Long Island Now

The latest community buzz and updates. | Sign up for community newsletters.

Latest posts from

Deborah S. Morris

Deborah is a native Long Islander. She started at Newsday in 1998 and has worked in all corners of the newsroom, from the art department to the copy desk. She has covered just about every shift, day, night and the all-important swing shift. She started her journalism career in televison and moved on to radio broadcasting, where she was an award-winning reporter, before coming to Newsday, a life-long career goal. She has happily covered the town of Huntington, a place that she says offers a rich bounty of stories ranging from political intrigue, interesting features or fascinating profiles of the people and places that make the place an All-American City.

Ethics board's Mark Cuthbertson decision questioned by Huntington residents

Mark Cuthbertson, a private attorney and longtime Huntington

Mark Cuthbertson, a private attorney and longtime Huntington councilman, whose largest single campaign donor is Gary Melius. (Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.)

Huntington residents have called out the town ethics board for clearing town board member Mark Cuthbertson of possible ethics violations.

During a town board meeting Tuesday dominated by complaints about violence -- particularly the Oct. 12 murder of Maggie Rosales in Huntington Station -- six residents raised questions about the handling of Cuthbertson's case.

Cuthbertson was the subject of an Oct. 5 Newsday story about his March 2012 sponsorship of and vote for a zoning change for construction of condominiums at Oheka Castle. Cuthbertson did not disclose that he was working with site owner Gary Melius and Melius' daughter, Kelly, on two court-appointed receiverships, which earned them more than $284,000 in fees and expenses.


RELATED INVESTIGATION: Judges broke rules in awarding work to Melius network


On Monday, the town's ethics board issued an opinion, concluding that Cuthbertson "had neither a duty to recuse nor disclose before the town board [zoning] meeting" that he and Melius had the appointments.

Commack resident Nancy Gamby questioned the speed with which the ethics board cleared Cuthbertson. "The ethics board usually takes six months to investigate anything, and now it came back in two weeks with a determination. I think there should have been a much deeper investigation . . . I have a problem that we have board-appointed people watching out for the ethics of the board."

Huntington resident Andrew Scanlon also questioned the ethics board's action. "It's cronyism, and it's corrupt," he said. "You [Cuthbertson] have violated the trust of us who voted for you and you need to step down."Cuthbertson said he sought a formal ethics board opinion because it was the only process available. "That's what I am mandated to do in the event there's a conflict," he said.

The ethics board is led by Howard Glickstein, a former law school dean who worked in the Justice Department and "has impeccable credentials, who is not going to risk his reputation for me," Cuthbertson said.

Glickstein said the board serves at the pleasure of the town board and would oblige if asked to step down. He acknowledged the board expedited the opinion. "The time it takes to issue an opinion varies. . . . We thought this was a serious issue and we had some responsibility to be responsive quickly rather than waiting."

One resident called on Town Supervisor Frank Petrone, and board members Susan Berland, Gene Cook and Tracey Edwards to ask for a county, state and federal investigation into Cuthbertson's actions.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Your town

Get the latest news and information about your community, all in one place.

What's this? Send us your feedback

Sign up for community newsletters

Choose a community

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Mark Cuthbertson, Huntington Town board member, cleared of conflict of interest in Melius vote

Mark Cuthbertson, a private attorney and longtime Huntington

Mark Cuthbertson, a private attorney and longtime Huntington councilman, whose largest single campaign donor is Gary Melius. (Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.)

Huntington's ethics board has found no "technical ethical violation" in a controversial vote town board member Mark Cuthbertson made in favor of a zone change that allowed a condominium development proposed by Oheka Castle owner Gary Melius.

Newsday reported Oct. 5 that Cuthbertson in March 2012 sponsored and voted for the zoning change for construction of condominiums at Oheka Castle, but did not disclose that he was working with Melius and his daughter on two court-appointed receiverships. The appointments on commercial properties in foreclosure earned Cuthbertson, Gary Melius and Kelly Melius more than $284,000 in fees and expenses, court filings show.

The ethics board opinion was detailed in a letter to Cuthbertson Monday and concludes he "had neither a duty to recuse nor disclose prior to the town board meeting" that he and Melius had the receivership appointments.


RELATED INVESTIGATION: Judges broke rules in awarding work to Melius network


In a statement on the town's website, Cuthbertson said he had previously received an informal opinion from James Matthews, the ethics board's counsel, "indicating that I did not have a conflict of interest under the circumstances presented in that article." Cuthbertson wrote that he had sought a formal opinion from the ethics board.

"As reflected in the opinion of the Ethics Board, my actions were in conformance with the applicable ethics code," Cuthbertson wrote in the online posting.

The ethics board noted that "should a similar situation occur in the future, the better course would be simply to place a statement on the record relative to the court appointment."

Cuthbertson said in his online post that he agreed with the board that "while no conflict existed and no disclosure was required, it would have been more prudent to disclose the fact that a judge had appointed me to be a receiver on the same matter in which Mr. Melius had been appointed a property manager."

The ethics board is composed of chairman Howard A. Glickstein, Ralph Crafa and Louis C. England, all of who are lawyers, and Stanley Heller, a retired certified public accountant. Crafa recused himself from the review.

Cuthbertson said he did not disclose the relationship before voting for the zoning change because he had only a "parallel relationship" with Melius. He said it was a judge's decision, not his, to appoint Melius and his daughter.

The ethics board's formal opinion took issue with Newsday's report, which cited the town ethics code as specifically barring town board members from exercising any discretion on a matter before the town that involves a person or business entity "they have been connected with during the previous five years."

Hofstra law professor Monroe Freedman told Newsday at the time that Cuthbertson's failure to disclose his ties to Melius clearly violated the town code.

The board wrote that Newsday's article "omits the language from the code limiting disqualifying relationships to those involving clients," and that based on information reviewed by the ethics board, that two businesses connected with Melius, and Melius himself, were not clients of Cuthbertson, were not a firm or a professional association connected with him or of any other professions with which he shared a business relationship.

"We rendered this opinion after many, many hours of deliberations and reviewing documents," Glickstein said Monday.

Town Supervisor Frank Petrone said, "Mark has always been extremely particular and very careful with any potential conflict." Town board members Susan Berland and Tracey Edwards could not be reached for comment.

An online petition with 155 signatures is circulating in Huntington, demanding that Cuthbertson step down from the elected position he has held since 1998. The petition also seeks a federal investigation into Cuthbertson's acts and an investigation into Huntington Town government, including the zoning board of appeals and board of ethics.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Your town

Get the latest news and information about your community, all in one place.

What's this? Send us your feedback

Sign up for community newsletters

Choose a community

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Jupiter Hammon home in Huntington may land historic status

The Town of Huntington is considering placing a

The Town of Huntington is considering placing a historic designation on the last home of Jupiter Hammon, the first African-American writer to be published in the United States. The home is pictured on Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. (Credit: Barry Sloan)

The Town of Huntington is considering placing a historic designation on the last home of Jupiter Hammon, the first African-American writer to be published in the United States.

Hammon's home -- at 73 West Shore Rd. in Huntington -- was built between 1790 and 1795, and purchased by his great-nephew in 1799. The 1800 census lists Hammon as head of the household, Robert C. Hughes, the town's historian, said.

"It's a house the preservation commission has had its eye on for a while for its historic and architectural merit," Hughes said. "It was the last home of Jupiter Hammon, which makes it even more important."


MORE: newsday.com/huntington | Sign up for community newsletters
SOCIAL: @dsvmorris | @NewsdayTowns | Google+
SEARCH: 2012 Huntington payroll


The home is now privately owned and being rented.

The owner has agreed to keep the home intact, even if he develops other parts of the property, Hughes said.

To receive the designation, the home must meet certain criteria, such as possessing special character for historic or aesthetic interests; be connected with a historic person and have a unique location, or singular physical characteristic, landscape or streetscape.

The town's historic preservation commission is making the recommendation for the designation of the building, which also has some architectural significance. "It's a working-class dwelling that shows some evidence of a combination of construction techniques using English and Dutch [styles]," Hughes said. "It speaks to the evolution of Huntington in the early settlement that this was really an international area."

Hammon was born into slavery in nearby Lloyd Neck in October 1711.

His first poem was published in 1761. Titled "An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ with Penitential Crienes," it was published with this note: "Composed by Jupiter Hammon, a Negro belonging to Mr. Lloyd of Queen's Village, on Long Island, the 25th of December, 1760."

He published three other poems and three essays, and is considered one of the founders of African-American literature.

A public hearing on the measure has been scheduled during the Oct. 21 monthly town board meeting, which opens at 6 p.m. at Town Hall, 100 Main St. If approved, the designation would include some sort of signage and restrictive covenants on changes to the home.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Your town

Get the latest news and information about your community, all in one place.

What's this? Send us your feedback

Sign up for community newsletters

Choose a community

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Firms 'open their hearts,' pave Huntington Station VFW lot

Nathan Hale VFW Post 1469 in Huntington Station,

Nathan Hale VFW Post 1469 in Huntington Station, seen on Nov. 23, 2012. (Credit: Ian J. Stark)

The Nathan Hale VFW Post 1469 in Huntington Station was the beneficiary of the generosity of some local business owners recently when its parking lot was paved for free.

According to Dominick Feeney Sr., president of the post's board of directors, the lot had not been paved in more than 50 years. Town of Huntington board member Gene Cook said post members reached out to him last spring asking for help.

"I was happy to see what I could do," Cook said. "I looked at the lot, put some calls out and not one person I reached out to said no."


More: newsday.com/huntingtonstation | Huntington photos
On Twitter: @dsvmorris | @LI_Now


Cook said he reached out to Farmingdale-based Posillico Inc., Kings Park-based Pioneer Asphalt as well as Power Crush Inc., Greenlawn-based EZ Sewer and Drain, Westbury-based Commercial Concrete and Wantagh-based MGM Seal Coating, who worked together to donate the materials, labor and equipment for the paving and striping of the parking lot.

"Right from the get-go Councilman Eugene Cook did a great job coordinating the local business owners to complete the paving of our lot," Feeney said.

Cook said the lot, which is on West Pulaski Road, took about a week to repave and would have cost the post about $72,000.

"This would never have happened, if our local small business owners didn't open their hearts to our veterans community," Cook said.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Your town

Get the latest news and information about your community, all in one place.

What's this? Send us your feedback

Sign up for community newsletters

Choose a community

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Court dismisses part of Huntington Y drowning lawsuit

The Huntington YMCA in Huntington Village is pictured

The Huntington YMCA in Huntington Village is pictured on Nov. 23, 2012. (Credit: Ian J. Stark)

Travel deals

The State Appellate Division has thrown out part of a lawsuit filed against the Huntington YMCA in the 2008 drowning death of a Greenlawn teen.

The court ruled punitive damages could be taken out of Raymond Dawson v. YMCA of Long Island Inc., et al. The wrongful death and pain and suffering claims can continue, the court said in the decision handed down last month.

YMCA spokesman Mark L. Smith said in a statement that while the agency mourns the loss of Marc Dawson, "the Appellate Division has recognized that there is no basis for punitive damages in this suit, and we believe that it will ultimately be found that the Y and its employees acted appropriately before, during and after this tragic event."


MORE: newsday.com/townofhuntington | Free community newsletters
TWITTER: @dsvmorris | @NewsdayTowns


Michael Perrotta, the Huntington-based lawyer representing Dawson's family, said the decision on punitive damages "has nothing to do with the negligence of the Y and its employees" in the drowning.

"I would be surprised if a jury one day doesn't find the Y grossly negligent in causing the death of Marc Dawson," Perrotta said Thursday.

Dawson, a 17-year-old senior at Harborfields High School in Greenlawn and a lifeguard at the YMCA, was on a break on Feb. 18, 2008, and apparently practicing for Navy SEAL training in a 4-foot-deep lap pool when a lifeguard noticed him unconscious at the bottom of the water. He died a week later.

Raymond Dawson, the teen's father, announced plans to sue in the fall of 2008. In March 2013, the State Supreme Court denied a motion by the defendants to dismiss the complaint.

Last month's decision says that the defendants -- in their request for dismissal -- submitted evidence "demonstrating that Marc's actions in taking several deep breaths and then deliberately attempting to remain underwater in the pool as long as possible were the sole proximate cause of his death . . .

"Given that Marc was a certified lifeguard, and based on 'plain common sense,' he should have known that these actions posed a significant danger," the decision says.

The decision also said, however, that triable issues were raised on whether the defendants acted with negligence, specifically in their alleged failure to coax Dawson to surface earlier and their alleged failure to physically remove him from the pool sooner. The decision said the move to dismiss the complaint was properly denied.

The defendants also include two teen lifeguards on duty, an aquatics coordinator and an adult lifeguard who were on the premises.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Your town

Get the latest news and information about your community, all in one place.

What's this? Send us your feedback

Sign up for community newsletters

Choose a community

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Residents sue to block planned senior development in East Northport

A change of zone, legal notice sign for

A change of zone, legal notice sign for a public hearing held in June still hangs in front of the property at 544 Elwood Rd. in East Northport on the afternoon of July 27, 2014. (Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara)

A group of Huntington Town residents has filed a lawsuit aimed at stopping the Seasons at Elwood, the age-restricted housing development recently approved for a dairy farm in East Northport.

The suit was filed last week in state Supreme Court in Riverhead on behalf of Lauri Holt of Huntington, and Lee and Ann Itzler, Richard Apollonia, Vincent Modica, David Prestipino and Ronald Starrantino, all of East Northport.

None of the plaintiffs could be reached for comment, but their Elwood-based lawyer, Wendi L. Herman, said their goal is to nullify the town's approval of the project. "Right now, our contention with the town is that what they did was insufficient and faulty in granting the zone change," she said.


PHOTOS: Around Northport | Historic Northport
VIDEO: A tour of Northport Harbor
MORE: Village elections


The defendants are the town, its board and planning board; developer BK Elwood LLC and the Oak Tree Dairy Farm Inc., which owned the site of the planned 256-unit community for people 55 and up.

Huntington Town spokesman A.J. Carter said the town is not commenting on the litigation.

Last month, the town board voted 4 to 1 to approve a zoning change that will allow the homes in 43 multiunit structures on the 37.05-acre site.

The suit alleges that when the town rezoned the land to allow for the Seasons, it broke from its outline for what should be done with the land. In the town's comprehensive plan published in 2008, Herman said Huntington called for the site to be developed for low-density residential use.

The lawsuit also alleges the defendants failed to prepare a full environmental impact statement and failed to consider "significant adverse environmental impacts," including a soil management plan.

The suit also alleges that because the dairy had ceased operation, it should have reverted to zoning for single-family homes.

"Their [the town's] position was the Seasons of Elwood was better than a working dairy," Herman said. "The comparison is flawed, because what they should look at is the Seasons compared to what the dairy farm is actually zoned for, which is single-family homes."

Jan Burman, president of Garden City-based Engel Burman, parent of BK Elwood LLC, said he did not have enough detail about the suit to comment.

Hari Singh, president of Oak Tree Dairy, said the dairy is named in the suit but the allegations are not aimed at the dairy. "As I understand it, they are challenging how the town handles things administratively," he said. "I am not in a position to comment on how the town manages these decisions."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Vote

Is there enough housing for seniors on Long Island?

Yes No

advertisement | advertise on newsday

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Your town

Get the latest news and information about your community, all in one place.

What's this? Send us your feedback

Sign up for community newsletters

Choose a community

advertisement | advertise on newsday