The Suffolk Legislature confirmed environmental consultant Errol Kitt as a member of the county planning commission Tuesday, clearing the way for him to vote Wednesday in a rare contested election for county planning commission chairman.
Lawmakers approved the appointment on a 13-5 vote. The vote came after Bellone administration aides disclosed they have asked the county board of ethics for ruling on whether Kitt is eligible to serve on the commission since the firm where he works, GEI Consultants, has contracts with the county.
Kitt’s is a GEI vice president and head of the Long Island office. County ethics rules bar members of county boards from working doing work for county agencies they are involved with if they also have an ownership interest in the company that amounts to 5 percent or $25,000, whichever is less.
Kitt said that he is one of about 200 people who own shares in the firm. The shares are worth more than $200,000 but constitute less than one percent of the stock value, he said. Kitt also said he would also recuse himself if any client appears before the planning commission.
While many legislators praised Kitt’s credentials, some wanted a ruling from the ethics board before moving forward. “I’m not comfortable with voting today.” said Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley).
Sarah Lansdale, county planning director, warned that the last time the commission sought a similar opinion it took nine months to obtain a ruling, which she said cleared the member to participate.
Legis. Louis D’Amaro said there was no need to wait because the work GEI has done was not directly connected to the planning commission. One $100,000 contract is with public works for design a ladder for fish to go upstream. Their other work is for the county land bank.
The county has an agreement with the land bank, a local development agency, allowing them to receive services from several county departments, including the planning. GEI has made $15,816 so far doing environmental appraisals on three toxic sites since last year. Lansdale said the county is using a handful of consultants to do appraisals on what could be as many as 55 sites.
Legislative Counsel George Nolan said of the ethics opinion: It is always good to play it safe and protect yourself.”
Kitt and another planning commission appointee, Keith Morehead, chief operating officer of Shelter Island’s South Ferry, who faced no opposition, could be swing votes in deciding whether developer Michael Kelly, who has been planning commission vice chairman, or commission member Jennifer Casey, a Huntington attorney, will replace former chairman David Calone, who stepped down late last year to run for Congress.