07/24/12 9:30am
07/24/2012 9:30 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Clerk Diane Wilhelm officiated at the first gay marriage ceremony on the lawn at Town Hall July 28 of Theresa Claudio (left) and Nancy Zaharick of Mastic. Their toy poodle Bandit was the ring boy.

Some same-sex couples in Riverhead Town are celebrating their first wedding anniversaries this week, as today marks a year since  the marriage equality bill went into effect in New York.

One of those couples is Theresa Claudio, 46, and Nancy Zaharick, 53, of Mastic. They were the first same-sex couple to say “I do” Riverhead Town, in a ceremony performed by Town Clerk Diane Wilhelm last July 28.

“Life is still the same,” Ms. Claudio said in a telephone interview this week. “We were thankful we were able to do it and will continue to celebrate our lives together.”

The two women, who were set up by friends more than two decades ago, decided to marry after Ms. Zaharick popped the question while walking along a boardwalk in Carolina Beach, N.C.

Ms. Zaharick believes things haven’t changed much since they tied the knot, but said they feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to make their relationship extra special.

“Everything has been wonderful,” Ms. Zaharick said. “Everybody has been so supportive and happy for us.”

To celebrate their one-year wedding anniversary, the couple plans to see the play “The Best Man” in Manhattan and grab some grub at their favorite place: John’s Pizzeria, an old church in midtown that has been converted into a restaurant.

“We’re pretty low-key,” Ms. Zaharick said.

Ms. Zaharick and Ms. Claudio were married in a simple ceremony on the lawn outside Town Hall.

The one bride wore a white button-down and a pair of black slacks while the other bride wore a black button-down with white pants. Both wore a crown of baby’s breath. They were surrounded by giant heart-shaped balloons and chose calla lilies for the bouquet.

“For us to get married in the view of the public meant the world to us,” Ms. Zaharick said. “It’s nice to be recognized.”

Ms. Zaharick and Ms. Claudio are one of 21 same-sex couples who have applied for a marriage license in Riverhead Town over the past year.

Pick up Thursday’s paper to read more about the first year of same-sex marriage on the North Fork.

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07/04/12 6:00pm
07/04/2012 6:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The section of the rail spur that ends at Metro Terminals of Long Island which store and distribute eco-friendly heating oil in EPCAL should be completed by the fall..

Riverhead Town’s plans for a commission to fast-track development proposals at the Calverton Enterprise Park isn’t the only thing being held up by the state.

Supervisor Sean Walter said the state Department of Environmental Conservation isn’t allowing the newly built EPCAL rail spur to be extended over areas that lie within the protective boundaries of the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers.

“This does not make me happy,” Mr. Walter said.

The so-called Rivers Act puts restrictions on development near the Peconic River, which flows south of EPCAL, as well as other rivers in New York. The boundaries extend onto the southern portion of the former Grumman property, including parts of the rail spur.

The town was able to get “credits” for sections of the old spur that were not rebuilt in the new one, and town officials plan to use those credits to allow the Eastern Wholesale Fence company to extend the spur onto its property at EPCAL, Mr. Walter said.

But, he says, the DEC is not permitting the town to expand the spur to other areas of EPCAL, as he had planned, because of the Rivers Act. Mr. Walter feels the rail spur as currently built helps only two businesses at EPCAL, Eastern Wholesale Fence and Metro biofuel. He said he’s hopeful a solution can be worked out with DEC.

A message seeking comment from the DEC was not immediately returned.

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06/06/12 8:02pm
06/06/2012 8:02 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Sean Walter and James Wooten after a meeting in Wading River last April, when Wooten was considering a run for Walter's supervisor post.

Town Councilman James Wooten said he is seeking an appointment to a soon-to-be vacant town tax receiver post, but Supervisor Sean Walter said he would not support his fellow Town Board member in his bid to resign and take the full-time job.

“He’s not on my short list,” Mr. Walter said. “To be a tax receiver it’s a full time job, you gotta commit 35-40 hours a week. I don’t know that Councilman Wooten is able to do that.”

“He’s a Town Councilman,” he continued. “We need him as Town Councilman.”

The tax receiver post will be vacant as of July 1 due to the retirement of Maryann Wowak Heilbrunn, who has worked in the position for the past 10 years, which we first reported earlier Wednesday.

Mr. Wooten, in an interview Wednesday afternoon, said he was being considered for the position and said the position “totally fits my personality.”

He also said the job would give him more time to spend with his family and with his volunteer work. He was unable to be reached Wednesday evening for a response to Mr. Walter’s comments.

Mr. Walter said he was told about the retirement on Monday and that the Town Board hasn’t considered any candidates for the position yet.

“This is a very detail-oriented position, not a policy position,” he said. Mr. Walter said that if he were to choose a Town Councilperson, it would be Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, though he said he is sure she would not be interested in the position.

Whoever is appointed to fill Ms. Wowak Heilbrunn’s position will have to run in a special election this fall. If Mr. Wooten, or any other Councilperson, was appointed to the position, their seat would also be up for election in November.

Mr. Walter and Mr. Wooten have been on-again off-again political rivals since Mr. Wooten briefly attempted to run against Mr. Walter in last year’s Town Supervisor primary election. Mr. Wooten eventually dropped his bid for Supervisor; he is currently serving the first year of his second four-year term as Town Council.

Councilman George Gabrielsen said it was too early in the process for him to say who he would potentially support for the open job.

“I think it’s premature right now to say that anyone’s got a leg up on it,” he said, adding that he would also have to consider who would take Mr. Wooten’s place on the Town Board.

“If I make a decision, I want to make sure we’re getting the right people for the right positions,” he said. Mr. Gabrielsen said the Town Board will likely discuss the issue over the next couple of days and he hopes a decision will be reached by the end of next week.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and Councilman John Dunleavy were unable to be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

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02/23/12 2:00pm
02/23/2012 2:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A downtown sidewalk on East Main Street in need of repair.

The long-awaited downtown sidewalk replacement project may actually happen soon.

Supervisor Sean Walter said he was told by Tatyana Golikova of the state Department of Transportation that the DOT plans to scope the project and do design work in 2012 and begin installing new sidewalks in 2013.

The town received $1.2 million in federal grants for downtown sidewalk repairs in 2005, and another $1.5 million for sidewalk repairs in Jamesport and Wading River.

In 2007, the town opted to let the DOT do the job in order to save money, but was later told that the DOT wouldn’t get to it until 2014. The town’s share of the project is $250,000.

“With any luck, the sidewalks will be replaced in 2013,” Mr. Walter said last Thursday.

Albany Advocacy Day

Mr. Walter said Tuesday that he plans to spend Leap Day, Feb. 29, in Albany lobbying state officials to create a clearinghouse or authority to better coordinate the permitting process at EPCAL and to streamline the approvals needed to develop clean businesses at the former Grumman property.

The supervisor, who is calling it Albany Advocacy Day, got the idea last year when Town Board members took a trip to Devens, Mass., which has established a similar authority and has successfully turned a former military base into a thriving industrial park.

“Only by getting all levels of government in sync and working cooperatively can we begin to create the high-tech-based, clean, green, high-paying jobs of the future here in Riverhead,” Mr. Walter said.

The proposed authority would unite federal, state, county and local governments, as well as all appropriate agencies, under the banner of one entity that would cut red tape and allow potential developers at EPCAL to receive faster approvals or denials in their attempts to create businesses, according to the supervisor.

Security concerns at Foxwood

Residents of the adjacent Foxwood Village homes say they are happy with the new design of the proposed Shops at Riverhead shopping center on Route 58, but would prefer that the developer not clear the trees bordering their homes.

Shops at Riverhead, a 270,000-square-foot shopping center proposed for the former Hazeltine property next to Riverhead Auto Mall, would include a Costco and other stores, as well as gasoline pumps at Costco.

“It’s a big change for the better from two to three years ago,” Foxwood Village resident Robert Hall said at last Thursday’s Riverhead Planning Board meeting.

Foxwood residents, however, are not happy with a proposal to clear the trees adjacent to their homes. The clearing would enable the applicants to do the project without importing sand and would help if they decide later to build more on the site using transfer of development right credits, as originally planned, when the project comprised more than 500,000 square feet of development.

“Security is a concern of our residents,” said Foxwood Village owner John Stark. “We’d like to see some type of fence or berm that offers security, and we’d like to see that land stay uncleared.”

The Planning Board took no action Thursday, although board member Ed Densieski said, “I think the buffer is going to have to be drastically improved before we approve this.”

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10/27/11 11:00am
10/27/2011 11:00 AM

The former Riverhead Town employee who is threatening to sue the town for $1 million for “unlawful discharge” leveled more charges against Town Board members this week and said through an attorney that the officials misrepresented facts in last week’s News-Review article about her potential lawsuit.

Ex-Town Board coordinator Donna Zlatniski is claiming, among other things, that she was “coerced” to do campaign work for Riverhead Councilman Jim Wooten on town time. This week, her lawyer said Mr. Wooten lied by telling the newspaper that she had come to him offering campaign help.

The lawyer, Frank Scagluso of Smithtown, said it was Mr. Wooten who had approached Ms. Zlatniski, asking her to make phone calls to potential campaign donors. Those calls then became the subject of an internal ethics probe after it was reported to the ethics board that she made some calls from Town Hall.

Mr. Scagluso added that misuse of his client’s time didn’t stop with the campaign work. He said that Ms. Zlatniski was also “required” to babysit Mr. Wooten’s young daughter while the girl was in Town Hall.

As for Ms. Zlatniski’s charge that she was “set up” by Town Board members looking to catch her doing campaign work and force her to resign, Mr. Scagluso said a setup was orchestrated so that Linda Hulse — who had run unsuccessfully for town clerk as a Republican in 2009 — could have Ms. Zlatniski’s job permanently. Ms. Hulse had been filling in while Ms. Zlatniski was on maternity leave.

The notice of claim states that Councilwoman Jodi Giglio’s husband, Mike, called Ms. Zlatniski at work and asked her to relay campaign-related information to Mr. Wooten as a trap.
When asked for a response to the allegations, Supervisor Sean Walter reiterated to the News-Review that the Town Board “bent over backwards to accommodate Donna” after she had a child in July 2010, took seven months off and eventually wanted to work part time.

Mr. Walter likened the legal threats — especially a letter sent by Mr. Scagluso to the town demanding $125,000 or he would take the matter to the local media — to extortion. That demand, sent in a letter dated Oct. 5, was rejected by the town a week later.

“My best take on this is from that letter,” Mr. Walter said, “trying to extort $125,000 from the town, What kind of attorney is this? He’s off the wall. This is amazing that an attorney would start talking about things like this in the press.”

Mr. Wooten, a first-term councilman up for re-election next month, said he “couldn’t believe” Ms. Zlatniski was “bringing my daughter into this.” He had considered Ms. Zlatniski, who was hired in 2007, a close friend, he said.

“My daughter loved her,” Mr. Wooten said. “We went and visited her when she gave birth to her son and my daughter held her son when he was just a day old. We actually went and visited her the next day when she had the baby.”

He said he would sometimes bring his daughter to work for an hour or two when school was out, and that the girl liked to visit with Ms. Zlatniski and other workers. But he insisted he “would never tell her she had to babysit.”

“I don’t walk around thinking I’m everybody’s boss,” he continued. “She’s trying to give some credence to a bad situation, but I did not put her in the situation. She did offer to help me, and she says so in her testimony to the ethics board. I allowed her to [help], which I shouldn’t have.”

The ethics board’s report, dated June 16 and acquired by the News-Review, states that during Ms. Zlatniski’s appearance before the ethics board, “she originally testified that Councilman Wooten requested that she solicit political contributions, but after questioning she admitted that Councilman Wooten did not approach her or request that she solicit funds or contributions …”

Mr. Wooten told the News-Review that Ms. Zlatniski had approached him one day before she was leaving work about volunteering for him. This was about the time Mr. Wooten was publicly looking for the GOP’s nod to run for supervisor instead of the sitting supervisor, Sean Walter, also a Republican.

Mr. Wooten said Ms. Zlatniski had her jacket on and bags with her at the time, so when he gave her a list of phone numbers to call about a golf fundraiser, he assumed she would do so at home. She later told the ethics board she made some calls at home, but then some more from work the next day, according to the ethics report.

“Why would she be involved in making these phone calls?” her lawyer, Mr. Scagluso, asked. “She had been there for four years. She had never, ever got involved in any political activities, ever. Why should she do it?”

Mr. Scagluso called the ethics report, which he said was written up after his client had resigned from the position, “self-serving.”

“There are a lot of people who are trying to cover their behinds now and manipulating the facts,” he said. “The crux of the matter is that she was threatened with jail time and criminal charges and they were just looking to get rid of her so they could keep Hulse on.”

When asked how, exactly, Ms. Zlatniski was coerced to do work for Mr. Wooten, Mr. Scagluso said, “She resisted. She told him she did not feel comfortable, but when your boss tells you, ‘Do it anyway,’ you do it.”

He also said Ms. Zlatniski, who resigned in June, fell out of favor with the Walter administration because she was doing work for Mr. Wooten at the same time the councilman was challenging Mr. Walter for the 2011 Republican supervisor nomination.

“Mr. Walter told her she was going to face jail time and that she should pack her stuff and get out,” Mr. Scagluso said, claiming Mr. Walter said she could face criminal charges for doing private work on town time. “And why was Mr. Walter involved? It was punishment for her making calls for Mr. Wooten. And she was going to be replaced by [a person] of his choosing.”

Mr. Walter last week said he was only advising Ms. Zlatniski to seek counsel because she was being investigated by the ethics board — and that he would do the same for any employee. Councilman George Gabrielsen, who was also in the meeting with Mr. Walter and Ms. Zlatniski, corroborated that account.

“It was for her own protection,” Mr. Gabrielsen had said of Mr. Walter’s advice.

As for the allegations involving Ms. Hulse, Town Board members Jodi Giglio and John Dunleavy said in separate interviews this week that it was made clear to Ms. Hulse before she was hired to cover for Ms. Zlatniski that the job was only temporary.

“Donna was actually lobbying Linda to go and lobby the board members to allow her to come back part time [and they would split the hours],” Ms. Giglio said.

“Linda did not force Donna out,” Mr. Dunleavy said.“She made her own bed and slept in it. That’s how I feel. And I go back a long ways with the [Zlatniski] family and I would never say anything that was wrong.”

All Town Board members interviewed said that after returning to work seven months after having a baby, Ms. Zlatniski often left early or didn’t show, even after the board allowed her to work only part time, with Ms. Hulse taking the other days.

“We did every thing we could to keep her part time, but she still wasn’t showing up to work,” Mr. Walter said. “Sometimes she didn’t even call in.”
Mr. Walter said that despite that, the board still tried to help her.

In a statement given to the News-Review this week, Ms. Hulse called the claims that Ms. Zlatniski was run out of Town Hall to give her a job “untrue, ridiculous and I find it hurtful and unfair that she would even make a false claim against me.

“While I thoroughly enjoyed the temporary assignment, I always understood that my position was just that — temporary,” she said. “I believe as a new mother, Donna struggled with the decision to return to work or stay home with her new baby. Over several months, I received telephone calls and emails from Donna describing the difficulty she was having trying to make the decision. I always had a very good relationship with Donna so I am disappointed that she has accused me of forcing her out of the position.

“Ultimately, Donna made the decision to resign and care for her new baby full time. I was asked to consider returning to the position and I agreed … I work hard and believe I have earned a reputation as a dedicated, competent and reliable employee,” Ms. Hulse said.

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07/21/11 11:26am
07/21/2011 11:26 AM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Councilman John Dunleavy was back on the job Tuesday at the Town Board meeting.

Councilman John Dunleavy was back on the job Tuesday for the first time since he suffered a mild heart attack on June 20.

Mr. Dunleavy, who spent a week in Stony Brook University Hospital and the weeks after that recuperating at home, was present at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting and said he plans to attend all upcoming board meetings.

“I’m a little bit better,” the 70-year-old councilman said after the meeting. “I still have to go back to Stony Brook for more tests to see how much oxygen I’m getting.”

The main thing his doctors told him? Avoid stress.

“The worst thing is mental stress,” he said. “That’s five times worse than physical stress. They told me not to get upset and if I start to get upset, to just step back and stop.”

Fortunately for Mr. Dunleavy, Tuesday’s meeting was over in less than 25 minutes and had very little controversy.
“This was a nice one for you to come back to,” Town Attorney Bob Kozakiewicz told him afterward.

Supervisor Sean Walter publicly welcomed Mr. Dunleavy back at the start of Tuesday’s meeting.

Jitney seeks IDA help

The Hampton Jitney bus company will be seeking some tax breaks on the bus terminal and maintenance area it is proposing to build on Edwards Avenue in Calverton.

The Riverhead Town Industrial Development Agency has scheduled a public hearing on the request for Monday, Aug. 1, at 5 p.m. at Riverhead Town Hall.

Hampton Jitney wants to acquire the vacant 13.9-acre site at 253 Edwards Ave. and build a maintenance building there for repairing, fueling and washing buses, along with office space, a lobby, a car rental facility, a waiting area and a parking lot.
The company received special permit approval for the project in 2009, and got an extension on that approval earlier this year. It has yet to submit a site plan application.

The IDA application seeks exemptions from mortgage recording taxes and sales tax on materials used in the construction as well as a partial abatement on property tax increases associated with the proposed improvements.

Energy-efficient Mardi Gras

The Riverhead Business Improvement District’s upcoming Mardi Gras Festival, scheduled for Aug. 6 downtown, will have the usual mix of New Orleans-style bands, Cajun foods, stilt walkers and parades that you might associate with Mardi Gras, but according to Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, this one will also have an energy-efficient angle.

The Riverhead energy awareness committee will be present at the festival, offering residents an opportunity to get free energy audits, worth up to a $700, and “to learn how to make your home more energy-efficient in these troubling times,” Ms. Giglio said.

The stage for the event will also be powered by solar energy, she noted.

The Mardi Gras Festival is scheduled to run from 1 to 11 p.m. on Aug. 6.in the parking lot along the Peconic River.

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06/02/11 6:47am
06/02/2011 6:47 AM

Plans for an ice skating rink in downtown Riverhead took a few steps forward last Thursday, as the Riverhead Town Board passed a resolution formally supporting an application for county grants to fund that project.

The proposed rink, which would be located near the comfort station in the Peconic Riverfront parking lot, was the idea of the Business Improvement District management association members and could be used year round, since the ice would be synthetic.

The Town Board is applying for grants through the Suffolk County Downtown Revitalization Program, through which officials say up to $100,000 could be obtained. The BID plans to allocate another $100,000 from its own fund reserves, according to its president, Ray Pickersgill.

Mr. Pickersgill said the BID has about $194,000 in reserve funds that were budgeted in previous years but never spent. The project’s first phase, the rink itself, would cost an estimated $200,000. The BID is planning to build a pavilion over the rink in a later, second phase.

“We can operate it ourselves with volunteers,” Mr. Pickersgill said, adding that the BID is also hoping to get advertising to fund the rink’s operating costs.

Ambulance barn getting AC for meds

After debating whether to install air conditioning in the bay area at Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps headquarters or in individual ambulances, the Town Board last Thursday finally decided to air condition the bay area.

The ambulance corps originally wanted to install AC in the bays in order to comply with state regulations that require medications to be kept at a certain temperature. But the Town Board balked at the cost and asked the corps to explore the cost of putting AC in individual ambulances. The corps originally made the request last September and came back again in March.

Corps president Ron Rowe told the Town Board May 19 that it would cost more to cool the four ambulances individually, since another refrigerator would be needed in the ambulance barn to cool medications that are not in the vehicles. The total came to about $35,000, compared to $24,000 to air condition the ambulance bay, according to the corps’ estimates.

Last Thursday, the board voted to formally seek bids to install air conditioning in the ambulance bay area. Mr. Rowe said new ambulances come equipped with air conditioning and that ambulances last about 12 years.

Town to buy in bulk

The Town Board also voted last Thursday to join the Long Island Intergovernmental Relations Purchasing Council, in the hope of being able to buy things at lower prices.

The council is a collective that combines the buying power of municipalities across Long Island and allows local governments to purchase necessities at reduced cost, according to Supervisor Sean Walter.

“Just as homeowners take advantage of the savings at price clubs and warehouse stores, we in Riverhead will avail ourselves of the savings the council offers,” Mr. Walter said in a press release.

“This will save us a lot of money,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said last Thursday.

Any county, town, village, school district, fire district or BOCES within Nassau and Suffolk counties is eligible to join the cooperative.

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02/15/11 1:19pm
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.