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Huntington seeks state opinion on town attorney's multiple roles

Huntington Town attorney and Deputy Supervisor Nick Ciappetta,

Huntington Town attorney and Deputy Supervisor Nick Ciappetta, left, with Supervisor Chad Lupinacci in 2019.  Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

Town of Huntington officials will seek an opinion from the state attorney general on the propriety of the same person holding the positions of town attorney, deputy town supervisor, and prosecutor for a newly created bureau.

Town attorney Nick Ciappetta, who is also the deputy town supervisor — a nonvoting position appointed by the supervisor — said the question has 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. 

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

“When someone is wearing so many hats you have an issue with who you’re talking to,” Cook said. “For transparency, I thought the best thing to do is get the board to go out on a resolution and ask the state attorney [general] if what’s going on here is acceptable.”

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

“Their response is meant to be and designed to be the final word,” Ciappetta said. “For our purposes, that is the final authority. The attorney general can only issue something that is informal and advisory.”

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson said supporting the measure is not directed at Ciappetta personally, but is aimed at getting clarity on what he sees as a conflict between anyone being town attorney and the deputy supervisor, a concern he says he has raised in the past.

“While the ethics board did address it, I don’t think they addressed it in depth,” Cuthbertson said. “There are days that I wonder who am I speaking with on a particular issue. Am I speaking with the deputy supervisor who has an allegiance to the supervisor and has a particular role to play or am I speaking to the town attorney whose client is the town board.”

The measure passed 3-2 with Supervisor Chad Lupinacci and Councilwoman Joan Cergol voting against it.

In a statement during the meeting, Lupinacci said the request was “beyond beating a dead horse” because it's already been addressed by the town’s ethics board and is a waste of state and town resources.

Cergol agreed with the supervisor.

“Invoking Attorney General Letitia James in this ongoing squabble during a health pandemic is unwarranted,” Cergol said. “Rather than another written opinion, what we need in Huntington is some thoughtful communication among colleagues to discuss and work through these and any other questions that arise during the normal course of business.”

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