Home Opinion In My Opinion EPCAL, ethics and hidden agendas: Riverhead must move on

EPCAL, ethics and hidden agendas: Riverhead must move on

Triple Five chairman Nader Ghermezian with members of his family and employees at the Feb. 27 opening session of the town's Q&E hearing. File photo: Denise Civiletti

There are many clearly visible examples in Riverhead of public policy and planning gone horribly wrong. What is far uglier and more disturbing is what remains unseen.

The failure of transparency and ethical concerns have resulted in a dramatic loss of public trust. Through segmented SEQRA reviews during the last supervisor’s term, the financial and personal entanglements of both past and present Town Board members with developers, as well as private meetings with corporate officers currently under scrutiny by the town, have quickly served to erode citizens confidence in officials ability to engage in appropriate planning.

The most recent example is Councilwoman Jodi Giglio’s secret personal meeting in Manhattan with owners of Triple Five regarding EPCAL. Ms. Giglio, during an ongoing qualified and eligible hearing, and unbeknownst to the board and the town’s legal counsel, accepted the invitation to this meeting regarding the future of EPCAL and Riverhead itself

Now, as a significant segment of the community has called for, she must recuse herself from any and all decision-making regarding EPCAL. Thus far, despite widespread constituent outrage, as well as the concerns of Supervisor Jens-Smith and of other board members, Ms. Giglio has refused. Apparently, Ms. Giglio now has some higher sense of allegiance or relationship with Triple Five, that overshadows her duty to constituents. “Contemporaneous notes” of her back-channel meeting proved to be nonexistent.. As Warren Buffet is famously quoted as saying, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to lose it.” In Ms. Giglio’s lapse of judgment, it extends to five hours. The sole way in which to restore her reputation and respect is recusal.

The town attorney’s office has received multiple ethics complaints related to Ms. Giglio’s latest behavior, from both community organizations and individuals. Despite their “oversight and direction” of the ethics board, the attorneys refuse to differentiate between matters of law and ethical behavior. The ethics board is not charged with interpreting the letter of the law. The ethics board must determine what constitutes ethical behavior through examining the spirit of the law, in the context of the community’s collective standards and expectations of ethical behavior by our elected officials. Ms. Giglio has failed to meet such expectations. If she lacks the appropriate moral compass to recuse herself, the ethics board must direct her.

Neither Mr. Kozakiewicz nor Mr. Howard, who directly oversees the ethics board, would agree with the statement “One can act legally, yet unethically simultaneously.” This leads one to believe that the ethics board is not being given proper guidance.

In addition, both Mr. Kozakiewicz and his subordinate Mr. Howard are members of the Riverhead Town Republican Committee. Of course impartial outside legal counsel must be secured by Ethics Board chairwoman Donna Bernard.

As we progress through the “qualified and eligible” process, we are unfortunately left with far more questions than answers. In the words of Larry Simms, the Triple Five “dog and pony show” throughout the process has been patronizing to the community at best and woefully unprepared at worst.

Their outrageous claim that “Riverhead will become like Silicon Valley” is clearly an absurdity, not unlike their amateurish presentations and evasive responses to concerned community members. The shifting and restructuring of their corporations, as well as their overall plans remain a sordid mystery and is a clear red flag. Luminati Aerospace was replaced by CAT and the principals and management roles of that LLC have changed. The 600-acre deal became a 1600-acre deal. The applicant has not demonstrated any expertise in aviation or associated industries. They won’t even submit to financial scrutiny by the town, refusing requests to submit financial statements — the most basic of inquiries in determining an entity’s qualifications to carry out a project.

Yet Triple Five chairman Nader Ghermezien keeps telling us he’s doing us a big favor by coming here — even disrupting the town board’s May 24 work session, shouting at the Supervisor at its conclusion, “You must beg! When we come here you should be hugging us and kissing us!” See video. This is nothing short of outrageous.

Supporters of this vague scheme wax nostalgic about Riverhead’s historic role in the aviation industry. The efforts of former Congressman Hochbreuckner to secure the land for the town, during his tenure, is quite admirable and should be recognized. However, his unusual public fervor for the dream of restoring past glory return to a long-forgotten past, seems more like the behavior of the lobbyist — his work since leaving Congress, which has included representation of other companies with their eye on developing EPCAL, including Luminati Aerospace.

“Anything” is not always “better than nothing.” Riverhead deserves better. The town board must recognize the inadequacies of this proposal and move on. No extensions. No additional time. Simply: no.

Ian Lyons is a Riverhead resident. He holds a master’s degree in Social Welfare from Stony Brook University, as well as post-graduate studies in Social Welfare Policy and Research. He is the executive director of Clinical Care Solutions, Behavioral Health Services, in Riverhead. He also serves on the board of Riverhead Business and Citizens for Sustainable Development, a public policy interest group. 


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