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Lawsuit

District hoping for details on Brookhaven, LIPA settlement before finalizing 2018-19 spending plan

Port Jeff Superintendent Paul Casciano and board President Kathleen Brennan. File photos by Alex Petroski

An announcement by Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) April 3 was supposed to provide clarity, but it has done anything but.

Romaine announced during his State of the Town address Brookhaven had reached a settlement with the Long Island Power Authority, which would end the legal battle being waged since 2010 regarding the assessed valuation and property tax bill the public utility has been paying on its Port Jefferson power plant. While in the midst of preparing its 2018-19 budget, Port Jefferson School District officials said in a statement they were caught off guard by the announcement and, as a result, the board of education moved to delay
adopting its proposed budget during a meeting April 10. The board will hold a special meeting April 18, when the budget will be presented before a vote to adopt. School budgets must be submitted to New York State no later than April 20.

“We don’t know what the terms of that agreement are — as a matter of fact, there is no agreement.”

— Paul Casciano

“When you plan to make reductions, you need to know how much to reduce,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said during the meeting. “That is the problem with what the town announced, because essentially what the town announced was that they reached a tentative deal. We don’t know what the terms of that agreement are — as a matter of fact, there is no agreement. That’s what we have learned. There are a lot of things that have been talked about at the town level. We have been spending a lot of time trying to find out what the details are.”

Town spokesman Kevin Molloy refuted Casciano’s claim that a deal is not in place.

“We have an agreement in principle, it has not been finalized or signed,” he said in a phone interview. “The town has sought state aid as part of this agreement. This state aid was not included in the recently adopted budget. We are continuing to work with LIPA for a settlement to this case that is fair for our residents and uses any funds from this settlement to reduce electrical charges to ratepayers.”

The town has not shared details about the agreement in principle publicly.

Casciano was asked by resident Rene Tidwell during the April 10 meeting if the district had long-range plans to address the likelihood it will be losing a chunk of the annual revenue the district receives as a result of the power plant’s presence within the district.

“I’m deeply concerned that this potentially devastating issue has not been more proactively addressed in the years since it was first initiated,” Tidwell said during the public comment period of the meeting.

Casciano strongly pushed back against the idea the issue hasn’t been a top priority for the board and administration.

“We have an agreement in principle, it has not been finalized or signed.”

— Kevin Molloy

“The plan is very simple — you cut staff, which results in cutting programs,” he said, though he also put the onus on residents to prepare for possible future tax increases. “There comes a time where it’s not all going to be the school district
cutting programs and cutting staff. At some point, taxpayers — and it may be this year — are going to see an increase in their taxes. We don’t assess. The town assesses. The village assesses.”

Board president, Kathleen Brennan, also disagreed with the idea the board has not been prepared to deal with the LIPA situation.

“I’ve been a board member for eight years,” she said. “Going back those eight years on that board and every subsequent board, this board has addressed the issue head on and has done things that you haven’t read about on our website.”

Board member Vincent Ruggiero first motioned to remove budget adoption from the BOE agenda.

“Given the uncertainty and the fact we don’t have a clear answer from Brookhaven, we have a week that we can adopt this budget, I’m just proposing that we wait as long as we can for some type of response, although we probably won’t get one, and hold the vote next week,” he said.

The public portion of the special April 18 meeting of the BOE will begin at 6:30 p.m.

Port Jeff includes $107K in 2018-19 budget for anticipated “glide path”

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant. File Photo

The potential ramifications of the looming LIPA lawsuit specter may finally be coming into focus.

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant announced during a public hearing April 2 on the 2018-19 budget the village is “on the cusp of a settlement” with the Long Island Power Authority, which would end the legal battle being waged since 2010 regarding the assessed valuation and property tax bill the public utility has been paying on its Port Jefferson power plant. LIPA has argued the estimate is too high based on decreased energy demand, and the village accused LIPA of breaching its contract, which was supposed to run until 2028. The village and Port Jefferson School District receive substantial revenue from LIPA’s tax dollars and have had the prospect of lost revenue hanging over future financial planning. Port Jefferson is among other municipalities, like Northport, which host plants that have lawsuits against LIPA and believe the contract has been breached.

Garant said the board came to the decision to write $107,000 into the upcoming budget to create a reserve fund to prepare in anticipation for a “glide path” agreement, in which the village’s LIPA revenue will be scaled down gradually over time. The figure was chosen to bring the total budget’s tax levy increase to exactly 2 percent, thus avoiding asking residents to pierce the cap. The 2018-19 adopted budget is $10,642,146, about $233,000 up from to the current year, with the largest driver of the increase being the money set aside to deal with LIPA.

“The appropriations of reserves that we have accumulated over the last six to seven years aside, once we know what the glide path looks like, we will be putting our fund balance, monies that we’ve built, into that reserve account, which kind of locks it away so that future boards, if there should be future boards, can’t take that money and do something else with it,” Garant said. “It’ll preserve that money and entrust it to contributing toward the glide path.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced during his State of the Town address April 3 it had reached a settlement with LIPA on its version of the assessment suit. Village Attorney Brian Egan said Brookhaven’s settlement would have no impact on Port Jeff’s discussions, and that negotiations were ongoing.

“This year it’s basically another rollover budget like we’ve had in the past with very minimal changes,” village treasurer, Denise Mordente, said during the presentation. Other factors contributing to the budget increase included contractual raises for village employees, the increasing minimum wage, increased costs for medical benefits, and some additional funds for code enforcement that were used for installing security cameras and maintenance throughout the village, among a few others.

The board also passed a resolution that would give it the option to pierce the tax levy increase cap — as it does every year — should it need to do so, though that is not in the village’s plans for the upcoming year.

Port Jefferson School District offered a scathing statement in response to the news about Brookhaven’s settlement, saying it is “deeply troubled,” to hear of the settlement.

“This decision will imminently place the School District in harm’s way,” the statement said.

This story was updated April 4 to remove information mistakenly included about a public budget vote, and to include a statement from Port Jefferson School District.

The St. James firehouse on Route 25A/Lake Avenue. Photo from Google Maps

A second lawsuit has been filed against the St. James Fire Dept. and its leadership as a third volunteer has stepped forward alleging unfair treatment over social media.

St. James resident John Tyson filed a federal lawsuit against St. James Fire Department and St. James Fire District Jan. 31 seeking $700,000 in damages for being first suspended, then dismissed as a volunteer allegedly over a series of Facebook posts. He claims the firehouse’s actions violated his First Amendment right to free speech and due process rights under New York State law.

“These acts were taken purely in retaliation for [Tyson] exercising his rights to free speech by expressing views which were contrary to the views of the majority of the Fire Department’s governing body,” the lawsuit reads.

“These acts were taken purely in retaliation for [Tyson] exercising his rights to free speech by expressing views which were contrary to the views of the majority of the Fire Department’s governing body.”

— John Tyson lawsuit

Tyson was a longtime volunteer of the fire department and admitted he was an administrator of the St. James Fire Department Engine Company #1 Facebook group, along with siblings Richard and Tricia Weisse. After the Sept. 19, 2017, bond vote failed 775-459, Tricia Weisse posted a photograph of the historic Lake Avenue firehouse to the Facebook group. An unidentified person posted as a comment, “It is tough, unless you are looking for a new place to party, to see these pics and remain absolutely unemotional about tearing it down. Nice pics,” according to the court documents.

The St. James volunteer alleges in the lawsuit he received a phone call Sept. 29 from Second Assistant Chief David Mills saying that until one of the three administrators of the Facebook group admitted to posting the offensive comment, he was suspended from attending all social activities. He received a letter dated Sept. 28 signed by Chief Edward Springer confirming his suspension through Dec. 31 for allegedly violating the district’s social media policy.

“The letter did not accuse [Tyson] of posting the comment, but rather, held him responsible for the post because he was one of the three administrators of the Facebook group,” the lawsuit reads. “However, the post did not violate the social media policy, and the claimant had not violated the social media policy merely by being an administrator of the Facebook group on which the post was made.”

On Dec. 12, Tyson posted a comment on the Facebook group Citizens for a Safer St. James in response to a video made by Joe Kuethen who was running for fire commissioner. In Tyson’s comments, he wrote, “Unification of the firefighters? Difficult. That responsibility rests with the chiefs who are centered on exploiting differences and punishing those of opposing opinion.”

Tyson said he received a phone call from fire district officers Jan. 2 advising him that he was suspended from the fire department due to his post and “cannot go to the firehouse at all.” The decision, Tyson alleges, was made without any notice of the charges against him and he wasn’t provided with a hearing as required for volunteers under New York general municipal law.

Jessica Novins, a spokeswoman for the fire district, said the fire commissioners “cannot comment on matters of litigation.”

On Jan. 3, St. James Fire Department held its monthly meeting — which Tyson understood he was prohibited from attending — where its approximately 100 members voted to terminate him as a volunteer. Tyson said he was embarrassed and humiliated to learn of this, having only heard about the vote afterwards.

Kevin Barattini, a spokesman for St. James Fire Department, said the organization has no comment at this time.

This is the second lawsuit filed against St. James Fire Department and the fire district in the last three months. The Weisses, third-generation volunteers with Engine Company #1, filed a lawsuit Dec. 19 in federal court alleging the fire department, fire district and its officers illegally prevented them from attending any social events due to the Facebook post made after the bond vote in September. The pair is also seeking money for their “emotional distress, mental anguish, embarrassment and humiliation.”

Deer rutting season means more of the animals running out on local roads. Photo by Rohma Abbas

An East Quogue-based hunting group is taking aim at Smithtown town code that regulates the use of firearms, including longbows.

Hunters for Deer filed a lawsuit against the Town of Smithtown in New York State Supreme Court last month, claiming the town’s required firearms code is illegal and inconsistent with state regulations set by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

“The town is stepping on the DEC’s toes,” said Michael Tessitore, president of Hunters for Deer. “We are saying that we already have laws being regulated by the DEC, the town is muddying the waters.”

Tessitore said he and his fellow hunters take issue with the town’s definition of a firearm because it differs from the DEC’s definition and increases the required setback, or distance hunters can be from a dwelling.

Under Section 160 of town code, Smithtown defines a firearm as “a weapon which acts by force of gunpowder or from which a shot is discharged by force of an explosion, as well as an air rifle, an air gun, a BB gun, a slingshot and a bow and arrow.” It was last updated in January 1990.

By comparison, the DEC’s regulations recognize rifles, pistols, shotguns and specific types of airguns as firearms, but doesn’t include longbows which are used for deer hunting.

Due to this difference, Hunters for Deer is suing saying the Town of Smithtown’s required 500-foot setback from the nearest dwelling to discharge a firearm is illegal, citing that New York State reduced the setback for longbows from 500 to 150 feet in 2014.

The difference in the laws illegally restrains hunters from shooting deer within Smithtown or face possible prosecution, according to the lawsuit filed Dec. 7, and denies them their civil right to participate in hunting activity.

“I have a lot of property owners from Smithtown who call me and ask me to hunt their property, but when they find out the setback they don’t want to do it,” Tessitore said. “It causes the property owners to not want to cause any conflict with their community and get tickets for an otherwise legal activity.”

Christian Killoran, a Westhampton Beach attorney representing Hunters for Deer, sent a letter to the Town of Smithtown advising it of the issues with its code, according to Tessitore, but no action was taken.

Nicole Garguilo, newly appointed town spokeswoman, said that town attorney Matthew Jakubowski was unable to comment on pending litigation.

The town’s response to the lawsuit filed Dec. 18 stated the town was advised of the hunting organization’s position, but its “actions were lawful and within statutory constitutional authority.”

Tessitore said his group previously filed a lawsuit against the Village of Sag Harbor when it attempted to make a law that would have banned hunting within its borders, getting village officials to revisit and later change it. Tessitore said he hopes this lawsuit will have similar effect on the Town of Smithtown, causing town offices to amend town code to be more inline with the state DEC’s regulations.

“The only way to get a municipality’s attention is through a lawsuit and let a court decide who is right and who is wrong,” he said.

Lawsuit alleges FaceBook post made after September 2017 vote led to unfair suspension, harassment

The St. James firehouse on Route 25A/Lake Avenue. Photo from Google Maps

Two volunteers are suing the St. James firehouse and its leadership for violating their constitutional rights in the aftermath of the September bond vote.

Siblings Richard Weisse and Tricia Weisse, third-generation volunteers with St. James Engine Company #1, allege the St. James Fire Department, St. James Fire District, Chief Edward Springer Jr. and First Assistant Chief Ryan Davis illegally prevented them from attending any social events due to a Facebook post made after the bond vote in September. The pair is seeking money for their “emotional distress, mental anguish, embarrassment and humiliation.”

“We believe that the plaintiffs here were wronged, it’s a clear violation of their First Amendment and Fourth Amendment due process rights,” said David Erhlich, a Garden City-based attorney representing the Weisses. “We believe a jury will be sympathetic and side with our clients.”

The [firefighters] actions against [Richard and Tricia Weisse] amount to sore losers who are taking revenge on the ‘winners”
— Lawsuit

The Weisse family has a long history with the fire department, with their father, the late Richard Weisse Sr. having been a 42-year member and prior captain who was given the title of honorary chief upon his death, Erhlich said.

Tricia Weisse posted a picture of the historic St. James firehouse, located on Route 25A/Lake Avenue, on Facebook Sept. 24, after a $12.25 million capital bond vote failed Sept. 19, according to the lawsuit. Erlich said both siblings were vocal advocates against the bond.

Another person, who was not identified in the lawsuit, wrote a comment under the Facebook post reading, “St. James Fire Dept. Engine Company #1. It is tough, unless you are looking for a new place to party, to see these pics and remain absolutely unemotional about tearing it down. Nice pics,” according to the court documents.

Based on this comment, Richard Weisse and Tricia Weisse claim they received a letter signed by Springer that suspended them and another volunteer, John Tyson, from attending all social events and functions for three months as the comment violated the district’s social media policy. The Weisses said they requested a hearing to have their suspension reviewed, but the district refused.

“The [firefighters] actions against [Richard and Tricia Weisse] amount to sore losers who are taking revenge on the ‘winners,’” reads the lawsuit. “Springer and Davis used and abused their power in the department to punish the plaintiffs for their political decision on the bond issue.”

During this three-month suspension, the fire department hosted several events including its Veterans Day parade, Christmas parade, and Breakfast with Santa where the siblings had traditionally dressed up as Santa and Mrs. Claus. Instead, the siblings were forced to sit out.

We made an attempt to reach out to the fire department and fire district via letter and via phone, to resolve the matter”
— David Erhlich

Richard Weisse also alleged in November 2017 that Davis directed that he and other members of Engine Company No. 1 not be transported to a mandatory training, for which he took time off work to attend, and was not able to make it up within the required time frame. As such, Richard Weisse was suspended as a volunteer, according to court documents, and harassed by other firefighters.

“Springer, Davis and the department encouraged and condoned the harassment of Richard,” reads the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that the Weisse siblings’ “expression and advocacy against the bond issue — including the comment which was wrongly attributed to [them] — are an expression on the issue of public importance and is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution from government interference or restriction.”

The siblings’ attorney also makes case for a violation of the Weisses’ Fourth Amendment due process right, claiming New York General Municipal Law Section 209-1 requires firefighters receive procedural due process before being discharged or suspended.

“We made an attempt to reach out to the fire department and fire district via letter and via phone, to resolve the matter,” Erlich said. “All we received back was a letter saying they we are supporting the fire district.”

Jessica Novins, a spokeswoman for St. James fire department and district, commented only, “Should there ever be any litigation against the fire district, the district would not be at liberty to comment.”

Suffolk residents are suing the county, overseen by Executive Steve Bellone, for what they deem to be illegal fees. File photo

By Kevin Redding

An upstate New York legal group that helps residents stand up against improper actions by their government recently set its sights on Suffolk County, whose hike in illegal fees in the past two years is the focus of a class-action lawsuit.

On Oct. 24, the Government Justice Center, an Albany-based nonprofit that offers pro bono representation to New York residents seeking to “fight city hall,” filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court on behalf of five Suffolk County residents against the county, saying its abundance of assessment fees are “unauthorized taxes.”

The plaintiffs — homeowners living in Melville, Kings Park, Commack, Calverton and Shirley — face increasingly expensive fees for filing real estate documents, namely tax map verifications, which raked in $66 million this year, that far surpass the county’s operating budget of $1.2 million to perform the transactions through its Real Property Tax Service Agency, the suit alleges.

Between 2015 and 2017, mortgage recording fees and tax map verification fees imposed by the county jumped from $60 to $200 per land parcel, with an additional $300 slapped on for every mortgage recording instrument used. The revenue from the fees contributes to the county’s general fund.

According to the complaint, the county passed legislation to enforce these “backdoor taxes” on a certain subset of residents — in this case, homeowners — to bear the county’s burden as it was “unwilling to rein in its spending or face the political consequences of raising taxes to pay for general fund expenses.”

But, under state law, local fees are not allowed to exceed the cost of service or be used
to offset the revenue of government functions.

The homeowners are now calling on the county to stop imposing the illegal fees or at least reduce them to more closely match the $1.2 million service cost, and to refund them a portion of the real estate document fees. The county is currently being subpoenaed.

“It’s important that residents get the opportunity to have their voices heard,” said Cameron MacDonald, the executive director of the GJC. “The county is not supposed to be raising revenue through unauthorized taxes in the form of excessive fees. They need to either pass a tax that affects everyone or cut its spending.”

Ahead of the Suffolk County Legislature’s budget vote for 2018, which passed Nov. 8, MacDonald said he and his group called on legislators, to no avail, to eliminate a total $102 million in fees that generate revenue above the cost of the departments that collect them.

Mike Armstrong, the director of field operations for Reclaim New York Initiative, a nonpartisan group with representation on the GJC’s board which launched the Fight the Fees campaign to end illegal fees across the state, has been active in gaining public support of the lawsuit.

Armstrong compared the gradual increase of fees on taxpayers to “the difference between getting small cuts on your arm to having it chopped off entirely.

“The county talks about wanting to keep people here while they’re pushing them out the door with fees and taxes,” Armstrong said, adding that while tax increases are never popular, it’s at least honest compared to these fees. “I feel bad for young couples who want to buy a house that are now paying that mortgage fee. I feel bad for senior citizens who are closing out their mortgages and then are faced with an  exorbitant fee. It’s an issue that’s impacting people in a really dramatic way.”

During a vote last December to adopt the 2017 county budget,  Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) defended the fee increases, saying residents will not leave Suffolk County because of a few additional hundreds of dollars.

“I don’t think anyone is going to move to Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Arizona or anywhere else because of $300,” Gregory said regarding the verification fee. “I think it’s going to cost more to relocate than the
increase in this fee.”

Among few voices of opposition on the Legislature is Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), who, during the meeting to adopt the 2017 county budget, called it “death by a thousand knives.” He warned of an inevitable deficit in the county’s budget.

“The mismanagement of Suffolk County is heading us down the path of bankruptcy,” Trotta said. “They’re going to lose the lawsuits and they’re going to have to refund the fees and stop spending money. There’s going to be a huge hole in the budget no matter what.”

Jason Elan, a spokesman for County Executive Steve Bellone (D), addressed the lawsuit in an emailed statement.

“This is a politically motivated lawsuit filed by Albany insiders who lack any understanding on how government costs are apportioned, yet have no problem saddling taxpayers with the cost of fighting this completely frivolous complaint,” Elan’s statement read.

The state supreme court has since ruled similar fees in Nassau unconstitutional.

“This is a major victory for taxpayers, homeowners, businesses and any New Yorker who has been forced to pay an illegal fee,” Reclaim New York said in an email. “Every government around the state should get the message loud and clear. Nassau and Suffolk legislators have knowingly been stealing from residents with illegal fees ­— it’s theft. It is time to end illegal fees across New York.”

File photo by Elana Glowatz

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Two parents are suing the Kings Park Central School District over a 2015 sexting incident, claiming handling of the matter humiliated their sons and violated their freedom of speech.

Andrew J. Fenton, of Fort Salonga, and Thomas Phelan, of Kings Park, filed a lawsuit after their sons were among more than 25 students suspended for having received a sexual video via text message.

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 19, 2017, in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleges the “suspension of [the students] for receiving a video, unsolicited, which they did not show or send to anyone else, and which bore no nexus to an ensuing school disruption was arbitrary and capricious.” Both Fenton and Phelan seek damages for “humiliation and anguish” of their sons and their records expunged of the suspension.

On Nov. 4, 2015, dozens of Kings Park High School students received a video on their cellphones of two 14-year-olds having sex while at home, according to court documents.

When an assistant principal saw a ninth-grader playing the video in the high school’s cafeteria Nov. 6, school officials began an extensive investigation. The phones of all students who still had the video were temporarily confiscated, according to court documents. School district officials allege both Fenton’s and Phelon’s sons still had the video.

Under Kings Park’s Guidelines for Implementation of School Discipline Policy, “inappropriate texting and use of social media” and “selling, using, transmitting or possessing obscene material” are considered Level IV infractions punishable by up to five days suspension and parental contact.

On Nov. 9 and 10, Kings Park High School Principal Lino Bracco sent certified mail to Fenton and Phelan notifying them that their sons, sophomores at the time, would be suspended for one day for “inappropriate use of an electronic device.” The letter warned that the students were “prohibited from entering upon school grounds for any reason and should remain home under supervision.”

Fenton said he did not receive the Nov. 9 letter in time, and his son was escorted out of the high school on Nov. 10 by two uniformed police officers, according to court documents.

By letter dated Nov. 18, Superintendent Timothy Eagen made an offer to parents that they could submit a request for their child’s disciplinary record to be reviewed, and barring any similar incidents, the suspension would be expunged.

Both parents retained Middletown-based attorneys, partners Robert Isseks and Andrew Smith, who sent letters dated Dec. 9, 2015, requesting the suspensions be immediately removed from the students’ records alleging “they never possessed the message in school or on school property.”

Both parents said Kings Park school district’s cellphone policy also infringed on their sons’ right to free speech. “The only way that [he] or any other student could possibly make sure that he did not find himself in an ‘incident similar in nature’ during the coming year is if he stopped receiving text messages all together,” reads the Dec. 9 letter.

An appeal was made to New York State Department of Education, whose Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia ruled Nov. 10, 2016, that the district’s “suspension of [the students] for receiving a video, unsolicited, which they did not show or send to anyone else, and which bore no nexus to an ensuring school disruption, was arbitrary and capricious.” Elia ordered Kings Park school district to annul and expunge the suspension.

Eagen said that as at press time, Kings Park school district had yet to be served with the lawsuit.

“Parents will sometimes address a particular issue through a media solution rather than an administrative or due process solution,” Eagen said. “However, in choosing this path, sometimes parents will share certain personal and/or confidential information that then becomes a part of public record.”

The superintendent said the district’s policy and practice is to not comment on specific student disciplinary matters and/or pending lawsuits.

Attorney Smith could not be reached for comment by press time. Principal Bracco did not return phone calls requesting an interview or comment.

A Larkfield Road home is at the center of a lawsuit by its two former owners against Town of Huntington, Councilman Eugene Cook and his two business partners. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Two former East Northport landowners are suing Huntington Town, Councilman Eugene Cook (R) and his two business partners for $5 million over alleged loss of property rights.

A federal lawsuit filed Sept. 11 in U.S District Court for the Eastern District of New York claims that town officials have intentionally overlooked zoning code violations at a multi-family home on Larkfield Road — but only after it was purchased by TGJ 2014 LLC in 2014. The company is owned by Cook and two business partners, Huntington real estate agent Timothy Cavanagh and Commack attorney Joshua Price.

The former homeowners, Mary Ann Dellinger, of Huntington, and her brother, Carmen Tomeo, allege the town officials’ efforts to unfairly enforce zoning codes on the five-family dwelling caused them to lose money in the sale, according to their attorney Christopher Cassar. The house was purchased for $400,000 by TGJ 2014.

“This house was their primary asset,” Cassar said.

The plaintiffs claim the Larkfield Road home’s use as a multi-family dwelling predates the creation of Huntington Town code in 1934, according to court documents. Cassar said the family has a March 11, 2007 letter from the town which grandfathered the property’s right to be legally occupied as a five-family residence.

The lawsuit alleges town code enforcement officers began to issues summonses in 2012 against the property owners demanding it be returned to a single-family home, despite earlier promises.

“Town of Huntington has permitted and tolerated a pattern and practice of unjustified, unreasonable and illegal use of the enforcement of town code against the plaintiffs,” the lawsuit reads.

Cassar said the town’s actions caused Dellinger and Tomeo to have difficulty selling the house, as two prior deals fell through. One potential buyer would have paid $900,000 for the property, according to Cassar, half a million more than Cook and his partners paid.

The former homeowners also claim the $5 million sought is for damages including loss of income from the property, loss of property value, embarrassment, harrassment, loss of liberty and infringement of their property rights, according to court records.

In 2015, town officials  hired attorney Edward Guardaro Jr., of the firm Kaufman, Borgeest & Ryan LLP, to look into the East Northport house, to determine whether it was a legal rental and if the work being performed was legal.

Cassar said the town has issued a summons on the property, since Cook and his company took ownership, over issues with an exterior staircase and debris. However, the attorney said the town did not ever issue a code violation against it for being a multi-family dwelling.

Huntington has not been served with the lawsuit as of Sept. 20, according to town spokesman A.J. Carter, and he declined to comment further on the matter. Cook also declined to comment on the lawsuit after the Sept. 19 board meeting, as did Cavanagh. Price returned calls but did not comment on the matter.

The Incorporated Village of Poquott. File photo

There will only be one name on the ballot when residents head out to vote for a mayor in the small North Shore Village of Poquott on June 21, though the race has been anything but uncontested. The same can be said for the two available trustee seats, even though only two names will be on the ballot for those positions.

The plot has seemed at times like it came straight from the popular Netflix series “House of Cards,” which offers what is portrayed as a look behind the curtain of the inner workings of national government and politics. In Poquott the stakes are obviously lower, but after a lawsuit over petitions, closed-door meetings, burned bridges between former best friends and a race between the last two mayors of the village, the tension seems analogous to a presidential election.

Mayoral candidates
Dee Parrish defeated Barbara Donovan to become mayor of the village in 2014. Prior to that Donovan served six two-year terms from 2002 to 2014. Despite being the incumbent mayor and having no desire to step aside, Parrish will not appear on the ballot after a state Supreme Court judge ruled in favor of a lawsuit brought about by Donovan and her running mates. The group calls itself the Party of Unity and Respect, and the lawsuit stemmed from questions about the validity of Parrish’s and three trustee candidate’s petitions. Parrish is still very much a candidate for another term even though residents will have to write-in her name in order to win.

Parrish noted many accomplishments during an interview at Village Hall on Monday, but she said she was most proud of saving the village about $16,000 in her first year and lowering property taxes in her second year.

“That’s enough for me to say I did the best I could,” Parrish said. “I’ve done so many good things that to just stop right now would be a shame, but if that’s what the residents want, I’m okay with it.”

The Poquott resident of 16 years said her focus has always been doing what is best for the village, and win or lose she said she’d like to sit down with Donovan and hash things out.

If Parrish loses, she said she’d offer Donovan a benefit not given to her during her first term two years ago: a transitional meeting. Parrish said Donovan did nothing to make her transition into the position easier when she took over, but that won’t be the case if the roles are reversed.

Parrish studied accounting at Long Island University, where she earned a degree in 1990. She’s worked for her husband Richard’s environmental company in various capacities in recent years, mostly in human relations, she said. She decided to run for mayor in 2014 because she thought the previous administration got “stale” during Donovan’s 12-year run in the position.

In 12 years as mayor Donovan also accumulated a long list of accomplishments of which she’s proud.

In a phone interview on Tuesday she said she helped to bring the village into the 21st century with a website, computers in Village Hall and internal emails for villagers.

“I really feel very strongly about Poquott,” she said. Donovan said her desire to run this time around is similar to what inspired her 14 years ago. “The administration at that time, I didn’t agree with things they were doing. I believe in open communication and transparency. I believe you have to communicate with residents.”

Donovan worked for 30 years in marketing and public relations, and she said those skills made her a natural fit as mayor.

She has also served in the Setauket Fire Department for 28 years.

Donovan said she’s not sure how this campaign cycle became so heated, but she would be willing to a sit down with Parrish at some point to settle their differences and do what’s best for the village.

Trustee race
Sandra Nicoletti is the only incumbent trustee seeking re-election on June 21, though like Parrish, questions about her petition will leave her off the ballot. None of the candidates probed in the suit wished to comment about their petitions.

Nicoletti was best friends with the former mayor, she said.

The retired St. Charles nurse was a trustee during Donovan’s stint in charge, but the two haven’t spoken since Nicoletti decided to run again after Donovan was defeated.

She has lived in the village since 1964 and said the only thing that matters is what’s best for the community.

Nicoletti will need to win as a write-in candidate, which puts her in the same boat as Gary Garofano and John Mastauskas.

Mastauskas is a lifelong Three Village resident and a 1988 graduate from the high school.

The small business owner and father of two who called himself a family man in an emailed statement is running in the hopes of unifying the village.

Mike Schaefer and Joan Hubbard will appear on the ballot and are members of Donovan’s Party of Unity and Respect.

Hubbard has been a permanent resident in Poquott since 2012, though her family has visited for getaways since the 1950s.

She has worked as a village clerk in various North Shore communities, most recently under Donovan in Poquott.

Schaefer has lived in Poquott for 15 years. He worked for Suffolk County in various capacities for 30 years, which he said gives him an advantage as a public servant.

Polls will be open at Village Hall on June 21 from noon until 9 p.m.

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Extreme low temperatures caused enough demand to require use of the Port Jefferson Power Station. File photo by Erika Karp

Port Jefferson Village moved another chess piece in its match against the Long Island Power Authority last week, filing a lawsuit to dispute the utility’s property tax challenges from the last few years, which are still pending in court.

Village Attorney Brian Egan said at the board of trustees meeting Tuesday night that the village filed the lawsuit last Friday contending LIPA had promised not to challenge its property tax assessment at the Port Jefferson power plant unless the assessment was disproportionately increased.

That perceived promise links back to a 1997 letter from former LIPA chairman Richard Kessel, upon inking a power supply agreement between LIPA and the Long Island Lighting Company, as the former was taking over for the latter. That agreement covered power plants now owned and operated by energy company National Grid, which includes those in Port Jefferson and Northport.

Back then LIPA and local municipalities were embroiled in other tax assessment challenges. Kessel’s letter said the utility would drop those challenges and would not “initiate any further tax certiorari cases on any of their respective properties at any time in the future unless a municipality abusively increases its assessment rate.”

Port Jefferson has actually gone in the opposite direction on the neighborhood power plant’s assessment, officials confirmed Tuesday — LIPA’s assessment was only proportionately increased over time, and since it began challenging its assessment in 2010, it has in fact seen a decrease. Officials called that 10 percent decrease an act of good faith as they negotiated with the utility on the matter.

At the heart of the issue is a disagreement over the worth of the local power plant: LIPA contends it is grossly overassessed, forcing the utility to pay more in property taxes than it should.

The power plant is a large source of tax revenue for the area, particularly the Port Jefferson school district and the village. Smaller stakeholders include the Port Jefferson fire and library districts and the Town of Brookhaven.

As LIPA’s property tax challenges trickle through the court system, Port Jefferson’s latest lawsuit piggybacks on an idea from out west — Huntington Town and the Northport-East Northport school district filed a similar suit a couple of years ago in their battle on the Northport power plant, which mirrors the situation in Port Jefferson. That inceptive lawsuit, challenging LIPA’s ability to challenge its property tax assessment, faced a motion to dismiss that New York State’s highest court recently denied — allowing the case to play out. Seeing the ruling in favor of Huntington and Northport, Port Jefferson followed suit.

“I feel very strong,” Egan said about the case.

According to the village attorney, he will ask that court action on LIPA’s tax challenges be delayed until the new lawsuit is resolved.

The Port Jefferson and Huntington area lawsuits may also be joined, and it is possible more plaintiffs, such as Brookhaven Town and the Port Jefferson school district, could jump in.

At the time the courts denied LIPA’s motion to dismiss Huntington Town and the Northport school district’s lawsuit, a LIPA spokesperson said the utility does not comment on ongoing litigation.

If the municipalities win their lawsuits regarding LIPA’s right to challenge its property tax assessments, those pending challenges would be thrown out.