Riverhead Town Board buries vote to hire Walter’s pal

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Anthony Coates was offered a $65,000 per year non-union job from Supervisor Sean Walter, but the Town Board put off voting on the controversial resolution Tuesday night.

The Riverhead Town Board put off voting on a controversial resolution Tuesday night appointing Anthony Coates, a friend and political adviser to Supervisor Sean Walter, to a $65,000 per year non-union job as “legislative secretary.”

Board members George Gabrielsen, Jodi Gilgio and Jim Wooten said they couldn’t support the measure, noting, among other reasons, that the town cut 13 positions two years ago because of a budget deficits and should not be adding the position.

Mr. Walter and Councilman John Dunleavy supported the new position, saying it’s needed to facilitate the state’s approval of an EPCAL commission Mr. Walter is pushing in order to streamline building development applications at the former Grumman site.

Mr. Coates, who says he is also an investment banker, has been getting paid $1,000 per month from Mr. Walter’s campaign fund for “consultation,” according to state Board of Elections campaign finance disclosure forms.

Mr. Coates confirmed in an interview Wednesday that he recently completed an alcohol rehabilitation program. Asked to respond to information from sources that Mr. Walter paid for some or all of that rehab and that it would thus be in Mr. Walter’s interest for Mr. Coates to earn more money, he said, “A group of my friends put together a fund and anonymously contributed to it.”

As for Mr. Walter, he said, “I would imagine he was one of them. I’m sure he did.”

But Mr. Walter said later Wednesday that he did not pay for the rehab and is not owed money by Mr. Coates.

Mr. Walter said the EPCAL legislation the supervisor is pitching needs someone to devote full attention to it in Albany, because generating economic development at EPCAL is the only way the town can beat the recession.

Mr. Coates, who’s been arrested on at least two drinking and driving-related charges in the past, records show, also refuted claims from sources that he does not have a driver’s license, which would be needed if he’s going to drive himself back and forth to Albany on the town’s behalf.

He showed a News-Review reporter a copy of his driver’s license, which was issued this year and is valid for several more years, Thursday morning.

The resolution, which was tabled Tuesday night but could be brought up again at a future meeting, also calls for the town to cover 100 percent of Mr. Coates’ health insurance.

Mr. Coates said the job had been discussed for several weeks as a communications officer position, and he believes it had the support of a board majority then. He said that as the job is aimed at increasing activity at EPCAL, it would have a revenue-generating component. If approved, the position would be funded with part of a $130,000 audit settlement the town recently received from Cablevision, officials said. “We need to get that EPCAL subdivision approved,” Mr. Walter said of what he said would be a one-year position. “We can’t continue to cut money from the budget.”

The town instead needs to generate revenue from EPCAL sales and taxes, he said.

Mr. Dunleavy, who opposed the current EPCAL study, said he won’t seek to impede that study now that it’s under way, and he thinks the proposed legislative secretary post is needed.

“We have to get somebody that can go up there and speak to these assemblymen and senators and environmentalists,” he said. “We just don’t have time to be up doing that.”

Mr. Gabrielsen added that he thinks local state legislators need to step up on this issue, and Mr. Wooten said, “It’s a hard vote for me when we laid off 13 employees.”

Resident Steve Romano asked why the town didn’t post a job opening for the position.

Mr. Walter said certain positions, such as those in the supervisor’s office, are exempt from those requirements.

Mr. Coates “has been doing this job on a volunteer basis for the past two months, and he knows what he’s doing,” Mr. Walter added.

Mr. Coates, who also is a member of the downtown Business Improvement District Management Association, recently accompanied Mr. Walter and deputy town attorney Ann Marie Prudenti on a trip to Albany to lobby for the proposed EPCAL legislation.

Because it is a non-union position, the town doesn’t have to seek proposals for the position or go to a Civil Service list.

The resolution states that “in order to attract private businesses to locate and expand their operations at EPCAL and promote the expeditious and orderly conversion and redevelopment of EPCAL, the town requires support of state legislation to create a government structure for EPCAL which will assume authority and duties related to development projects at EPCAL.”

The person holding the position would assist the Town Board and other staff designated by the board in completing duties related to the ongoing EPCAL Reuse and Revitalization Plan and helping the town secure approval of state legislation creating the EPCAL commission.

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