Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has agreed to provide a certificate of necessity to allow an immediate vote at Tuesday’s county legislature meeting to reappoint Republican elections commissioner Nicholas LaLota, even though his term does not run out until year’s end.
Suffolk Republican Chairman John J. LaValle said he made the formal request to reappoint LaLota, who makes $144,620 a year, in a letter to the legislative clerk in a letter June 18, and the legislature must act on his recommendation within 30 days. He said he asked GOP caucus leader Tom Cilmi to ask Bellone for the emergency resolution since “the statute doesn’t recognize the legislature’s summer schedule.”
However, Bellone’s certificate of necessity would allow LaLota a quick vote and avoid facing questions in legislative committee. If the legislature does not act within the 30-day period, state law said the minority caucus can make the appointment.
Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said he was surprised at LaValle’s request, saying the appointments for GOP and Democratic commissioners are usually done jointly so lawmakers have a chance to question them both before a voting on new four-year terms. He said LaValle could send a second letter to extend the deadline.
Schaffer charged that the expedited treatment is part of a deal among Bellone, LaValle and LaLota that also involved the surrogate race. Schaffer claims the three have engineered Tara Scully’s Democratic primary candidacy for surrogate judge to undercut the agreement giving Conservative District Court Judge Marian Tinari the Conservative, Democratic and Independence Parties ballot lines in November. Tinari is former law clerk for the surrogate and wife of Frank Tinari, Suffolk Conservative chairman. Scully, a daughter of Deputy County Executive Peter Scully, has also filed petitions to run a GOP primary.
When Newsday sought a reaction from Bellone, his spokesman said there is no conection between emergency treatment for LaLota’s appointment and Scully’s candidacy. However, a short time later, Bellone issued a statement saying he is “proud to endorse” Scully for surrogate over Tinari, saying “political deal making has gone too far” and Scully is committed to reform.
Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) said an ongoing comptroller’s investigation of elections board time sheets should be completed before considering reappointments. Gregory last year raised questions about LaLota’s daytime attendance at Hofstra Law School while working full-time at the elections board. LaLota, an Annapolis graduate, said he works all the required hours at the board and what he’s learns in law school makes him more valuable to the county.
LaValle said there’s “no merit” to Democratic questions about LaLota’s studies, calling it “a smear campaign.” LaLota said he’s merits a new term because he’s reduce overtime and increasing scrutiny over board purchasing.
“I’d hope the Democrats on the legislature would want to support a commissioner who returned $2.4 million surplus over the last three years,” LaLota said. “Once the audit is complete, and my integrity can no longer be questioned, I think an apology from Presiding Officer Gregory and his Party’s boss is in order.”