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EPCAL complaint may result in appointment of special counsel

Riverhead Town Board members Catherine Kent and Tim

Riverhead Town Board members Catherine Kent and Tim Hubbard, top right, debate whether Hubbard and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio should excuse themselves from a vote next week on whether to grant Riverhead’s ethics board outside legal counsel on a complaint made against Giglio related to a pending $40 million land sale at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.  Credit: Newsday / Jean-Paul Salamanca

The Riverhead Town Board will vote Tuesday on whether to allow outside legal counsel to advise the town’s Board of Ethics regarding a complaint linked to the pending $40 million EPCAL land sale.

Board members will consider appointing attorney David H. Besso of Bay Shore-based Long Tuminello LLP to act as special counsel.

A local civic group, The Coalition Against EPCAL Housing, filed a complaint on April 17 against Councilwoman Jodi Giglio after she revealed that she met in March with representatives from Calverton Aviation and Technology — the venture group behind the pending sale — to ask them questions about the deal and their proposal.

The civic group cited the “appearance of impropriety” and wants Giglio to recuse herself from further proceedings on the deal.

The town board is awaiting the ethics board ruling before voting on the Calverton deal.

The ethics board has asked for outside counsel to avoid a conflict of interest. Deputy Town Attorney Erik Howard, the son-in-law of Deputy Town Supervisor Tim Hubbard, is the town attorney assigned to work with them, according to board members.

Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said Friday that she felt the request would be “appropriate in this case” if that’s what the board wants.

Hubbard said Thursday that he supports the appointment of outside counsel “who doesn’t have any dog in the game” to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent questioned whether Giglio and Hubbard should be allowed to weigh in on the matter due to their proximity to the issue. Hubbard said that idea was “ludicrous.”

Giglio suggested the town enact a policy to use outside counsel whenever an ethics complaint is filed against a town board member.

“It’s very awkward to be going into the town attorney’s office . . . asking about code enforcement issues . . . without it looking like I might be talking to about the ethics complaint against me,” Giglio said.

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