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Legislator plans committee to probe ethics panel

Presiding Officer William Lindsay said Tuesday that he is forming a special legislative committee to probe the Suffolk County Ethics Commission.

Lindsay (D-Holbrook) said he is upset that Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy has not filed a county financial disclosure form in the last four years and that the commission is still investigating former Chief Deputy County Executive Paul Sabatino, nearly two years after Levy aides filed a complaint.

"I just think we've got to get a handle on this," Lindsay said. "Maybe they are independent decisions, but it doesn't appear to be that."

Lindsay's action comes after the commission allowed Levy to file the less detailed state financial disclosure form, rather than the more extensive one required of 650 other county employees. Levy has said the ethics commission is permitted to accept the state form that Levy filed because he is also a member of the state pine barrens commission.

Levy spokesman Dan Aug said legislators have "every right to conduct this review, as long as it does not force the commission to breach confidentiality requirements."

Aug added: "It is egregiously inappropriate for Mr. Lindsay to be commenting" on the ethics complaint against Sabatino if he does not know the details.

The new committee will consist of five legislators - Lindsay, Legislators John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), Ricardo Montano (D-Brentwood), Lynne Nowick (R-St. James) and Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills).

The legislature Tuesday also approved a resolution that would create an independent council for the ethics commission, rather than using a lawyer under the county attorney who reports to Levy. Alfred Lama, ethic commission executive director, declined to comment yesterday.

No action against Dormer

Suffolk legislators yesterday tabled two proposals aimed at removing Police Commissioner Richard Dormer, delaying the matter until Aug. 3, when the body meets next. The votes came as little surprise after the bill's sponsor, Legis. Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor), skipped the meeting to attend a White House reception.

A third bill that would require commissioners to be re-approved by the legislature annually also was tabled.

Levy, who has maintained the legislature does not have the legal right to remove his commissioners, tried to pre-empt the anti-Dormer measures by releasing 50 reasons to keep him. The list consisted mostly of statistics showing Dormer has reduced crime in the county.

In other action Tuesday, lawmakers:

Approved Joseph Montuori's nomination to become the county's parks commissioner. Montuori, who until recently was general manager of Heckscher State Park, is an ally of Suffolk Conservative chairman Edward Walsh.

Approved $3.7 million for affordable housing projects in Riverhead and Bay Shore.

Passed legislation requiring the county attorney to rotate county title work among a field of companies preapproved by the Legislature. Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) proposed the bill after disclosures in April that those who donated $200,000 to Levy received $7 million in such work.

Legislators rejected a Levy proposal adopting early retirement incentives that excluded up to 100 workers at the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility that Levy is seeking to sell.

Talks on nursing home sale

The proposed buyer of Suffolk's 264-bed nursing home tried to reassure county lawmakers yesterday there will be no upheavals if the controversial $36-million sale goes through, but balked at agreeing not to lay off workers in the first year.

Kenneth Rozenberg, who owns 10 nursing homes, said his facilities have gotten mostly positive reports in 100 state inspections and he sees no major changes for patients if the takeover happens at the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank. "Why would we want to cause upheaval when the last thing we want is upheaval?" Rozenberg said.

But Legis. Jack Eddington (I-Medford) raised questions about reports that other Rozenberg nursing homes slashed staffing 20 percent, hurting care. "I'm not feeling really good about that," he said. "Your business model is profit and laying off 20 percent to make money."

Rozenberg wouldn't commit to keeping existing county staff during a one-year transition. "Are you asking us to overstaff?" said Rozenberg, adding, "Overstaffing is not good . . . for patient care."

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