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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Suffolk legislators’ inaction keeps public in dark

Democrats in Suffolk’s legislature last week killed a motion to create a special committee, with subpoena powers, to review the “operations, policies, practices and procedures” at the county police department and the sheriff and district attorney’s offices.

County employees at all three operations have come under scrutiny by federal investigators.

James Burke, the former top uniformed officer in the Suffolk police department, has been charged with beating a suspect and orchestrating a cover-up, and is said to be considering a plea deal. He has pleaded not guilty.

Suffolk County Conservative Party chairman Edward Walsh is slated to begin trial next month on theft of government funds and wire fraud for what prosecutors allege was an illegal billing scheme at his job at the sheriff’s department. He has pleaded not guilty.

Meanwhile, sources tell Newsday’s Robert Kessler, federal authorities also are investigating the county’s top anti-corruption prosecutor, along with three investigators from Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota’s office.

None have been charged with any crime.

Still, that’s an awful lot for a county. And it begs a nagging question:

Where were Suffolk lawmakers — or for that matter County Executive Steve Bellone — when the alleged shenanigans were going on?

And could a legislative committee delving into such matters, even so late in the game, dig out enough to make a difference?

Too bad Suffolk residents won’t know.

Because the legislature’s Public Safety Committee voted 7-2 last week to strike a proposal to create a special committee from future meeting agendas.

Why? Democrats in the legislature say they don’t want to interfere with the Burke and Walsh cases, or any ongoing federal investigations.

Put simply, lawmakers, who did nothing as scandals unfolded in the past, last week decided to do nothing in the present. And by removing the motion from later agendas, lawmakers ensured that nothing significant would be done in the future.

All of which keeps the scandals out of sight, and thus out of voters’ minds — at least until U.S. prosecutors finish their work. It’s the kind of inaction — which these days seems all too common across Long Island — that keeps corruption thriving.

DuWayne Gregory, the legislature’s presiding officer, defending Suffolk lawmakers, said in an interview Wednesday that “it’s not that we want to do nothing. We are trying to do something.”

And what might that “something” be?

Gregory, a Democrat, said lawmakers from both parties are meeting to consider their options.

Lawmakers could, for example, end up toughening up the county’s whistleblower law, he said — likely in recognition of assertions from police personnel, included in federal documents, that they felt forced into participating in an alleged coverup involving Burke because they felt they had no safe place to report.

And the legislature could consider other actions as well, he said.

Gregory said he has reached out to federal officials — thus far with no response — because he does not want to interfere with their investigation.

Still, it’s maddening even now that outsiders are doing the kind of review that Suffolk officials could — and should — have done themselves.

Want to know what happened in Suffolk?

At some point, residents will know — because of the federal government, rather than their own.

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