By Sara-Megan Walsh
Huntington Councilwoman Susan Berland’s (D) 11th-hour resignation caused the outgoing Democratic board to make a last-minute appointment to fill her seat as its final group action.
Joan Cergol, a registered Democrat and town employee, was appointed to replace Berland, who resigned from her position effective immediately at 10:43 p.m. at the Dec. 13 town board meeting.
A lifelong Huntington resident, Cergol has served as the town’s director of the Huntington Community Development Agency, executive director of the Economic Development Corp., and executive director of the Local Development Corp.
“The voters who placed me on this town board in five successive elections deserve to have someone whose qualifications, focus and accomplishments are coordinated with mine, who is dedicated to serving public interest over any political or individual pressures, and who will continue to represent them on this board,” Berland said in presenting Cergol.
Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) called for Cergol’s immediate appointment, despite the objections of Councilman Eugene Cook, the lone Republican on the board.
“I absolutely think this is the wrong thing to do,” Cook said. “The voters of the Town of Huntington went out and voted for a new direction coming in. You are taking that away from them. This should be going out to a new board.”
As Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) is retiring, the political majority of the board will flip come Jan. 1, 2018 from longtime Democratic control over to the hands of the Republicans. Supervisor-elect Chad Lupinacci (R) and Republican Ed Smyth will take over the seats held by Petrone and Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) respectively. Edwards will leave the board in January after running an unsuccessful campaign for town supervisor against Lupinacci.
“I believe Councilwoman Berland was elected as a Democrat,” Cuthbertson said in defense of Cergol’s appointment. “This board has every right to choose her replacement based on her resignation, whether registered Democrat or not, and we’re entitled to fill that vacancy. It’s the responsible thing to do.”
Cuthbertson was supported by his outgoing political party members Petrone and Edwards.
“Joan has worked with all members of the board and she’s noted for being someone who is nonpartisan when it comes to her activities in town hall and her actions as a professional,” Petrone said. “I echo, as outgoing supervisor, I would have been delighted to serve with Joan Cergol.”
Cergol will serve in Berland’s place through November 2018. Then Cergol will have to run for election to serve the remaining year of Berland’s term through December 2019, in accordance with state law.
Berland, who was elected in November to represent the 16th District in the Suffolk County Legislature, will begin her two-year term Jan. 1, 2018. She has served for 16 years on the Huntington town board.
“I have always strived to do the best job possible and made decisions not political, but in the best interests of the people,” she said in a farewell address. “Please know I am always just a phone call away and my heart will always be with the people of Huntington.”