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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Joye Brown: Nepotism in Nassau are the family ties that bind

There’s a reason why Nassau, and more recently, the county’s three towns, came up with anti-nepotism policies.

In Nassau, in 2007, the goal was to stop employees from hiring or inducing others to hire relatives. And to stop family members from being supervised or evaluated by other family members.

In recent memory, no one has been found to be in violation of the law — which means either that violations no longer happen, or that, effectively, potential violations are being ignored.

Last year, the Town of Oyster Bay started the drive against nepotism anew, with a statute forbidding employees from participating in any portion of the hiring — or firing — process for a relative or “member of his or her household.” As in Nassau, it’s a no-no for family members to supervise family or same-household members either.

This year, Nassau’s other towns, North Hempstead and — until it was determined last week that a new vote was needed on its new ethics law — Hempstead, joined the anti-nepotism action by passing similar measures.

None of the laws on the books has an outright ban on relatives working for the same municipality.

When employees know their jobs and serve the public by performing them well, that makes sense. But it doesn’t when family members supervise or otherwise influence hiring and pay for family members.

That happened in Nassau in 2013, after Public Works Commissioner Shila Shah-Gavnoudias signed off on a contract for her sister’s engineering firm without disclosing the relationship to lawmakers. The case went to the county ethics board, which ruled there had been no violation of law. That spurred the board’s only Democrat to resign after calling the board’s investigative process a “fabrication,” according to a Newsday report.

More recently, there have been instances of a town board member in Hempstead voting on a raise for his mother, and another in which a board member voted for raises for a sister. In North Hempstead, town officials said the law was needed because they didn’t know who was related to whom.

In Oyster Bay, Rose Venditto, the 93-year-old mother of former Supervisor John Venditto, resigned from her job as a part-time recreation aide, a position she held for two decades. John Venditto is fighting federal corruption-related charges.

A report by Newsday’s Paul LaRocco last week found that more than 100 current or former elected officeholders, high-level appointees and lower-level public employees who are leaders of local political clubs in Nassau, have had at least one family member working in local government at some point since 2015.

A look at his analysis showed that many of those family members landed in part-time, seasonal jobs. And the trend held for Republicans and Democrats, across municipal lines.

Whether jobs are part time or full time, however, existing anti-nepotism laws would not cover an official using party ties to help family get party-controlled jobs outside of that official’s municipality.

Which will help keep some of those family ties very strong indeed.

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