Frayed relationships exposed in Smithtown

Smithtown Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio

Smithtown Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (Credit: Handout, 2011)

Travel deals

Increasingly fragile cracks in the tenuous relationship among members of the all-Republican Smithtown Town Board exploded into public view this week.

During a town board work session Tuesday, Supervisor Patrick Vecchio accused councilmen Edward Wehrheim and Robert Creighton of shutting him out of meetings to discuss a proposed assisted living facility. And Vecchio accused town attorney John Zollo, also a Republican, of meddling in town affairs.

"I find it insulting and not good government. It's wrong," Vecchio said. "I'm truly tired of these separate meetings."

Wehrheim and Creighton acknowledged meeting with a real estate broker about the proposal but denied it was secret. Zollo said Vecchio was "misinformed."

"I don't know where he was coming from or why he was so angry," Wehrheim said Wednesday in an interview.

Vecchio has also clashed with Wehrheim and Creighton over issues such as spending and appointments. The councilmen -- who party insiders see as potential successors to Vecchio -- last year supported the appointment of Zollo, their political ally. Vecchio was the lone dissenter when the town board appointed Zollo last year.

Vecchio, Long Island's longest serving supervisor, has not announced whether he will seek re-election to the post he has held since 1978. His term ends in December.

At issue at Tuesday's meeting was one last Thursday that included Wehrheim, Creighton and St. James Realtor Eric Neitzel to discuss the proposed Whisper Landing assisted living facility in Smithtown. Creighton and Wehrheim defended the meeting, which Wehrheim said lasted about 10 minutes at Town Hall. He said there was no intent to leave Vecchio in the dark.

"We, as elected officials, have a responsibility to bring economic development to the town, and any developer has a right to have a meeting with any of us," Wehrheim said.

Creighton said Vecchio's comments were "way out of line." Councilmen Thomas McCarthy and Kevin Malloy, who did not meet with Neitzel, said they disagreed with Vecchio's complaints. "I was disappointed in him," Malloy said. "He was very aggressive with no point."

Wehrheim said after meeting with Neitzel, he and Creighton discussed Whisper Landing with Zollo and town planning director Frank DeRubeis. On Tuesday, Vecchio called that meeting "insidious."

"I just think things are happening in the town attorney's office without the knowledge of the town board," he said. "I don't know why the town attorney is involved in every aspect of town government."

Zollo responded: "I think you're taking it out of context, and you're overreacting to it."

Neitzel said Wednesday he had met with Creighton and Wehrheim because they were in their offices when he visited Town Hall. Of Vecchio, he said, "Nobody's trying to keep him or anybody else out of the loop here."

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