Suffolk County's two top officials clashed heatedly Thursday in dueling letters over legislative plans to examine operations of the county Ethics Commission.

The war of words between County Executive Steve Levy and Presiding Officer William Lindsay came to light the same day that Newsday reported that Levy's wife Colleen West owns two court reporting firms that do business with at least seven entities that have received millions in taxpayer dollars from the county.

Levy said he is not required to disclose his wife's clients and said her work with these businesses do not pose a conflict of interest. He also said he acted properly when, in 2006, he stopped filling out the county's more extensive financial disclosure form and instead filed with the county a state financial disclosure form. The Commission ruled that Levy could file the state form in place of the local one. He filled out the state form because he is a member of the Pine Barrens Commission.

Some legal ethics experts quoted in the Newsday story said Levy should fill out both and, on the county form, disclose his wife's business interests. Earlier this week, Levy filled out the county disclosure forms for 2006 to 2008 and turned them over to the Ethics Commission. Last week, he turned over the 2009 form. None of them have been made public.

Levy, in a July 2 letter released Thursday, criticized Lindsay for making an "outlandish attack" on the commission and for his "slanderous" remarks that his state financial disclosure filings were improper.

"Before you make flippant off-the-cuff remarks, I would ask that you examine the state law which clearly notes . . . filing the state form will suffice," Levy wrote.

Lindsay returned fire in a letter distributed to the 18 lawmakers late Thursday calling Levy's letter an "oddly overheated diatribe."

"You may well have gotten an opinion that the less-revealing state form would 'suffice,' " said Lindsay "But when it comes to financial disclosure 'suffice' just does not suffice."

As for the Newsday story, Levy said in an interview, "I'm going to reserve comment right now. I'm so outraged by the inaccuracies and libelous content, I'll hold my fire while I'm still seething." He would not say what in the story was inaccurate or libelous.

In his letter, Levy also criticized Lindsay for suggesting that all three members of the Ethics Commission were his selections. "Your statement is a denigration of your own independence," said Levy. "Are you saying that you blindly place someone on the ethics commission because a person was referred to your office . . . ?"

In response, Lindsay said he only indicated "the candidates for the commission were suggested by the executive branch and the legislature approved those appointments."

In an interview, Lindsay said a five-member ethics committee, which he is heading, will examine how the Ethics Commission operates and issues its recommendations. He said the committee on Tuesday interviewed two lawyers to assist the committee as special counsel and will meet again to screen a third. He said the committee may ask the legislature to vote on procedural motions at their Aug. 3 meeting to fund the counsel position and authorize subpoena power for the committee.

With Sandra Peddie

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