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Suffolk hires lawyers to backstop county bond counsel

Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr., speaks

Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr., speaks to reporters in Centereach on June 30, 2017. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Suffolk County, which always has used bond lawyers when borrowing money on Wall Street, is adding another law firm to review whether bond counsel discloses everything that could be material about the state of county finances.

County Attorney Dennis Brown got approval from the three-member waiver committee to authorize the hiring of Hawkins Delafield & Wood as county disclosure counsel. That was in addition to bond counsel Harris Beach, which has worked for Suffolk since 2012 and also was approved for renewal.

Brown estimated Hawkins Delafield would receive between $10,000 and $17,500 for every time the county issues bonds or does short-term borrowing, such as issuing tax-anticipation notes. Brown said fees for the law firm, expected to total $50,000 to $87,500 a year, would be added to the cost of the borrowings.

Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. said Hawkins Delafield's hiring was prompted by a change in federal Securities and Exchange Commission reporting requirements adopted in February.

Kennedy said he has also been unhappy with Harris Beach. Kennedy, a Republican who is running for county executive against Democratic incumbent Steve Bellone this fall, called Harris Beach “Steve Bellone’s firm, not ours.” Tom Garry, a Harris Beach partner, is vice chairman of the Nassau County Democratic Committee.

“We have not gotten the extent of representation that I would like to have if I was able to choose,” said Kennedy.

Deputy County Executive Peter Scully said Harris Beach, “is one of the most respected law firms in the state, and is also well recognized nationally. Once again, comptroller Kennedy is making clear that his actions are all based on partisan politics.”

Kennedy and Harris Beach have clashed over the comptroller’s issuance of  1099 income tax forms related to grants connected to high tech residential septic systems.

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