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State AG won't offer opinion on Town of Huntington multiple office holder

Nick Ciappetta holds the positions of Huntington's deputy

Nick Ciappetta holds the positions of Huntington's deputy supervisor, town attorney and president of the South Huntington school board. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

The state attorney general has declined to offer an opinion on the propriety of the same person holding the positions of Huntington town attorney, deputy town supervisor, and prosecutor for a newly created bureau.

Town Board member Gene Cook, who proposed the resolution seeking the opinion at the April 21 town board meeting, said some residents had contacted him about potential conflicts of interest and the ethics of one person simultaneously doing several jobs.

Town Attorney Nick Ciappetta, who is also the deputy town supervisor, which is a nonvoting position appointed by the supervisor, said previously that the question had been asked and answered by the town’s board of ethics, which found no incompatibility among his roles as town attorney, deputy supervisor and school board president. 

Ciappetta is president of the South Huntington school board. Assistant town attorneys will prosecute violations of town code when the Bureau of Administrative Adjudication is up and running later this year. 

Ciappetta said in declining to offer an opinion on the issue the state attorney general was respecting the body that is statutorily charged with doing so and who should be the final authority.

“It’s very important that the town ethics board has the credence and that there shouldn’t be an appeal of what it ruled on because the purpose of the ethics board is to give employees of the town confidence in their ruling,” Ciappetta said. 

A letter to the town dated June 26 signed by Kathryn Sheingold, assistant solicitor general in charge of opinions in State Attorney General Letitia James' office, said the office was declining to offer an opinion because they were advised that the town’s ethics board had already issued one.

“We have a longstanding practice of declining to opine when another body is authorized to and has opined,” the letter said. “As a matter of policy, we do not opine with respect to the validity of actions already taken by a local government.”

The town’s ethics board rendered an opinion on Dec. 23, 2019, and then an amended decision on April 17, on Ciappetta’s multiple roles, after inquiries from Cook. 

Cook said James' decision was unfortunate.

“The town board voted 4-1 to ask the state attorney general to look into a problem they were having and the state attorney [general] declined to do it,” Cook said. “We asked for her to look into something different than what the town ethics board looked at.”

Town board member Mark Cuthbertson said he was disappointed by the decision.

“I think our local ethics opinion was wrong and I don’t think the town should be able to inoculate itself from a decision on an important issue like this by referring it to the local ethics board,” Cuthbertson said.

Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci said he was not surprised by James’ response because another body had already offered an opinion.

“The request was a waste of time especially during a pandemic,” he said.

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