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Town Board to vote on appointing outside counsel to ethics board

The Riverhead Town Board will vote Tuesday on a resolution to appoint a special counsel to advise the town’s ethics board as it investigates a complaint against Councilwoman Jodi Giglio.

The ethics board has requested outside counsel as it investigates whether Ms. Giglio should recuse herself from voting on Calverton Aviation & Technology’s $40 million offer to purchase town-owned land at Enterprise Park at Calverton — a decision that the Town Board decided to wait on before voting on whether CAT is qualified and eligible.

The ethics board raised the issue following a March 12 meeting in New York City in which Ms. Giglio met privately with officials from CAT. Ms. Giglio had reviewed questions she asked and answers the group gave her at a later work session.

The Riverhead Town attorney’s office and the ethics board have held ongoing discussions on the board’s request for outside counsel. The issue comes down to whether there is a conflicting interest on part of the town attorneys to represents both the ethics board and the Town Board while a complaint against a council member is in question, town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz said at Thursday’s Town Board work session.

Typically from a code of responsibility, attorneys should step aside when they end up representing two parties with conflicting interests, and it was one of the reasons why the ethics board is requesting special counsel, he said.

Ms. Giglio and Councilman Tim Hubbard both said they support the appointment of an outside attorney. Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith and Councilman Jim Wooten were both absent from the work session. Councilwoman Catherine Kent said she wants to examine prior instances to see if there’s a precedent.

A prior Town Board granted a similar request by the ethics board in 2014 to bring in outside counsel, Mr. Kozakiewicz said. The town code allows that, he said. He also said other municipalities have done the same in similar cases.

The town attorney’s office works for the Town Board, Mr. Hubbard said.

“My concern is spirit of transparency is that to have one of our town attorneys handle or be the attorney assigned to the ethics board in a case involving a fellow Town Board officer, to me is a direct conflict and looks like it would smell fishy,” Mr. Hubbard said.

An outside counsel would be better apt to handle any questions the ethics board may have without creating the look of impropriety depending on what the findings are, he said.  

Mr. Hubbard’s son-in-law, Erik Howard, is a deputy town attorney currently assigned to the ethics board. He said that has no factor in his decision.

“It has everything to do with that the town attorney’s office works for us as a board,” he said.

When Ms. Kent suggested it may not be appropriate for him to weigh on the issue for that reason, he responded by saying: “That’s ludicrous, Catherine.”

The issue of conflict of interest had been framed incorrectly, Mr. Kozakiewicz said.

“It’s my office, not a particular individual,” he said.

Ms. Giglio agreed outside counsel should be appointed to the ethics board.

“It’s very awkward to be going into the town attorney’s office with code enforcement issues and sitting in the chair across from Mr. Howard and asking him about code enforcement issues or overcrowded houses and things of that nature without it looking like I may be in there talking to him about the ethics complaint against myself,” Ms. Giglio said.

Ms. Giglio suggested a policy be drafted to make it so that outside counsel is always used in similar situations.

Ms. Kent had said she did not think it was right for Ms. Giglio discuss the issue when she’s the board member in question.

The special counsel in the resolution up for vote Tuesday is David Besso of Long Tuminello, LLP.

Photo caption: Councilwoman Jodi Giglio. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)

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