Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
Suffolk lawmakers Monday sent the nomination of Errol Kitt as a member county planning commission to the full legislature, but made no recommendation on confirmation after questions arose whether he needs a ruling from the board of ethics on his eligibility for the unpaid post.
The questions surfaced because Kitt, 57, of Lloyd Harbor, is vice president of GEI Consultants, which currently has a county contract and has done past business with the county.
During his testimony, Kitt said he did not see it as a problem, saying he has 35 years experience in environmental planning and that he would seek to balance environmental and economic development interests. He also said he would recuse himself from voting on client applications.
Sarah Lansdale, county planning director, said GIS won a $100,000 competitive bid two years ago to design ladder to permit fish to travel upstream — long before his nomination. She added that another former commission member, Glynnis Barry, who headed Peconic Green Growth, a non-profit sewer group with a county contract, was cleared in the past to serve on the planning commission
Legislative Counsel George Nolan said he could not say if Kitt might be restricted from serving because it may depends on whether he has ownership interest in his consulting firm. Kitt, testifying before the committee and later, declined comment on if he is part-owner of his firm. In an interview, with Newsday, he said, “I’m not sure what that has to do with anything.”
Under county ethic rules, “no public servant shall have an ownership interest in a firm which such public servant knows is engaged in business dealings with the department or agency served by such public servant.” A public servant is one who serves the county on a paid or unpaid basis.
Later, Vanessa Baird Streeter, spokeswoman for County Excecutive Steve Bellone, said Lansdale consulted further with Kitt, who told her he does not have an ownership interest, and Lansdale said he would not require an ethics ruling. The spokeswoman said Kitt “has shares in the company similar to shares in IBM, but he doesn’t have an ownership interest or a decision making capacity.”
What makes the issue significant is that Tuesday’s legislature meeting comes on the eve of scheduled commission vote on a new chair and for the first time ever it is a contested election pitting Huntington attorney Jennifer Casey against developer Michael Kelly.
While Kitt’s nomination was sent without recommendation, the planning and environment committee did recommend the second nominee, Nicholas Morehead, Shelter Island’s South Ferry chief operating officer.