"This is insane," James McGoldrick, a Huntington resident, told town board members during their last meeting.
McGoldrick's complaint centered on Supervisor Chad Lupinacci's decision to put forth one name — and one name only — to head a new town bureau that will handle enforcement of some town codes.
No one, including McGoldrick, has any quibble about Huntington becoming Long Island's first municipality to create a Bureau of Administrative Adjudication.
Yonkers has one. So does Buffalo, and Rochester had one before the other municipalities sought to put theirs into place.
Each municipality determines which code violations its bureau will hear — the idea being that local bureaus can resolve such issues faster than state courts. And that they can do it more cheaply.
But let's get back to Huntington, where, on a video of the meeting, spectators can be heard clapping during McGoldrick's remarks.
Lupinacci's choice to head the town's adjudication was Joshua Price, a Commack attorney.
Price, like Lupinacci, is a Republican.
Price was a Republican committeeman.
Price is Lupinacci's former chief of staff.
And Price once owned a building with Gene Cook, a council member who voted, with Republicans, to approve Price's appointment. In an interview last week, Cook, an Independence Party member, said he did not consider recusing himself from the vote or seeking an ethics opinion because he and Price had ended their business relationship years ago.
"This is just one person who is before us, who is very political and I have the same concerns because this is a new departure for us," Mark Cuthbertson, one of two minority Democrats on the board, told McGoldrick.
"This is … a bureau where we are going to be the code enforcer, we are going to be the prosecutor and we are going to be the judge, all wrapped into one," said Cuthbertson, who once faced Price in a town board election.
" … There used to be a level of separation here, where there would be a judge, the District Court, so people could feel like, OK, the town is coming down on me but I can make my case to the court," Cuthbertson said. "Now, it's all in one and you know as well as I do how cynical people are about town government."
Under state law that allowed Huntington to create the bureau, Lupinacci was well within his authority to forward a single candidate to the town board. Other municipalities have done the same.
In Syracuse, for example, Leah Witmer, director and chief administrative law judge of that city's adjudication bureau, was the sole candidate put forward by the mayor. "The city had an application period," Witmer said. "And I applied."
Before the appointment, Witmer had worked for the Legal Aid Society, where she handled issues including foreclosures and landlord-tenant disputes. She also had been on a city quality of life task force that included legal services agencies, law firms, defense attorneys, landlords and a variety of city and county agencies.
"It was a pretty diverse group of people," Witmer said — using a term she repeated in describing the group of lawyers she went on to hire as administrative judges.
Did Witmer ever work as the mayor's chief of staff?
"No," she said.
Was she ever a political committeewoman?
"Me?" she asked.
As the first director, it fell to Witmer to build the bureau. She said that included everything from choosing space and getting office supplies, to hiring the part-time judges who consider the cases.
She said the city had a fine schedule in place before she assumed her post, and procedures to determine which city agency made referrals and what kind of violations the bureau would handle.
In Huntington, the bureau will consider violations of town code — except Chapter 87, which covers building construction.
In short, a citation for planting bamboo too close to a curb, or having a dog in a no-dogs-allowed park, or speeding in a boat could end up before an adjudication judge — while a citation for lacking a certificate of occupancy on a home expansion would not.
Price, in an interview, said he has been meeting with town department heads and that he plans to have the bureau up and running by May.
Minimum and maximum fines for violations already have been set. As for rules that he plans to put into place for the bureau, "I believe they have to be posted for public opinion before they become rules of the court," Price said.
Asked about criticism of his political ties that were leveled during the town board meeting, Price had little comment.
"I am a judge now," he said. "I don't know that I should be commenting on political things and what politicians say."
Lupinacci, in an interview, defended Price's appointment, saying he was well qualified because of his work as an attorney handling code enforcement matters and his experience working in town government. He added that it is not unusual for elected judges to have had some connection to a political party.
The supervisor has a point: With cross-endorsements of judicial candidates increasingly the norm in Nassau and in Suffolk, political party leaders, in effect, already blunt voter choice by selecting judges who run on every major party line.
Price will hire the first administrative judges soon.
And Lupinacci, who early on in his administration was criticized for hiring only white Republicans, said that he would impress on Price, who will earn $60,000-a-year in the part-time post, the necessity of hiring a diverse group.
"The judges," Lupinacci said, "should reflect the community of Huntington."