Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
When the Suffolk County Planning Commission earlier this month convened in Islip Town, David Calone, the chairman who has led the 15-member body for the past five years, was MIA.
Calone, 38, a venture capitalist and former prosecutor, was absent because he had moved from Babylon to Setauket, making him ineligible to continue serving as Babylon's representative on the commission. He moved earlier this month so his wife could be closer to her job as minister at Setauket Presbyterian Church.
"I don't think some commissioners were even aware why he was missing, and thought he was just traveling on business," said Adrienne Esposito, the commission's first vice chair, who filled in for Calone.
"He brings a balance that the commission needs," said developer Michael Kelly, commission second vice chairman and head of the Long Island Builders Institute. "Adrienne is great on environmental issues, and I'm good on building and development but Dave is the one who can bridge the gap."
One commission member, William Schoolman, felt so strongly about Calone's skills that he has resigned his seat so Calone can stay on.
What has made Calone stand out is that he has led the commission, once dominated by planning expert Lee Koppelman, into a new era. The membership is more diverse and activist than local planning board members who once filled the commission and who were more concerned about where to put curb cuts for driveways than dealing with regional planning issues.
The commission is updating the county's master plan and streamlining its own procedures to concentrate on more regional issues. Calone and his members have developed model solar and wind codes for Suffolk's towns, and they are developing universal design standards for new housing. Calone also has pressed to find ways to finance new sewers -- a key for both affordable housing and bringing in new business -- and undertaken efforts to deal with issues such as stormwater management and downtown parking.
"He has a can-do attitude, he sets goals, takes steps to implement them and then makes sure we all do our part," said Esposito, head of Concerned Citizens for the Environment, a nonprofit advocacy group.
The problem for Calone was that there were no vacancies in the three at-large spots on the commission, and the Brookhaven Town post was filled. County Executive Steve Bellone filled the last open at-large spot last spring when he named Kevin Gershowitz, whose family owns Gershow Recycling, to the commission.
Schoolman took care of the problem when he stepped down last Monday.
"The way he runs things and the mountain of detailed work he put into every meeting, I just thought it was vital to keep his leadership," said Schoolman, who owns Classic Coach Cos. and Hampton Luxury Liner in Bohemia. "It's just the right thing to do."
Schoolman, of Setauket, the panel's only transit expert, said he hoped Bellone will consider reappointing him when another spot opens up.
Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider also praised Calone's leadership and said a resolution naming him to Schoolman's vacancy will be filed with the county legislature.
Legis. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon) said he sees no problem with Calone's confirmation.
"He's a great regional planner and a sewer man," Horsley said. "He has my support and would be an asset to any town he represents."