As a concerned community member, I was alarmed to learn about potential conflicts of interest that are seemingly being ignored in Town Hall. Jefferson Murphree, the Riverhead building and planning administrator, is a key voice in the decision process responsible for the advancement of development in Riverhead Town. In what seems like a clear conflict with his full-time job, Mr. Murphree has a private consulting job working alongside other consultants that also come to town hall seeking approvals to build.
Developer HK Ventures has a team of consultants working on a 425,000- square-foot industrial project in Calverton currently under review for approval. As that project is waiting for the green light, we’ve learned that Mr. Murphree is working with them to help advance a separate and unpopular project that would put a 7-Eleven on the Route 24 traffic circle just over the town line in Riverside. This project works against the efforts of the strategic plan established by Riverside — which affects the future of downtown Riverhead.
To quote Vince Taldone, who last week filed an ethics complaint on behalf of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association, “Mr. Murphree is being compensated by the town … while being paid by a private developer to advance a project that is clearly detrimental to the goals of Riverhead Town.”
Is it okay with you that Riverhead’s head planner, who maintains a position of influence in town hall, is representing private clients in Southampton Town Hall? Perhaps this is why an aide so often represents the planning department at Rivehread town board and planning board meetings?
When Mr. Taldone brought his concern about a conflict of interest to the town board, the current supervisor’s response was “write a letter to the town clerk.” While her dismissiveness is good for Mr. Murphree, it doesn’t serve Riverhead. Many residents and I find this dismissiveness concerning as it is the duty of Mr. Murphree and the town supervisor to protect the interests of the community. At this moment in time we have to ask ourselves, is this duty being met?
With development constantly changing the character of Riverhead, we need to know that whoever is making decisions is doing so in the best interest of the town. Simply stated, the “side hustle” should not be permitted to interfere with his main duties and the optics of this certainly leave too many questions unanswered. Ignoring this conflict of interest should not be an option. We should be able to trust that the supervisor and town board will work to insure that all is in the best interest of our town.
In good faith, Mr. Murphree should disclose all current and future sources of income for ethics review and put the needs of Riverhead and its residents ahead of personal gain. Riverhead residents should be able to trust that their elected and appointed officials are acting in the best interests of the town when executing their duties.
Juan E. Micieli-Martinez
Juan E. Micieli-Martinez is a downtown Riverhead resident and a Democratic candidate for Riverhead Town council member.
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