herself from voting on Calverton Aviation & Technology’s $40 million offer for 1,640 acres of town land because she met privately with the group on March 12 in New York City to discuss the project. 

The ethics board’s input, which is a non-binding recommendation, was requested by the Coalition Against EPCAL Housing, which last week urged Town Board members to vote against the CAT deal. 

Ms. Giglio says the town’s outside legal counsel has told her she did nothing wrong and was just “doing research so I can make an informed vote.”

The Town Board discussed the question of whether the ethics board should have outside legal counsel, as well as whether it even needs an attorney present during its meetings. 

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said the ethics board almost always deals with issues involving a Town Board member. 

“I don’t know why there’s a conflict,” Ms. Jens-Smith said. “They are only providing the law.”

That’s the job of the ethics board, she said, to be the arbitrator of what is appropriate under town law. 

Mr. Kozakiewicz said there would be no conflict if the ethics board didn’t ask for a legal opinion from the town attorney’s office. 

The ethics board’s current attorney, deputy town attorney Erik Howard, is also Councilman Tim Hubbard’s son-in-law. 

Mr. Hubbard said he wants complete transparency in this case and feels “it’s not quite that way in my mind, not because he’s my son-in-law but because, as a deputy town attorney, he’s my subordinate.”

“Which, following that line of reasoning, disqualifies the entire town attorney’s office,” Mr. Kozakiewicz added.

The supervisor asked Mr. Kozakiewicz if he knew of any other towns that used outside counsel for the ethics board. He replied that he’s contacted only one town so far, which doesn’t provide any attorney for its ethics board.

“That’s the way it should be,” Ms. Jens-Smith said. “The attorney shouldn’t be involved in the meetings unless it’s requested.”

Mr. Hubbard said Friday that it appears the ethics board will continue to use the town attorney’s office because its next meeting was set for Monday, and there wouldn’t be time to hire outside counsel before the next Town Board meeting Wednesday, May 16. 

Mr. Hubbard said he will not vote on the CAT issue until the ethics board makes its recommendation on Ms. Giglio’s situation. 

Town Board members say they don’t expect CAT to come up for a vote on May 16, but they do expect it to be discussed publicly. 

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