Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy had 11 people representing him Wednesday during an 11-minute meeting of the legislature's special committee examining operations of the county Ethics Commission.

For months now, Levy, as per his usual style, has aggressively defended himself against the suggestion by some critics that he did something wrong by filing the state financial disclosure form and not the county form.

But the ongoing controversy really isn't about paperwork. Or about dueling legal arguments. It's about transparency - the kind voters are demanding in a political world gone mad.

It is acceptable for Suffolk voters to know all that county law allows them to know about the 650 or so Suffolk employees covered by the disclosure law.

It's a way to keep things out in the open. A way to try to inoculate against pay-for-play and other shenanigans that has put some local elected officials on the wrong side of the law in recent years.

Levy, who in 1988 voted in favor of the disclosure law, said in an interview yesterday that he has nothing to hide. And he chafed at questions that he said indicated even a whiff of any impression otherwise.

Levy also repeated earlier assertions that he filed the state form in place of the county form because he believed he had that option. "I followed the law," he said. "I have now [by filing state and, later, county forms] filed more information than any other Suffolk County official. You can't fault a man for doing that."

OK.

Is the legislative committee out, as Levy says, on a "politically motivated witch-hunt?" Let's say it is. Are the committee's actions fueled by personal animosity between Levy and some lawmakers? Let's say it's that, too.

After all, Suffolk County, where politics often get down and dirty, didn't earn the moniker "The Wild Wild East" for nothing.

Some lawmakers have charged that Levy said he would use information they put on their own disclosure forms against them. Well, that's the kind of politicking that usually stays in the backroom.

The main attraction is the county law, which, to my own reading, is clear: Elected officials and county employees covered by the measure must file county financial disclosure forms.

Period.

Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota - whose office in June issued a subpoena for records related to the Ethics Commission - does. And so do about 650 other employees.

During the interview, Levy also chafed at questions that he said contained any suggestion that he sought one form over the other in an attempt to hide anything.

"There's nothing to that at all," he said. "It's like you have a choice of the short form and the long form for your taxes and you chose one over the other."

Levy said he is considering a measure to add some of the information required on the state form to the county form.

Meanwhile, the legislative committee's work will go on.

Come spring, however, when county ethics forms are due, Levy said he plans to file, just like everybody else.

Good.