Smithtown board boots town attorney, planning board chair

John Zollo, the former Smithtown town attorney, was John Zollo, the former Smithtown town attorney, was not reappointed at a Jan. 7, 2014 town board meeting in a 3-2 vote. Zollo shown following that meeting, discusses his disappointment. (Jan. 7, 2014) Photo Credit: Newsday/Lauren R. Harrison

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Smithtown's town board Tuesday stripped its town attorney and planning board chairman of their posts, in a move some cited as "political payback."

Former town attorney John Zollo was effectively ousted in a 3-2 vote that appointed former deputy town attorney Matthew Jakubowski as lead counsel for the town. Planning board chairman John Gee also lost his post in a 3-2 vote that named current board member James Ehrhardt as chairman. Newcomer Conrad A. Chayes Sr. was added to the five-member planning board.

Fred Calandrino was appointed as deputy town attorney on a 3-2 vote, replacing Jakubowski. Councilmen Edward Wehrheim and Robert Creighton dissented on all four decisions.

"I don't think that anybody should be allowed to be dismissed for political reasons," said Creighton, adding that Gee and Zollo supported his unsuccessful bid for town supervisor.

Gee could not immediately be reached for comment.

Wehrheim said Zollo "has done an excellent job" and under his leadership most of the town's claims were completed "in house . . . and that has saved the taxpayers about $285,000 over the last two years."

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Zollo, who worked as town attorney from 1992 to 2002 and again starting in 2012, thanked the board publicly for serving the town but said after the meeting that he was disappointed by the "unexpected" decision.

"Supervisor [Patrick] Vecchio, after the election, called me in the office . . . and said, 'In politics you make choices. Those who make the wrong choices suffer the consequences,' and that's what it's about," Zollo said. " . . . This is political payback by Supervisor Vecchio."

Vecchio defended himself Tuesday. "As a member of the board, I needed unvarnished advice, not one that would be tainted by his support of a member of the town board who ran in a primary against me."

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Vecchio said he also had concerns about Zollo's past clients and the potential conflicts that posed for the town.

Newly installed Councilwoman Lynne C. Nowick, a former Suffolk County legislator, said she voted to appoint Jakubowski because, "I wanted to have a new start in 2014. I'm new. I felt the town attorney's office, it's time for a new start in there."

Of Gee, Vecchio said that the "planning board has tended to be political. . . . I think this ought to be a message."

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