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Gene Cook sought appointment of partner Josh Price to key Huntington Town boards without disclosing relationship

Josh Price speaks at the Huntington Republican Committee's

Josh Price speaks at the Huntington Republican Committee's Nomination Convention at the Thatched Cottage in Centerport on May 30, 2013. Credit: Daniel Brennan

Huntington Town Board member Gene Cook asked that his friend and business partner be placed on two powerful town boards without disclosing their relationship.

In July, Cook offered a resolution to appoint attorney Josh Price of Commack to the board of assessment review. The measure failed to get support and was not voted on.

"It was a novice mistake," Cook said Wednesday of the nondisclosure. "I don't recall how it went down timing-wise; I probably didn't think about it."

In June 2014, Cook established a limited liability corporation with Price, who was Cook's running mate in the 2013 election, and Tim Cavanaugh, a Huntington real estate agent.

The Huntington Town Board on Tuesday hired an independent counsel to determine if a house the partners bought in October conforms with town zoning codes.

In a February email about Price to town Supervisor Frank Petrone, Cook said it was "offensive" that current ZBA chairman Christopher Modelewski has been on the board since 1993. He also asked that Price be named to the panel.

"I find it difficult to believe that there is a reason that we continuously reappoint the same individuals to these boards . . . other than we are too lazy to search out talented professionals or fear or false loyalty to friends and business associates make us compliant in reappointing these members," Cook wrote in the email, which Newsday obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Petrone said Cook's criticism of appointing friends and colleagues to boards, followed by a request to appoint his own friend and partner, "is a case of a double standard."

Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said he could not comment specifically on the case, but said "generally, local officials should be bending over backward to comply with the spirit of local ethics laws and ensuring they are open with the public about any potential conflict of interest. Anything short of that requires an explanation."

The town ethics code requires board members to reveal any "direct or indirect financial or other private or business interest in any proposed legislation."

Cook, an Independence Party member, said he sought opportunities for his business partner because Price was "a good person for the job. Josh is extremely talented, and his legal background in real estate is phenomenal."

Mary Collins, Huntington Town's Democratic leader, questioned Cook's motivations.

"Obviously, he's trying to help a friend and a partner get more influence in government," she said. "Full disclosure is the key here. It's one thing to have a friend whom you highly regard and think would do a good job in a particular situation; it's another thing to be involved with this person in some kind of business deal and put them in a position where they can possibly help the deal."

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