A tree-debris removal service slated to receive more than $40 million from Nassau County for Sandy cleanup has threatened to sue the county and Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton for defamation and libel after she questioned its bills during a legislative meeting.
DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) referred to the letter from a lawyer for Looks Great Services of Huntington as the county legislature on Monday considered appropriating an additional $98 million to pay for Sandy expenses. Nassau is hoping the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse most of the costs, which are expected to total $213 million.
"I am totally amazed that they would have the nerve to suggest such a thing," DeRiggi-Whitton said. "This is to deter me from doing my job, to not be able to ask questions. The day I feel intimidated from doing my job is the day I am going to leave."
The Jan. 14 letter from attorney Eileen Powers of Riverhead said Looks Great's expected claim stems from comments that DeRiggi-Whitton made before the legislature earlier this month during a discussion of Looks Great's work orders and contracts with the county.
"The statements attributed to Ms. Diriggi-Whitton [sic] are wholly without merit and appear to have been designed to interfere with the planned contracts," Powers wrote.
Neither Looks Great nor Powers could be reached Monday.
DeRiggi-Whitton has said in legislative meetings that she is unhappy with Looks Great, which chopped down 111 trees in the Welwyn Preserve in Glen Cove after Sandy. The county acknowledged that a Looks Great crew that was paid for each tree it cut was mistakenly sent into the preserve but was quickly replaced by a team paid for time worked. County officials said only dangerous trees were taken down.
In general, lawmakers are immune from lawsuits over statements made during public legislative sessions.
County Attorney John Ciampoli acknowledged receiving the letter. "We will await the notice of claim and be guided accordingly, based on what's in the notice of claim," he said.
DeRiggi-Whitton also complained that she has yet to get the information she requested about the additional $98 million appropriation. She abstained from Monday's vote, which passed the GOP-controlled legislature 18-0. Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick) was absent.
Also Monday, opponents of a Republican plan to redraw Nassau's 19 legislative districts complained that the proposal hurts minority communities and breaks up other areas that have common interests. The Nassau United Redistricting Coalition, made up of nonprofit community advocates, said its own proposal is fairer and asked the county legislature to hold at least four meetings before a plan is drafted.
Legislative Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said the legislature would consider the coalition's plan and "would follow the law." The deadline for the legislature to vote on a redistricting plan is March 5. The legislature's last scheduled meeting before that is Feb. 25.
With Sid Cassese