Government

Board approves zone change for Heatherwood housing community

Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association President Ed Garboski speaks against the housing proposal on Tuesday, as Shawn Nuzzo, Three Village’s civic leader, looks on. Photo by Erika Karp

Despite numerous objections from residents, local civic associations and the community’s own councilwoman, the Town of Brookhaven has paved the way for a 200-unit retirement community at the Heatherwood Golf Club in Terryville.

Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) sponsored the resolution for a zone change from A Residence 5 to Planned Retirement Community for the property, which is located at Arrowhead Lane and Route 347 and falls in both the Comsewogue and Three Village school districts. The town board approved it in a 4-3 vote, with Councilwomen Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Connie Kepert (D-Middle Island) and Supervisor Ed Romaine dissenting.

The planning board still must approve the project’s site plan before the project can move forward.

According to the site plan application, about 25 acres of the property would be developed into the 55-and-over community, while about 45 acres would remain open, leaving a nine-hole golf course.

Since the property would be developed at an increased density, owner Doug Partrick in exchange would donate a 40-acre lot he owns in the Manorville Farm Protection Area — in Panico’s district — for open space.

While the zone change public hearing was held on Tuesday, the project had been discussed for months at Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association meetings, and that group, along with the neighboring Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook, came out strongly against it.

However, the Town of Brookhaven Planning Department supported the project — Planning Commissioner Tullio Bertoli said the proposal is compatible with existing development in the area and fits in with the town’s smart growth efforts, as it is located along a commercial corridor.

Residents and civic leaders who attended the public hearing expressed concerns about traffic and losing open space in their community. In addition, many were displeased to see the development proposed for the golf course, as the community is preparing to redevelop and revitalize the Route 112 corridor, on another side of town.

“[It’s] dismaying to see a town planning commissioner come before you and say this is a location that meets all criteria,” Bob de Zafra, of the Setaukets and Stony Brook civic, said at the public hearing. “It does not.”

He also criticized Panico for bringing forth the resolution.

De Zafra asked Panico and new Councilman Neil Foley (R-Blue Point) to recuse themselves from the vote, as the officials received campaign contributions from a company under the umbrella of Partrick’s Heatherwood Communities, the retirement community developer.

According to campaign financial disclosure records, Friends of Dan Panico received a $500 contribution from Heatherwood House at Coram LLC in September 2013, while Friends of Neil Foley received a $1,000 contribution in October 2014.

“There’s nothing illegal in that,” de Zafra said. “There’s nothing dishonest in that and I certainly don’t mean to imply that, nor am I due a lecture about it.”

Panico, who said he brought forth the zone change resolution because it was in the best interest of the whole town, interjected during de Zafra’s comments and said, “Why would you bring it up?”

Frank Gibbons, a board member of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, said he was concerned about the development’s impact on traffic.

“There are good arguments on both sides of this question, but I think that when we look at the best thing for the entire township, Mr. Panico, … how about taking care of Terryville, Port Jefferson Station and South Setauket,” Gibbons said.

The town board placed conditions on its zone change approval, including that Partrick must make the land donation, remove a billboard at the golf course, construct a sidewalk on the east side of Arrowhead Lane and complete a new traffic study for the Terryville site.

Heatherwood’s attorney, David Sloane, of Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman LLP, spoke about the positives of the project, including a decrease in the use of pesticides and more property taxes to the school districts without an influx of students.

“This proposal is the least intensive use that could be developed on this site,” he said.

County Executive Steve Bellone outlines plans to kill a potential speed camera program near schools throughout Suffolk. Photo from Bellone’s office

By Chris Mellides

Suffolk County is putting the brakes on its speed camera project.

County Executive Steve Bellone announced at a press conference Monday that he would terminate the county’s school speed camera program amid strong opposition of the plan’s rollout from county legislators.

The program called for the installation of speed cameras in a number of school zones across Suffolk County, which while being in the interest of public safety, would have
admittedly generated additional revenue for the county, officials said.

Supporters of the program on Long Island sought and received approval for its implementation from New York State following the state approval for a rollout in New York City earlier this year.

In Nassau, officials said the program’s initial implementation in July was problematic and resulted in the dismissal of thousands of citations by County Executive Ed Mangano, who admitted to there being faults in
the system.

Having analyzed the negative experiences endured by Nassau County, and finding bitter disapproval from local residents over the possibility of a school speed zone camera rollout in Suffolk, Bellone admitted to there being further impediments to the program’s implementation.

“We looked at what was happening and what we saw is similar to what’s been happening in Nassau County [where] you’ve seen a lot of issues with implementation,” Bellone said. “A lot of the programs [are] having problems, in terms of accuracy, and a lot of the programs [are] actually being rolled back in certain jurisdictions.”

Bellone continued by stating that in working through the different issues associated with installing speed cameras here in Suffolk, the job has proven to be “complex,” and “not easy to do.”

Coinciding with Bellone’s announcement on Monday, five Suffolk County legislators including Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory filed for legislation that would halt the county’s move to install school speed
zone cameras.

“The more we saw the problems Nassau County has had with its school speed zone cameras it became obvious we were not going to install the cameras in Suffolk County,” Gregory said. “It is unclear if the safety improvements for our children would occur if we installed the cameras, and without clear evidence that they would improve safety we are not going to proceed.”

Of the three Suffolk lawmakers who voted against the original speed camera legislation, Legislator Robert Trotta has been firm and unflinching in his opposition.

“As I have said from the start and when I voted against this legislation, speed zone cameras are nothing more than a money grab,” Trotta said. “When the county executive gets caught trying to put his hands in the taxpayer’s pocket, there is little choice but to pull the plug.

“This is no different from the overwhelming majority of red light tickets, which is simply taxation by citation,” he continued.

Feeling confident in his decision to kill the anticipated speed camera program in Suffolk County, Bellone maintains that the entire process leading to this week’s announcement had been a bipartisan initiative from the very beginning.

“I consulted with legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle and we came to this decision jointly as what makes sense for Suffolk County,” Bellone said. “And that’s why I made the decision to, at the end of the day, terminate the speed camera program.”

Determined to keep moving forward, Bellone also said that there’s still a lot that the county can do to enhance school zone safety and is willing to explore other alternatives.

“It can be anything from additional signage, increased enforcement, education, different types of partnerships like that and that’ll be unfolding over the next several months,” he said.

Members vote against Heatherwood retirement community

The owner of the Heatherwood golf course wants to build 200 units of retirement housing at the site. Photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

Civic members took a stand Tuesday night against a housing community proposed to be built on the Heatherwood golf course, voting to send a letter of opposition to Brookhaven Town.

The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association’s executive board will draft and submit the letter, which carries no legal weight but serves to share the community’s views on a project for consideration.

The official civic vote caps a months-long discussion on the project at the Heatherwood Golf Club, at Arrowhead Lane and Nesconset Highway in Terryville.

Doug Partrick, an owner of both the course and multifamily housing developer Heatherwood Communities, wants to build 200 rental units for people 55 and older, a mixture of town houses, ranches and apartments.

When Partrick gave a presentation on the project at a May civic meeting, he said the retirement housing would be built on 25 acres at the golf course, leaving the remaining 45 acres as open space. The 18-hole golf course currently at the site would be reduced to a nine-hole course that would surround the homes.

The course is zoned A Residence 5, which allows for one housing unit on every 5 acres. Partrick would need a zone change to planned retirement community zoning to proceed with the development.

As they did at previous civic meetings, members spoke against the proposal on Tuesday night, citing quality of life concerns such as traffic congestion.

Civic President Ed Garboski reported that a traffic study of the area found that retirement housing would have little impact on traffic, though some residents scoffed at that notion.

One man who lives near the golf course talked about how busy the adjacent roads are already and said the housing community would make things worse.

And member Don Zaros took issue with the fact that the homes would be rentals, saying people who rent instead of own — whom he called “transients” — do not care about the community as much.

Partrick, who was not at Tuesday’s meeting, said previously that if the housing development does not move forward he might close the club. He said he would think about whether he would be “better off consistently losing money on the golf course or … just shutting the golf course down, leaving it dormant.”

While some residents have been concerned about having a large abandoned property in town that could possibly attract vandalism or homeless people, others were not worried. While one man said on Tuesday that having retirement housing is “better than a blighted, abandoned piece of property” in the neighborhood, another countered that vacant and blighted are not the same thing, and having a large grassy parcel would be better for Long Island’s groundwater than a housing community.

The group voted overwhelmingly to send a letter of opposition to the town, in keeping with an unofficial vote at last month’s meeting that produced the same result.

Civic group does not vote ‘fore’ or against proposal

The Heatherwood Golf Club. File photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

Dozens of community members turned out to a special meeting of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association last Wednesday night, Aug. 27, to oppose a proposed retirement housing project at the Heatherwood golf course.

The owners of Heatherwood Golf Club, located at Arrowhead Lane and Nesconset Highway in Terryville, are looking to build 200 rental units at the site — made up of townhouses, ranches and apartments — for residents 55 and older.

Doug Partrick, an owner of the course and multifamily housing developer Heatherwood Communities, was not at the meeting, but according to a presentation he gave on the project at a May civic meeting, the housing would be built on 25 of the golf course’s 70 acres, leaving 45 acres as open space.

The homes would be surrounded by a nine-hole golf course, down from the 18 holes currently on the site.

Residents at Wednesday’s meeting said they are concerned about the project’s impacts on traffic and quality of life. They were also wary of overdevelopment.

“It takes me 20 minutes to get home and I travel 1.8 miles,” Patricia Higgins, who lives close to the golf course, said in an interview afterward. “I could walk faster.”

Civic President Ed Garboski told the crowd that the golf course would shut down at the end of the season, regardless of whether the housing project is approved.

Partrick had said in May that if the development did not move forward, he would think about whether he is “better off consistently losing money on the golf course or … just shutting the golf course down, leaving it dormant” and paying taxes on the land.

“If he wants to walk, let him walk,” Lou Antoniello, who is the civic treasurer but was speaking just as a Terryville resident, said in an interview. “Have a nice day and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

Residents hope they can stop the project from moving forward.

“I am so glad I came to know what’s going on and it’s disappointing,” Port Jefferson Station resident Nancy Farrell said in an interview.

Garboski said during the meeting that results of a traffic study performed on the area found that the proposed Heatherwood project would not have a big impact on traffic.

But residents argued that 200 rented units would bring at least 200 new cars, and said they don’t understand how that wouldn’t affect traffic.

Joe Cannone, a Port Jefferson Station resident, said after the meeting that he isn’t against development at the golf course, but “the golf course should either stay a golf course or develop for what it’s zoned for.”

The course is zoned A Residence 5, which allows one housing unit for every 5 acres.

The civic is expected to vote on whether it supports the project at its next meeting on Sept. 23.

Whatever the group decides, it will have the backing of a neighbor — Shawn Nuzzo, president of the Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook, attended last Wednesday’s meeting because part of the golf course lies in the Three Village school district, and he assured the crowd that his civic will take the same stand as whatever the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association decides.

The Heatherwood Golf Club. File photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association will hold a special meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 27, to discuss the proposed housing development for the Heatherwood Golf Club in Terryville.

Doug Partrick, an owner of multifamily housing developer Heatherwood Communities, has proposed a 200-unit retirement community for the golf club, which is at Arrowhead Lane and Nesconset Highway.

Developer Doug Partrick talks about his proposed development for the Heatherwood Golf Club at a recent civic meeting. File photo by Andrea Moore Paldy
Developer Doug Partrick talks about his proposed development for the Heatherwood Golf Club at a recent civic meeting. File photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

His plans for the property include turning the 18-hole golf course into a nine-hole one that would surround two-bedroom rentals — a mixture of ranches, townhouses and apartments. On the 70-acre property, he has said, 45 acres would remain open space.

At a previous civic meeting, residents shared their concerns about an increase in traffic the housing community could bring, as well as drainage and sewage issues. According to representatives at that May meeting, drainage would be handled by constructing ponds and the homes would be linked to a county sewage treatment facility.

The civic association did not take a formal position on the matter at that meeting, but an informal vote showed that most of the people present were against the proposal.

It would require extra approval from the town, as the property is zoned A Residence 5, which allows one housing unit for every 5 acres. This proposal would be more dense, with the 200 units on 25 acres.

The community is invited to discuss the development at the civic’s meeting at the Comsewogue Public Library, from 7 to 9 pm.

Plan calls for homes for older folks at Terryville course

The Heatherwood Golf Club. Photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

Word that a retirement community is being proposed for Heatherwood Golf Club in Terryville brought residents out in full force to last Wednesday evening’s Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association meeting, where they raised concerns about density, increased traffic, storm drainage and sewage.

Doug Partrick, an owner of multifamily housing developer Heatherwood Communities, was at the meeting to present the plan for a 200-unit housing complex on the 70-acre property at Arrowhead Lane and Nesconset Highway.

His family has owned Heatherwood Golf Club since the 1960s but it “is no longer viable as a standalone,” he said. With fewer people golfing, the company — which also owns Pine Hills golf course in Manorville — “no longer can carry the golf course as it is without consideration for development.”

Partrick, architect Steven Hanson and engineer Michael Marinis propose to turn the 18-hole course into one with nine holes that would wrap around two-bedroom rental homes. The residences would be a combination of ranches, townhouses and first- and second-floor flats.

Of the golf course’s 70 acres, homes would be built on 25 acres and 45 acres would remain open space, Partrick said.

Hanson said the new homes would offer direct access to the course, which would act as a buffer between the development and the surrounding community, but that the course would remain open to the public.

Developer Doug Partrick talks about his proposed development for the Heatherwood Golf Club at a recent civic meeting. File photo by Andrea Moore Paldy
Developer Doug Partrick talks about his proposed development for the Heatherwood Golf Club at a recent civic meeting. File photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

Of particular concern to residents at the meeting was the fact that development on the golf course could violate the 2008 Comsewogue Hamlet Comprehensive Plan, a study and land-use plan for the area. According to Lou Antoniello, the civic association’s treasurer and chairperson for that hamlet study, the large majority of Port Jefferson Station and Terryville had already been built up at the time of the study, and surveys indicated that residents did not want the few remaining open spaces to be developed.

The study laid out the type of development locals wanted to see, and was geared toward preserving the area’s open space and history while creating a balance of living, shopping and cultural areas, Antoniello said. He sees that balance in jeopardy, as there are several senior housing communities already built or proposed.

MaryAnn Johnston, president of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization, an umbrella group of about 30 civic groups, said it would be a “waste and abuse of residents’ time and energy” if local development did not follow the guidelines of the study.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), who attended the civic meeting, said in a written statement that the study was “a reflection of the community’s vision” and that she continues “to support the desires of these residents” in her role on the town board.

Residents at the meeting also said they were concerned that the new project could exacerbate traffic problems on the already congested Nesconset Highway and asked about storm drainage and sewage from the property.

Heatherwood representatives said they have yet to conduct a traffic study, but have plans to handle drainage through the construction of ponds, and the 200 housing units would be hooked up to a county-owned sewage treatment plant.

Winning support from residents is only one of the difficulties facing the developer — overcoming zoning hurdles could be another. The property is currently zoned as A Residence 5, which allows one housing unit per 5 acres.

Asked what he would do if the development does not move forward, Partrick said he’d have to ask himself if he would be “better off consistently losing money on the golf course or … just shutting the golf course down, leaving it dormant” and paying taxes on the land.

Civic association leaders said they needed more information on the Heatherwood proposal before deciding whether to support it. However, an informal vote showed that most of those who attended the meeting opposed the development as it was presented.

Cartright advised residents to “listen and reflect on each of these individual proposals to determine what is in the best interest of the community and in line with their vision.”

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Former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy. File photo

By Elana Glowatz & Rachel Shapiro

Suffolk County officials, including former County Executive Steve Levy, “intentionally corrupted and undermined” the Ethics Commission and contributed to its disbandment, according to a special grand jury report released April 19.

Testimony in the report by unnamed county officials alleges that County Official E, who worked in the county executive’s office, attempted to influence ethics commissioners’ decisions; tried to use an ethics complaint as leverage against a legislator to influence his vote; and had not received proper authorization to file financial disclosure forms, among other offenses.

Based on previous reporting, this newspaper determined that County Official E is Levy.

Testimony in the report alleges that other county officials colluded with Levy in these actions as well as committed separate offenses. County Official H, the report said, was an Association of Municipal Employees worker who filled out his time sheets and calculated his accruals as a management employee, leading to him receiving more than $14,000 in health benefits he did not earn.

This newspaper, also based on previous reporting, has determined County Official H to be Alfred Lama, the former executive director of the Ethics Commission.

No charges have been filed against the officials, as testimony did not reveal any illegal activity. The grand jury instead made recommendations to the executive and legislative branches — including creating penalties for ethics violations such as improperly influencing the members of an ethics board or commission — and future county ethics bodies, such as enacting procedural guidelines regarding complaints, hearings and decisions.

Levy took issue with the report. It was “based in large part on testimony from political detractors of the county executive,” he said in a statement shortly after it was released Thursday.

He said seeking the commission’s opinion on a potential conflict of interest, as he did in the case of the legislator, “is not an abuse of the Ethics Commission, it’s the very reason you have one,” and that he did not tell Ethics Commission members how to vote on any issue.

The former county executive also took issue with the report saying that while, for a time, he only filed state financial disclosure forms, he was obligated to file county forms, which the report said were more thorough.

Mark Davies, a former executive director of the Temporary State Commission on Local Government Ethics who drafted state ethics law, said in written testimony to the Suffolk County Legislature in September 2010 that “on the whole, the state form is more extensive than the county form.” He argued that because the county form lacked certain categories, such as offices in political parties and organizations and agreements for future employment, it was not in compliance with state law. Legislation has since been introduced to bring the local form into compliance with state law.

Levy also said that state law mandated the county to accept the state form over the county form, something the grand jury report said “remains an open question with advocates on both sides publicly arguing their positions.” Lama advised the former county executive without a ruling from the entire Ethics Commission, saying Levy could file the state form instead of the county form.

The grand jury report also discussed the findings of an audit by the county comptroller. Lama, who was the ethics commission’s executive director from 2004 until it was abolished, was audited last year. According to the document from Comptroller Joe Sawicki’s office, the investigation was to determine whether the director’s hours worked from 2004 to 2011 had been logged correctly, and whether he was given appropriate pay and health benefits according to the hours he had worked.

The grand jury report said Lama, an AME union employee, had filled out his time sheets as if he were a management employee. It also said there was no evidence of fraud on Lama’s part.

Sawicki said in an interview that he began reviewing Lama’s time sheets and found that the director had often worked less than 50 percent of the work week. The audit states, “[Lama] worked 84 percent of the required full-time hours in 2005 and only 49 percent of the required full-time hours in 2010.” The audit states the county attorney did not change the position to part-time so the director would have the flexibility to work full-time if needed.

The comptroller’s audit found that Lama had been overpaid more than $8,000 in wages and had received more than $14,000 in health insurance coverage premiums that he did not reimburse to the county — from periods when he worked less than 50 percent of the work week and therefore, the audit stated, was not entitled to the premiums.

According to the Suffolk County AME contract, part-time employees “must work greater than 50 percent of the established work week to be entitled to benefits.” Those who fall below that mark, the contract says, may purchase health insurance on a pro rata basis.

Lama said in a phone interview Tuesday that he did not know he was a union employee, and filled out his time sheets for the 7.5-hour day of a management employee.

The grand jury report said Lama signed a “new employee orientation” document, acknowledging his “receipt of the collective bargaining agreement for his AME position and his AME enrollment card.” However, Lama said he went to an orientation when he was hired and “they handed me a piece of paper and I signed it. I wasn’t aware that they were going to put me into the union.”

He added that he always tried to be “as truthful as possible” when filling out his logs, and questioned why it took so long for someone to tell him he was filling in his time sheets incorrectly. “Don’t wait until the end of the rainbow and tell me I made a mistake,” he said.

Exit interview with former county executive summarizes gripes; targets respond

Former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy. File photo

By Elana Glowatz & Rachel Shapiro

Former County Executive Steve Levy was under no illusions that he would make friends when he took Suffolk’s top office eight years ago.

He stood his ground in long-term battles with the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association and the Legislature and he says that paid off. When the PBA took out anti-Levy ads after the county executive shuffled police officers around to cut costs, he took it all in stride.

“You’ve got to have the backbone to stand up to that and not wilt,” Levy said in an interview. “Over time you’ll be proven correct, as we were with the highway patrol change and as we were with civilianization.”

PBA second vice president Noel DiGerolamo fired back in a phone interview Tuesday that “the only thing that was proven over time is that Steve Levy was not a person to be trusted or believed, as proven by his departure from the government … and his ongoing legal troubles with the [district attorney].” DiGerolamo was referring to Levy’s return of $4 million in campaign funds as part of an agreement with District Attorney Tom Spota, under which the county executive also agreed not to seek a third term.

Levy, 52, has declined on several occasions to discuss the details of the deal.

Other battles aside, Levy considers county Comptroller Joe Sawicki and Newsday’s editors and reporters to have played a part in trying to tarnish his reputation. In reflecting on his time as county executive, he painted a picture of the comptroller and the newspaper working to embarrass and discredit him.


Control battle with comptroller

One example he gave is Sawicki’s office performing an audit on the request for proposals process to sell the county-owned John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility, to determine whether the county had followed procedures correctly. Levy said he was interested in selling the nursing home to save the county money. When the report was completed, Levy said, the comptroller then “conveniently drops it on the table of the Legislature the same day they’re voting” on the sale, in order to sway the legislators to kill it.

But the comptroller told a different story. In an interview with Times Beacon Record Newspapers following Levy’s allegations, Sawicki said Presiding Officer Bill Lindsay (D-Holbrook) and legislators Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) and John Kennedy (R-Nesconset) requested the audit in November 2010, and his office was rushing to complete the report by March 2, 2011, the day of the vote. And according to Christina Capobianco, Sawicki’s chief deputy comptroller, the audit staff was “stonewalled” by the county Health Department and attorney’s office, delaying the process.

‘I think he became extremely paranoid over the years.’ — Joe Sawicki

However, Levy was not convinced. “It’s too cute to just so happen to finish your audit on the same day that the Legislature is voting on this issue,” he said. “If [Sawicki] was concerned about timing he simply could have mentioned this to the Legislature. He never did. … This was an 11th hour surprise to try to kill the deal.”

The Legislature ultimately voted to sell the nursing home, but the buyer, Kenneth Rozenberg, was no longer interested.

Levy said Sawicki had an agenda against him. He pointed to the fact that at the same time the nursing home audit was being performed, Sawicki donated money to the Nursing Home Support Fund for employees who were working to save the facility from closure, and he attended a fundraiser.

According to a New York State Board of Elections financial disclosure report, Sawicki donated $500 to that group on Jan. 10, 2011.

Levy called the act a conflict of interest and said that Sawicki was considering a run for county executive and was buying the support of the nursing home employees’ union. But the comptroller said although others had suggested it to him, he had not planned to run for county executive, and that his office’s audit and his support of keeping the nursing home open were “totally separate.”

Sawicki said his wife is a geriatric nurse at a private nursing home and that the Foley facility had a place in his heart.

“In my mind, helping the employees contribute to their legal fund to fight to stay open and keep their jobs is a lot different than an audit I was doing of the RFP process,” Sawicki said. “I would do it all over again.”

‘It’s too cute to just so happen to finish your audit on the same day that the Legislature is voting on this issue.’ — Steve Levy

In addition to Levy’s claim that Sawicki was trying to cast him in a negative light because of a potential run for county executive, Levy said there was friction because he would not approve some of the comptroller’s hires in order to save money.

Sawicki said Levy would block approval of employees hired within his department’s approved budget. Ultimately, various elected county officials called for legislation that would allow them to approve their own hires if they stayed within their budgets. The legislation passed.

Although Sawicki expressed frustration with the hiring situation, he said he never did anything to give Levy a bad name. “You can’t find anything that I did that exceeded my role as the comptroller,” Sawicki said. “I pride myself on being the chief fiscal watchdog. I like that title.”

The comptroller also said that Levy didn’t like being audited and “I think he became extremely paranoid over the years.”

Levy responded, “If I didn’t want him doing audits I would have been complaining from my first year in office.” He added, “It’s absolutely his role to do audits.”


Financial disclosure

The county executive also took issue with Newsday’s coverage of various subjects, including his financial disclosure forms and wife Colleen West-Levy’s business. In a series of articles beginning in 2010, Newsday investigated Levy’s filing of the state-mandated financial disclosure form.

Throughout some of Newsday’s stories, such as “Disclosure bill would force Levy to report to county,” published June 15, 2010, the reporter stated as a matter of fact that the county form was more thorough than the state form that Levy was filing. This statement was not attributed to any source. In at least one other story, the reporter has also cited unnamed officials for this information.

In the stories, the reporter interviewed political opponents of Levy, who are quoted as saying that the county executive was in violation of county law when he filed state forms instead of county forms.

Levy argued that the reporter left out crucial information, including three expert opinions, one from Mark Davies, that cited Levy’s requirement to file the state form and his compliance with county law.

Davies, former executive director of the Temporary State Commission on Local Government Ethics, has served on several ethics committees, including as co-chair of the Ethics Committee of the American Bar Association’s section of state and local government law. He is also an adviser to the American Law Institute’s Project on Public Integrity and an adjunct professor of law at Fordham Law School.

‘Newsday is proud of its reporters and editors who pursued this story thoroughly and fairly while withstanding repeated criticisms and even personal attacks.’ — Statement from Newsday

He said in a written testimony to the Suffolk County Legislature in September 2010, “Indeed a comparison of the state form and the Suffolk County form reveals that, on the whole, the state form is more extensive than the county form.” He gave examples of disclosure categories the county form does not include, such as offices in political parties and organizations; the nature of a filer’s business; agreements for future employment; assignments and transfers of income and interest to others for less than fair market value; securities held by a corporation for investment when the filer or his or her spouse owns or controls 50 percent or more of the corporation; gifts and reimbursements; and any information on the assets and liabilities of the filer’s dependent children.

The county form also does not ask the filer to list unpaid positions with entities that have no current business or licenses with the county, even if they had immediate past county business or have upcoming county business.

Davies argued that because the county form lacks these categories, it does not comply with state law. He recommended that the county adopt the state form, at least on an interim basis, until the county form is brought into compliance with state law.

In the past year, legislation has been introduced to bring the local form into compliance with New York State law.

Levy said he gave the reporter the information from Davies early on in the reporting to include in the story, but it was not printed.

In Newsday’s story “Levy defends financial disclosures,” published June 9, 2010, a chart compiled by the reporter highlights specific information that is required on the county form and not the state’s — but not vice versa. The chart correctly says the county form requires the filer list bank accounts, including the type of account, the nature of ownership and the name of the bank. The state form does not require this information.

With regard to real estate interests, both forms require disclosure of location, size, general nature, acquisition date, percentage of ownership and range of value of the property. The only difference between the forms is that the county’s requires the filer to name partners and the valuation date. The chart incorrectly states that the state form does not require market value. The form specifically asks for approximate market value.

The chart also incorrectly says that the state form does not ask the filer to list credit card debt. In fact, the filer must list liabilities, but the form provides many exceptions, credit card debt not being one of them. Tim Glynn, an attorney in Setauket concentrating in business law, said a credit card balance should be reported, according to the language of the form. However, if the balance was accrued by purchasing items that were exempted, the filer could leave the debt off the list.

Newsday’s chart correctly says the state form does not require disclosure of government contracts secured through competitive bidding or requests for proposals, while the county form does.

“What [the reporter] would gloss over and not put in is that I was required by law to file a state form instead of a county form,” Levy said. “Newsday tried to make it look like I was forum shopping for a particular form to file because I wanted to hide something. It’s total nonsense.”

Levy is required by state law to file the state form as a sitting member of the Pine Barrens Commission, a state agency. This fact was confirmed by the county Ethics Commission in a 2006 ruling. For his first two years in office, Levy filed both state and county forms. Following the ruling in 2006, he began filing only the state form. Similar to wording in other stories, Newsday describes the ruling in “Levy defends financial disclosures” by saying, “The county ethics commission — whose members were appointed or recommended by Levy — has allowed him to file a state disclosure form since 2006.” Levy argues that the language used makes it appear as if the commission is giving him special treatment when, in fact, it is upholding state law.

Despite this, in 2010 Levy filed county forms from the years he had missed — from 2006 to 2009. In an interview, Levy said he filed the county form for those years because he had nothing to hide.

Times Beacon Record Newspapers sat down with Newsday’s vice president of public affairs, Paul Fleishman, and presented Levy’s claims about Newsday. The paper declined to give responses to each allegation, and instead issued the following statement:

“The facts speak for themselves. Last year, following an investigation by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, then-Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy forfeited $4 million of campaign money and announced he would not run for re-election. Newsday is proud of its reporters and editors who pursued this story thoroughly and fairly while withstanding repeated criticisms and even personal attacks. Newsday has a long and respected history of straightforward and courageous investigative reporting on behalf of the people of Long Island, who depend on us to shed light on matters that are important to the public. It is a responsibility to our community that we take very seriously, approach thoughtfully and pursue with the utmost care, integrity and commitment to accuracy. We stand firmly behind our reporting and our coverage.”


Colleen West-Levy

As it probed Levy’s financial disclosure forms, Newsday also questioned the business practices of his wife, Colleen West-Levy. Specifically, Newsday listed companies that had worked with West-Levy’s firms and had also received county funds, seeking to determine if there was a connection between the two. West-Levy’s court reporting and transcription businesses, Enright and Enright Sten-Tel, had a relationship with various companies that contracted with the county, five of which were law firms that Newsday named in the July 8, 2010 article “A question of disclosure.” While the story said that three of those firms had a relationship with West-Levy’s companies before her husband took office, Levy said his wife had worked with all of them before he took office and the work was not the result of political connections.

Levy estimated that of his wife’s roughly 200 clients, only 10 to 15 of them had any connection to the county.

The article also named Stony Brook University Medical Center’s Cody Center and Good Samaritan Hospital, based in West Islip, in the investigation as to whether there could be a connection between the hospitals receiving county funds and West-Levy’s businesses working with the institutions.

A 2005 ruling from the Ethics Commission stated that West-Levy could continue her work with Stony Brook University Medical Center and with any other hospital in the county without posing a conflict of interest.

“To any objective reporter, that 2005 opinion from the county’s Ethics Commission should have ended any thought of this sensationalistic ‘gotcha’ story,” Levy said in a statement.

‘This inaccurate and irresponsible series of articles [goes] to great lengths to insinuate that Colleen built her businesses upon my becoming county executive.’ — Steve Levy

Levy takes issue with the nature of the stories about his wife. The lead of the July 8 story states, “Court reporting firms owned by Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy’s wife, Colleen West, have regularly received work from businesses that have been paid millions of dollars in county contracts in recent years.” In the 16th paragraph, on the second page of the story, Newsday cites Levy and his wife as saying she did not work on county business for the firms.

“This inaccurate and irresponsible series of articles [goes] to great lengths to insinuate that Colleen built her businesses upon my becoming county executive, and that she and I have somehow attempted to avoid proper disclosure,” Levy said in a July 2010 statement. In an interview, Levy called it “disgraceful reporting with numerous inaccuracies.”

In the case of a July 31 article, “Babylon lawyer to head group probing ethics commission,” Levy said it contains a “gross misrepresentation” of what is required to be listed on state financial disclosure forms. The state form requires the filer to list his or her sources of income and those of a spouse. However, the form says, “Do not list the name of individual clients, customers or patients.” The county form does not require the filer to list clients either.

In the July 31 article, the reporter writes, “Newsday reported earlier this month that court reporting firms owned by Levy’s wife, Colleen West, do business with at least seven county vendors that have received millions in payments from the county. Levy said he is not required to disclose his wife’s clients, even though the county form requires disclosing all sources of income, including those of a spouse.”

Levy takes issue with the story painting the picture that disclosing his wife’s clients and disclosing his wife’s income are one and the same. He also said, “Shockingly, Newsday failed to note that the county form likewise does not require or request a listing of individual clients,” and that this omission suggests that by filing the state form, he was attempting to hide information from the public.

In addition, in “A question of disclosure,” the Newsday reporter writes that in 2008 County Attorney Christine Malafi, at Levy’s request, wrote a letter to law firms receiving county business, making it clear that Enright was not on a list of court reporters that could be chosen for county business. Newsday said this was after the PBA raised questions about Enright doing county work. However, Levy said in an interview that it was in 2005, through Malafi, that he notified all county vendors that would use court reporting services that they were only to use the firm that was awarded the county bid, which was not Enright.

Concerned by the coverage, Levy said he presented Newsday several times with memos refuting information in various stories on several topics. Newsday did print a correction following an October 2010 story alleging Levy redacted personal financial information from his disclosure forms, when the Suffolk County Ethics Commission had actually redacted the information. But Levy said his concerns were largely limited to the letters page, instead of in further news reports or corrections.

In May 2011, the Press Club of Long Island announced Newsday’s main reporter on these stories won Outstanding Long Island Journalist. In 2009 the reporter, along with another Newsday reporter, won the Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting for a series of articles about special government districts.


The past, present and future

Levy said he made enemies because he “made tough decisions” — reorganizing the police department to save money, selling the Foley nursing home, limiting county hires and requiring union givebacks as a way to avoid county layoffs.

A fiscal conservative, Levy prided himself on saving money where he could. He said he gave up three bodyguards, took 240 county cars out of service, which had been “doled out like political lollipops.” He said his administration developed a different mind-set for county government, requiring double sign-offs for overtime and controlling travel expenditures. The county put its health care package out to competitive bid and saved $18 million annually, Levy said.

“Despite the tough times we’re having, we’re still in better shape than [surrounding counties] are and that’s because of the foundation that we’ve laid out over these many years. But it’s certainly not going to be easygoing into the next couple of years until the national economy picks up again.”

He doesn’t regret his run for governor, rather he said he would have been kicking himself if he hadn’t tried. He doesn’t regret his party change either, although he said it made him more of a target than when he was a Democrat. Levy said his switch to the Republican Party was not an act of political opportunism, having received endorsements of the Republican and Conservative parties; he won cross-party endorsements for his second term as county executive starting January 2008, winning 96 percent of the vote. The county executive had always leaned to the right economically and on the topic of immigration.

“It wasn’t a big leap, it wasn’t such a surprise to people in Suffolk,” Levy said.

But within one year of switching parties and announcing his run for governor, Levy made a deal with DA Spota to give back the $4 million in campaign funds and not seek re-election for a third term — ending his tenure under what many have called a cloud of suspicion.

Although he was forthcoming about other controversial issues, the county executive was tight-lipped about his agreement with Spota. He simply said, “We’ll have that conversation at another time.”

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