Councilman’s commutes from Florida wind down

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO Councilman John Dunleavy (second from left) at a budget work session last fall.
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO Councilman John Dunleavy (second from left) at a budget work session last fall.

Councilman John Dunleavy will return to Riverhead “for good” on Friday after having vacationed in Florida since early February, he said in a phone interview.

During that time, he flew back to attend three Town Board meetings but he will have missed five Thursday work sessions by his return.

This winter marked the first season that Mr. Dunleavy, a Republican now in his sixth year in office, had spent so much time in Florida, where he has had a second home since 2006. Previously, he had gone to Florida for about one week each month during the winter.

He defended his absences this week, saying he had worked hard while he was away and had been responsive to his constituents by phone and e-mail.

He stressed that he had not missed any crucial Town Board votes.

“I really don’t think this should be an issue. My duties have not been hampered,” he said.

“I have missed work sessions but I catch up with e-mails and I discuss with the Town Board members on the phone,” he said. “My secretary lets me know if anyone calls me and I call them back as I would have done while in Riverhead.” If someone calls his cell phone, “I answer, like I just did with you.”

Vinny Villella, who heads the Riverhead Democratic Committee, acknowledged that Mr. Dunleavy’s elected position is officially part time, but added, “I don’t think it’s right because it’s almost like a full-time job now, the council position. The perception is it doesn’t look good,” he continued. “He flies back for the meetings but the work sessions are very important.”

Mr. Dunleavy, 69, is a retired Riverhead police officer who earns $47,598 annually as an elected official. A Calverton resident, he was reelected to a second four-year term in 2009 as the top vote=getter in the council race. Aside from attending Town Board meetings in February and March, he said he also handled other town business during his two-day trips back to Riverhead from Hudson, Fla.

“Out of five years, this is the first time I’ve been away on a good, long vacation,” he said. “I assure you, it’s cost me more money flying back and forth to these Town Board meetings but it’s worth it to go back and show my support and vote for things that are happening. And I haven’t missed a vote.”

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