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Hempstead officials offer visions for ethics reform


Town of Hempstead Supervisor Anthony Santino last week released a raft of ethics reform proposals that he called the “strongest and most comprehensive” on Long Island.

Among his proposals were provisions that would:

• Bar elected leaders and employees from receiving speaking fees for presentations on town matters.

• Ban the use of town equipment and facilities by elected officials and employees.

• Prohibit elected leaders and managers from serving on private boards for which they are paid.

• Require all public works contracts and bids to be published online.

“It’s time for everyone in government to decide if they are going to put the people whom they serve before personal profits,” said Santino, a Republican from East Rockaway.

The goal of the supervisor’s plan, said town spokesman Mike Deery, “is to remove conflicts of interest, potential conflicts of interest and even the appearance of impropriety for those who vote on town legislation.”

Most controversially, the supervisor proposed to cap the annual income that the six Council members can receive from outside work at $125,000. According to Deery, the plan would follow guidelines outlined by the New York Public Interest Research Group, Reinvent Albany and Common Cause NY, and he referred the Herald to the report, “Serving Two Masters, Outside Income and Conflict of Interest in Albany.”

The limit on outside income would not apply to rank-and-file town employees, only town officials who vote on legislation, Deery said.

Council members earn $71,000 annually. A Council post is a part-time position.

The supervisor earns $160,000 a year. The position is full-time.

Reclaim New York, a non-profit, non-partisan government oversight group, said in an analysis of the supervisor’s reform plan that the provision to limit Council members’ income “carries no ethical merit.”

The proposal to limit income appeared to be directed at Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, a Republican from Wantagh, who is a partner in Eckert Seamans Attorneys at Law and a managing partner of King Sweeney Strategies, LLC.

King Sweeney and Bruce Blakeman, both Republicans, have been at odds with Santino over their proposal to hire an inspector general to oversee town contracts. They first went public with the plan in April. King Sweeney renewed her call last week, after Santino released his ethics reform package, which did not include one.

King Sweeney was quick to respond to Santino’s call to limit Council members’ income. “To make it clear, I am proud that, through hard work and dedication, my husband and I are successful and are able to provide for our family,” she told the Herald. “I make no apologies for that. That is what America is supposed to be about.”

“Unlike other members of the board or town officials,” she continued, “I have no relatives or family members on the town payroll.

She added that she found it “ironic” that Santino had earned outside income while he was a councilman before becoming supervisor, only to now propose a limit on such income. Santino served on the Council from 1993 through 2015, when he was elected supervisor with 60 percent of the vote.

King Sweeney is the daughter of U.S. Rep. Peter King, a Republican from Seaford. Before King was elected to Congress, he served as the Nassau County comptroller.

Democrat Laura Gillen, an attorney from Rockville Centre, who is running for the supervisor’s post against Santino this year, released a statement supporting King Sweeney’s plan for an inspector general.

“I join Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney in calling for bipartisan ethics reforms that would apply to every elected official in the Town of Hempstead, not just those who speak out,” Gillen said. “Every Town of Hempstead taxpayer should find it deeply disturbing that Supervisor Santino is cherry-picking ethics reforms that apply only to certain individuals, while ignoring bipartisan calls for an independent inspector general.”

Calls for ethics reform in Hempstead followed a series of corruption and bribery scandals in the Nassau County and Town of Oyster Bay governments over the past year. County Executive Ed Mangano and former Oyster Bay supervisor John Venditto are both currently under indictment, awaiting trial.

As part of her ethics reform package, King Sweeney is also proposing:

• Scheduling quarterly meetings between the supervisor and each Town Council member.

• Establishing committees to oversee each town department, with each committee to be chaired by a Council member.

• Granting Council members independent control over their district budgets. Currently, they have no control over the hiring and firing of district employees.

• Adopting transparency measures recommended by Reclaim New York, including listing all current town contracts over $10,000 on the town website and publishing all project bids, including how each is scored.

Deery noted that Santino, too, would like to place bids and contracts online. In doing so, he said, “There [would] be thousands of inspector generals — the general public — who [could] review every single contract.”

“What’s more,” he continued, “the town’s extensive public disclosure provisions for bidders and contractors under [Supervisor Santino’s] legislative proposal [would] provide the highest level of transparency of any local government on Long Island.”

King Sweeney said she planned to propose an emergency resolution at the next Council meeting on Aug. 8, calling on the town to hire an inspector general. That meeting was to take place after the Herald went to press.

The town is set to hold a public hearing on Santino’s ethics reform plan on Sept. 5.