By Carina Livoti
The Huntington Town Board voted to hire an outside attorney to investigate the legality of a multi-family home of which Councilman Gene Cook is part owner.
The resolution, approved at an April 21 town board meeting, called for the retention of legal counsel from Kaufman Borgeest & Ryan, in Valhalla, N.Y.—outside of Huntington and off of Long Island.
“The idea of this is to bring someone in who is a third party who will sit down and resolve the issue,” Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone said.
The home at 792 Larkfield Road in East Northport is currently being used as a five-family rental property, a use which inspectors have said in town documents violates town code. Cook and his co-owners have argued that the use predates town code and is therefore legal.
According to Petrone and Deputy Town Attorney Thomas Glascock, Cook’s position on the town board compromises the integrity of any in-house investigation, necessitating outside legal assistance.
“Because Councilman Cook’s interests and the interests of the town are at variance with regard to the property, this places the town attorney’s office in a conflicted position. Based on advice received from the New York State Association of Towns, the town attorney’s office believes that it must recuse itself from the 792 Larkfield Road matter,” Glascock said.
He added that the office believed that the retention of outside counsel from a firm that was off of Long Island “would best avoid the appearance of impropriety and best protect the interests of the town, Councilman Cook, and the public at large.”
Cook, however, said he did not believe it was necessary.
“The fact of the matter is, it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars,” he said.
Cook said he believed that the investigation is political payback for initiating a state comptroller’s audit of the town in 2013.
“I’m the guy that brought in the state comptroller. I’m the guy that brought in the U.S. Attorney to look at corruption. I believe it’s political payback,” he said.
He added that the town should have issued him prior summonses to address the alleged zoning violations, which he said he would have dealt with immediately. According to Glascock, an issue of violation was sent regarding the property, which Cook has been part-owner of since October 2014.
Town documents confirm that a notice of violation was sent to the previous owner on Nov. 5, 2014. A notice of demand for inspection was first sent to Cook on Dec. 11, 2014, based on probable cause to believe there was a violation on the property, according to town records.
Cook said he did not find out about the town’s plan to hire an outside attorney until 11 a.m. on the day of the town board meeting.
When he did learn about the resolution, he said he believed it was another political “hatchet job.”
According to Petrone, the resolution is a matter of propriety.
“Mr. Cook is one of the elected officials. He is responsible for all the employees that work here. People that really work here cannot look into this and work with it for that simple reason,” Petrone said.
The board approved the resolution, 4-1. Cook recused himself from the vote.