That might not last long, given that ethics boards in Nassau and Hempstead Town last week — for the first time in a long time — were being pushed to take action.
In Hempstead, Reclaim New York and its New York Transparency Project filed a Freedom of Information Law request Wednesday for the names of town ethics board members, and the dates they were appointed.
The request came a day after a nine hour-plus town board meeting during which officials refused to answer questions about who was on the board, even as they considered a new ethics plan that would end up revamping it.
In Nassau — and Suffolk residents ought to pay attention, too — District Attorney Madeline Singas sought clarification about what would be considered a breach of ethics when public officials use public money and resources to mail out thinly disguised campaign materials.
With such clarification in place, Singas said in a letter to Nassau’s ethics board, the DA’s office could lodge criminal charges of official misconduct for political-disguised-as-informational mailings.
But let’s jump back to Hempstead for a bit.
Reclaim New York’s FOIL — and here, we must acknowledge that Long Island municipalities often toss obstacles in the path of providing public information — is just the beginning of the group’s effort to inform town residents about the good, and bad, of Hempstead’s new ethics law.
“We are working on videos, op-eds, blogs, the kinds of things to continue to inform residents about what is in this ethics plan and why it is a phony plan,” said Doug Kellogg, a spokesman for Reclaim New York.
Is the intent of the effort to punish Hempstead Supervisor Tony Santino and board members who supported the plan, who are up for re-election in November?
“Of course not,” said Kellogg, noting that Reclaim New York, a nonprofit chaired by the daughter of Long Island billionaire Robert Mercer, is not allowed to electioneer.
“This is about informing Hempstead residents about what this plan has done, some of which is positive, but some of which has major gaps and causes for concern,” he said.
On Friday afternoon, in response to a request for comment on the FOIL, Hempstead released the names — but not the appointment dates — of three ethics board members: A deputy town attorney, a former deputy town attorney and a prominent Republican attorney.
“The members of Hempstead Town’s Ethics Board have been a matter of public record,” spokesman Mike Deery said in an accompanying statement — although a Google search of all three names and “Hempstead ethics board” came up with nothing.
Nassau doesn’t list the names of its ethics board members on its website either — although the names, which include the county attorney, are listed on the board’s letterhead.
In her request, Singas asked the board to move quickly to institute guidelines, “to avoid further waste of taxpayer funds, to provide me with the standards necessary to investigate possible criminal violations, and to provide . . . [elected officials] with guidance as to permissible constituent communications.”
But that’s unlikely to happen since every countywide office — except DA — is up for grabs on Election Day. So it will be left up to the next county executive to appoint a board that will take up Singas’ request.