Southold may look beyond borders to hire town attorney

Southold Town Board members at Tuesday's meeting. A search is currently underway to hire a new town attorney. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)
Southold Town Board members at Tuesday’s meeting. A search is underway to hire a new town attorney. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

Nearly two months after Martin Finnegan announced he’s stepping down as town attorney, the Southold Town Board is considering adopting legislation that would allow them to hire an out-of-town replacement.

Since current law states the town’s attorney must reside within the Town of Southold, a new law must be passed in order to cast a wider net during the search process, Supervisor Scott Russell said during Tuesday’s public hearing on the proposal.

If the law is approved, the Town Board would also be able to fill non-civil service positions with people living outside of town, he said.

According to the draft legislation, non-elected town officers will be required to reside within Suffolk County.

The supervisor and Cutchogue resident Benja Schwartz debated over adding language into the law to require the Town Board to give preference for local residents.

“Not enough people in the Town of Southold looking for work, I guess,” Mr. Schwartz said. “We need competent people in our local government. If we can’t find them in our local area, maybe we need to look other places. But maybe we also need to look toward developing people who are the future to help operate our local government with local interest with local people.”

Mr. Russell described adding that type of language into the law as “adding words for words’ sake,” and said he believes it isn’t necessary since the decision to give residents preference is up to the discretion of the Town Board.

“We as a board believe local candidates should have preference, but that’s not the same as exclusivity,” he said.

The supervisor later said the Town Board is going to take Mr. Schwartz’s suggestion under advisement.

After the meeting, Mr. Russell said about eight or nine people have been interviewed for the position. Of those applicants, six reside outside Southold Town, he said.

“We were spoiled with Martin,” Mr. Russell said. “We have some great candidates, but it’s going to take some time for this board to decide.”

The Town Board agreed to hold the hearing open for two weeks for written comment from the public.

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