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New town hires may upset Brookhaven bipartisan peace

Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko will soon replace a handful of town officials in a series of moves that insiders say threatens to disrupt the uneasy peace between the town's Democratic and Republican factions.

The town's current attorney, Karen Wilutis, communications director Kevin Molloy and deputy parks commissioner Carol Bissonette, all of whom were appointed by the town board when Republicans held the majority, will be out of their jobs as soon as next week, several town sources said.

Lesko, a Democrat, plans to fill those posts with political allies who will be among at least five new officials hired to take over a host of positions in town hall, sources said.

One of Lesko's planned appointments - Matthew Miner, a deputy county health chief, slated to be chief of operations - will become the town's highest-paid appointed official at $147,000, sources said.

Lesko said the appointments are "budget neutral" and are aimed at increasing efficiency in town hall. But Jesse Garcia, the town's Republican chairman, said the moves run counter to Lesko's campaign promise of bipartisanship.

"He talks about extending a hand, but he's smacking it away," Garcia said.

Lesko, who won office in a March special election and was re-elected last month, earned praise from Republicans when he chose GOP Councilwoman Kathy Walsh as his deputy supervisor in March.

Lesko disputed Garcia's charge, citing the fact that Miner served in a number of town positions under former Republican Supervisor John J. LaValle.

"We're going with the bipartisan theme," Lesko said.

But the impending hirings and firings could poison relations between the parties, said Stanley Klein, a professor of political science at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University.

"It does away with the honeymoon," Klein said. "When one of the parties to the marriage decides to be the boss, the marriage is on the rocks."

The new hires will include former Brookhaven and current Islip Town attorney Robert Quinlan, who will take over for Wilutis, sources said. Gretchen Penn, a political action coordinator for the Civil Service Employees Association, will replace Molloy, sources said.

Other pending additions include recently defeated Democratic county Legis. Brian Beedenbender as Lesko's chief of staff and Stacey Epifane, a former aide to outgoing Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, as deputy chief of staff, sources said.

Quinlan will make about $115,000 per year, Beedenbender about $107,000, Epifane about $80,000 and Penn about $90,000, sources said.

Attempts to reach Quinlan, Penn and Miner were not successful. Beedenbender said he considers his appointment to be about "governing, not politics." Epifane said she looks forward to working on "good-government projects."

Molloy declined to comment. Attempts to reach Wilutis and Bissonette were not successful.

Lesko said other changes could be on the way. Many of the moves could be made official at the town's Jan. 7 organizational meeting, he said.

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