More than eight months after first hosting a “qualified and eligible” hearing on Calverton Aviation & Technology, the Riverhead Town Board will finally get its chance to vote.
The Town Board scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7 to vote on whether CAT is qualified and eligible to purchase 1,640 acres of town-owned land at Enterprise Park at Calverton for $40 million. The board already has a 2 p.m. meeting scheduled for Nov. 7. Board members debated in Thursday’s work session whether it should take public comments in both meetings, just have the 6 p.m. meeting or whether it should have a special meeting on the issue Nov. 13.
The Board settled on the 6 p.m. meeting for Nov. 7.
While the Town Board has already closed the public hearing on CAT’s Q&E application, it regularly takes comments on resolutions on the agenda at each meeting.
The Q&E process requires CAT to show it has the finances and ability to carry out an intended development plan it proposed for EPCAL. CAT’s principal is Triple Five Group, which built the Mall of America in Minnesota and the West Edmonton Mall in Canada, among other projects.
The company said it plans to build industrial and aviation uses at EPCAL.
Triple Five is a privately owned company and has declined to release all of the financial information the town sought.
The company submitted additional information in late August, and the Town Board will now have to decide if that’s enough, which it is expected to do Wednesday.
The Town Board had put off deciding that issue until the Riverhead Ethics Board made a recommendation as to whether Councilwoman Jodi Giglio should be allowed to vote. The Coalition Against EPCAL Housing had brought a complaint against Ms. Giglio in April saying her decision to meet privately with CAT’s principals in Manhattan on March 12 “tainted the qualified and eligible public hearing process.”
But on Monday, the ethics board recommended that Ms. Giglio should be allowed to vote.
The decision was confidential and the board is not making it public.
Ms. Giglio told a reporter that ethics board ruled in her favor, but she did not provide a copy of that decision.
While the Riverhead Ethics Board seemingly put to rest the issue of whether Councilwoman Jodi Giglio should be permitted to vote on CAT’s Q&E status, a debate instead ensued over whether the ethics board recommendation should be made public.
At Thursday’s work session, John McAuliff, a representative of CAEH, asked that the recommendation be made public.
“We are very glad there is a decision that has been made by the ethics board. We don’t agree with it, but that’s neither here nor there. That’s the decision of the ethics board,” he said.
But Mr. McAuliff said that based on the Town Code and on the fact that the issues being dealt with are policy questions, the ruling should be made public.
“We hope Ms. Giglio would be in favor of that,” he said. “It found in her favor so we think it would be helpful to the public to known what is actually in the conclusion.”
Mr. McAuliff said CAEH has seen the decision, but it says it cannot be made public.
Ms. Giglio, as it turns out, was not in favor of making the recommendation public. She said the town code requires the recommendation to be confidential.
Town Attorney Bob Kozakiewicz agreed, and cited section 105-39 of the town ethics law, which says “the only records of the ethics board that shall be available for public inspection are those whose disclosure is required by state law, such as the open meetings law and freedom of information law.”
Mr. McAuliff, in a letter to the town, said the confidentiality language in the code “is presumably intended to protect the subject of the complaint from public access to potentially damaging personal material,” which doesn’t seem relevant in this instance. He said the public already knows that Ms. Giglio was the subject of the ruling.
Mr. McAuliff also said the code doesn’t address how a recipient of the decision handles it.
“Presumably, under the First Amendment, CAEH has the right to respond publicly to the content, and in doing so, to summarize and to quote from the decision,” he said.
“You insist the ethics board answer a complaint that had no basis, no facts, no nothing to back it up,” Ms. Giglio said. “Just a complaint that really has had an effect on me and my family since April. And now that they made a decision, now you’re going to go after the ethics board … I don’t think you’ll ever be happy with any decision.”
Photo caption: John McAuliff of the Coalition Against EPCAL Housing speaks at Thursday’s Town Board work session. (Credit: Tim Gannon)