Board OK’s Walter’s pick for new chief of staff

Supervisor Sean Walter at a town work session last year. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch file)
Supervisor Sean Walter at a town work session last year. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch file)

Supervisor Sean Walter has chosen a Coram man to be his new chief of staff, replacing the outgoing Tara McLaughlin, who has held the position since Mr. Walter took office in 2010 but is now moving to a job in Brookhaven Town.

Lawrence Levy, who has owned an appraisal service since 2001 and a catering company since 2010, was appointed to the position on Tuesday. The role is one of four in the supervisor’s office, including Mr. Walter himself.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who got the Republican nod for supervisor but will be challenged by Mr. Walter in a primary, was the only Town Board member opposing the selection.

“I think we should eliminate the position,” she said, pointing out that Mr. Walter has cut numerous positions in other departments during his tenure as supervisor, and that the town still has financial problems.

Ms. McLaughlin’s annual salary was $81,526, while Mr. Levy will make $75,000 per year, although it would be pro-rated since he’s starting in mid-year.

Ms. Giglio also thinks the supervisor should have picked a Riverhead Town resident for the post, although Ms. McLaughlin is a Brookhaven Town resident as well.

Mr. Levy — not the News 12 commentator of the same name — is someone Mr. Walter says he’s known for a long time.

“He’s been a businessman all his life,” Mr. Walter said. “I don’t think he’s ever worked for someone else since high school. So he brings that unique business perspective that, somehow, (Town Republican leader) Mason Haas says I lack because I’m an attorney.”

The supervisor says Mr. Levy would be in a unique position because it could be just a six month job, depending on the election results, so it would be difficult to get someone to give up a job where they are not self-employed to take this one.

As for leaving the position vacant, Mr. Walter said, “My office is really the town managers’ office and Tara functions like a town manager, and Larry probably will, too. We have almost 300 employees, and that swells to almost 600 in the summer. You really need to have a staff in the town supervisor’s office to manage everything.

“If Jodi gets elected and she thinks she can have just an office with just two people, then I guess we’ll see.”

The other council members said that traditionally, the Town Board has allowed the supervisor to choose his own staff.

“I don’t get involved in his office,” Councilman Jim Wooten said. “Every supervisor has had a executive director and a deputy.”

“We’re saving money, we got the salary lowered, so I’m not fighting it,” Councilman John Dunleavy said.

He thinks the town should have an appointed town manager, however, to “remove politics” from decisions.

Councilman George Gabrielsen said he also has no problem with the supervisor selecting who he wants for his office.

Phil Cardinale, the previous supervisor, had an executive assistant, a legislative secretary and a secretary in his office in 2009, his last year in office.

Mr. Walter has a chief of staff, a deputy supervisor and a legislative secretary, although the combined salary for those three positions was about $7,000 more in 2010 than the combined salary for the three positions in Mr. Cardinale’s office in 2009.

Mr. Walter also had a second legislative secretary in his office in 2010, but cut the position toward the end of the year.

In the past, the deputy supervisor position has been an appointed person in some administrations and a title given to a town council member in others.