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North Hempstead seeks new zoning attorney to replace Gerard Terry

Former North Hempstead Town Democratic Party leader Gerard

Former North Hempstead Town Democratic Party leader Gerard Terry on Jan. 3, 2016. Credit: YouTube / North Hempstead Town

North Hempstead officials are searching for a legal adviser to the town zoning board of appeals after the town ended its relationship with Gerard Terry, the former board attorney and Democratic Party chairman.

Newsday reported last month that Terry held six taxpayer-funded jobs, including two for North Hempstead, while amassing nearly $1.4 million in federal and state tax debts. Terry resigned as party chairman after Newsday’s report, and North Hempstead officials said they would not renew Terry’s contracts with the town.

Terry’s annual contract, capped at $66,000, expired at the end of 2015.

Town Attorney Elizabeth Botwin said a request for proposals is expected to be released this week for an attorney with “specialized expertise in zoning and land use.”

Currently, Botwin said “the town attorney’s office is acting as counsel to the zoning board.” Legal advice from an outside firm or lawyer could give the town “backup as we need it.”

It was unclear if Chief Deputy Town Attorney Mitchell Pitnick or any of the eight lawyers in the town attorney’s office would continue to advise the board at meetings, where residential and commercial building requests are handled.

“It is difficult for us to predict what sort of additional legal assistance we need on an ongoing basis, so we have the availability of the advice, and expertise, and we will tap into it as best determined,” Botwin said.

Other towns on Long Island have used in-house staff to work with their zoning boards, including Islip, Babylon, Hempstead and Southampton.

Others towns rely on outside counsel. In Oyster Bay, Elisabetta Coschignano, the wife of councilman Chris Coschignano, is the town’s $17,370-a-year zoning board attorney. Huntington Town pays an attorney, John Bennett, a $40,000 annual salary to work as the board’s legal counsel.

Terry’s earliest contract with the town was a $36,000 annual contract in 2004 when Jon Kaiman was the town supervisor, records show. The contract increased to $54,000 in 2009 then to a $60,000 annual maximum in 2012. It was set with a $66,000 maximum annual contract in 2014 when Judi Bosworth became supervisor.

Terry made nearly $74,000 from the town in 2015 for his work as zoning board attorney and as special counselor to the town attorney.

Bosworth said in an interview last month that Terry “was doing a good job” when she took office in 2014.

For the future, Botwin said, “we’ll take advantage of the response” and “see how things will play out.” She added that town officials are “keeping our options open” and are “trying to be prepared for any eventuality.”

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