Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has Show More
Huntington Town Board member Gene Cook says he made a "novice mistake" when he asked that his friend and business partner be placed on two powerful town boards without disclosing their relationship.
But given the variety of ethical issues the town has experienced and his active role in trying to root them out, Cook should have known better.
In November, Cook, an Independence Party member, sponsored a resolution seeking a federal investigation into possible ethical lapses in town.
His move followed a series of Newsday reports last fall that raised questions about receiverships and business relationships between another board member, Democrat Mark Cuthbertson, and Oheka Castle owner Gary Melius.
Cuthbertson did not disclose the relationship before voting on town issues affecting Melius. Cuthbertson was cleared by the town ethics board, which came under criticism for the finding, leading the town to begin retooling the board.
Now, it turns out that Cook himself -- before and after his call for the federal investigation -- failed to disclose some of his own business relationships.
Last June, Cook, Commack attorney Josh Price and a third partner, Huntington real estate agent Tim Cavanaugh, established a limited liability company.
In July, Cook offered a resolution at the town board to have Price -- Cook's running mate in his failed 2013 bid to oust Democratic town Supervisor Frank Petrone -- appointed to the town's powerful board of assessment review.
In offering the resolution -- which never made it to a vote -- Cook made no mention of his business relationship with Price.
In an email to Petrone in February, Cook recommended that Price be appointed to the town's zoning board of appeals. He didn't disclose his business relationship then, either.
There's another twist.
In October, Cook and his partners purchased an East Northport house that the town contends is single family -- but the partners say is multifamily.
The town also contends that work the partners did on the structure required permits, which the partners dispute.
Huntington last week hired a special counsel to resolve the issue of the house, a good and necessary move given the poisonous political environment in Huntington, where majority Democrats always seem to be tussling with Cook.
Things are so toxic that a determination one way or the other by the town building department would be -- and, indeed, already has been -- branded by Cook as being politically motivated.
The special counsel will independently assess how the house should be classified, and whether work on the property required town permits.
Given that Huntington residents -- especially those living in Huntington Station -- continue to clamor for code enforcement, it's essential that the dispute be resolved.
But what of the ethics question? Cook, who did not return a call to his office for comment Wednesday, earlier explained his lack of disclosure.
"It was a novice mistake," he said. "I don't recall how it went down timing-wise; I probably didn't think about it."
But that's his job. Indeed, it's the entire town board's job to be transparent in official dealings, and to ensure there's not even the appearance of impropriety.
It's what residents have every right and reason to expect.