Councilman Gene Cook (I) said he has his eyes on the money — the money of Huntington Town and its taxpayers, that is.
“Huntington doesn’t manage its money properly,” the councilman said, in a sit-down interview at his Greenlawn home. “Coming from the business world, we need good business people in [Town Hall] to manage it correctly.” He believes the amount of money the town has borrowed in long-term bonds is “ridiculous.” Cook said he very rarely votes for bonding.
Cook is seeking re-election for a second term on the town board in November. He’s running with Republican-backed Jennifer Thompson, and he’s running against incumbent Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) and contender Keith Barrett.
Cook said he believes the town’s money needs to be spent more wisely. He said he would like to see a forensic audit of the entire town government. When he first entered office, he said, he pushed for such an audit by the state comptroller’s office.
“I’m all about where our money is being spent. When I looked at the books, I was not happy with the way I saw things being done. So I put up legislation to get the state comptroller to come in and audit. I was hoping they would audit all the books.”
The state comptroller’s office only ended up auditing two departments — outside legal services and overtime — and in both, issues were unearthed. Since then, those issues have been addressed.
Cook emerged from his garage to start the interview, where he had been tinkering with his favorite hobby, his cars. He resides at his Arbutus Road home with his wife Lisa. They have five children: Danielle, Nicole, Monica, Brendan and Olivia.
Owner of Cook Industries Inc., a construction company, which was established in 1986, the councilman has learned how to run a fiscally sound business and tries to bring those ideals to the town board as much as possible.
“A lot of business work is right now, it has to get done immediately,” Cook said. He runs his office the same way. “We have to get an answer back to a constituent within 24 hours. I made that a mandate in my office. Good, bad or ugly, even if it’s something the constituent doesn’t want to hear, we have to do that.”
Toni Tepe, chairwoman of the Huntington Republican Committee said Cook is devoted to doing what’s right for the public.
“Gene has shown the public that his interest is doing what is right for them,” Tepe said. “He works for the taxpayers.”
Moving onto other matters facing Huntington Town, Cook spoke about crime in Huntington Station. While Cook said the police force is stretched, he feels there are other ways to beef up security that don’t involve hiring more police.
Cook said he has no problem with development projects requesting changes of zone, like Benchmark Senior Living, a proposed assisted living facility in Huntington, and The Seasons at Elwood, as long as they are handled responsibly and in a smart business fashion. “Lets do proper, smart, development that makes everybody happy.”
But he does not believe that was the case with The Seasons, which is why he voted against it. Cook’s was the sole vote against the 55-and-up condominium project.
“Because of my business background in construction and roadwork, I knew Elwood Road was a problem. It was said [The Seasons] was not going to change the difference of traffic on that road. That’s nonsense. We need people on the board that say wait a minute, lets take a good look at this and see what’s really needed there and what the community wants,” Cook said. “I was the only vote with the people of Elwood.”
He said he felt the same community resistance against Benchmark as well.
“People were there crying to me, saying they don’t want this. We’re supposed to take care of the residents of the town, not developers that come in with big pockets,” he said.
Cook described being the minority on the board as “brutal.” He thinks having Thompson on the town board “would really benefit the people.” Cook hopes to one day have a third member on the board, creating a majority voting bloc.
Bow hunting of deer in Eaton’s Neck has been a pressing issue for the residents of Eaton’s Neck and Asharoken, and Cook has changed his stance of opposing the measure since the town board public hearing last month on this issue.
“What I like about town board meetings is that you do hear other sides,” he said. “I was unaware of the Lyme disease issue and the tick issue, it was the first time I had heard of that. I may vote for it if it comes up.”
If re-elected, Cook, like his running mate Thompson, hopes to push term limits right away. He said he supports a two-term limit for council members.
“I believe we need term limits,” he said. “For me, what I’ve seen is, the first term you’re learning, second term you’re doing, third term you’re abusing the power. I think we as people need to keep it moving.”