Flanked by two members of the legislature, one from each party, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy yesterday took the first steps to deliver on his much ballyhooed campaign pledge to clean up county government.
Levy, a Democrat, unveiled his ethics plan, which included an executive order appointing Rocky Point civic activist Richard Johannesen as chairman of the county's ethics commission.
"It was very easy for me to come up with the ideal chair for our ethics commission," Levy said of Johannesen, 40, who is widely respected across the political spectrum.
"The commission has been somewhat laid-back and we're looking for a more proactive commission, and that begins with the chair."
Additionally, Levy and Legis. Michael Caracciolo (R-Baiting Hollow) and Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor) said they were co-sponsoring several pieces of legislation. One would create a staff for the ethics commission, and another would bar political leaders, people doing business with the county or their relatives from serving on the ethics commission. Also, Levy and Cooper said they were joining to push a bill that would require disclosure of political contributions of $1,000 or more by anyone offering to sell the county land.
Johannesen, a lawyer by trade and Conservative by registration, has won kudos throughout his long career as a civic leader, including serving as the legal engine behind the successful drive to bring council districts to Brookhaven Town last year. Serving on the ethics commission is an unpaid position.
Johannesen, who also served as a member of Levy's transition team's committee on ethics and reform, said he undertook that task with an assumption that the ethics laws in Suffolk were "broke" after witnessing recent scandals with the county's open space program and the guilty plea of former Legis. Fred Towle, a Shirley Republican. However, that perception changed a bit after reading the statutes for the first time.
"I was shocked the law was so well written and the standards were so high," he said. "The problem was the enforcement."
Johannesen promised to use the various resources available to the commission - holding seminars, issuing advisory opinions and establishing guidelines - to "anticipate problems."
Christopher O'Connor, Suffolk director of the Neighborhood Network, an Island-wide public advocacy organization, heralded Johannesen's appointment as "a home-run."