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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

LI often closes the ethics barn door after the horse is gone

Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino is shown

Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino is shown on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, in Oyster Bay. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Ever notice how too many Long Island municipalities rush, and with great fanfare, to close the barn door? But too often it’s after the horses escape.

Take the Town of Oyster Bay, which recently appointed a new five-member ethics board as part of what new Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino called “sweeping reforms” after a new ethics code was adopted last year.

“We have put together a team of the best ethics board . . . in the state of New York,” Saladino told Newsday — one that will review financial disclosure forms submitted by town officials, employees and contractors, along with handling complaints from the public.

Sounds reasonable, right? But let’s jump back to May 2015, when the town board hired a lawyer — for $50,000 a year — to review the ethics code for possible changes.

At that time, then-town attorney Leonard Genova, an ethics board member, said he was unaware of specific changes anyone wanted to make to the code, according to a Newsday report. The lawyer “may or may not want to make suggestions or recommendations,” Genova said. “We’ll be wholly open to that.”

The board decided to bring in an attorney after Massapequa resident Robert Ripp filed a complaint, seeking some determination as to whether work then-Planning Commissioner Frederick Ippolito did for town contractor Carlo Lizza & Sons Paving violated ethics rules. Genova, according to the Newsday report, said Ripp’s complaint was the first brought to the board in at least two decades — which would seem to imply that Oyster Bay ran a tight, clean operation.

Why then was it so hard for the public to suss out the true nature of town finances, which sent Oyster Bay’s bond rating to junk status? Or to suss out what really happened with a series of personal loans to a town contractor that federal prosecutors say were guaranteed by town taxpayers — in apparent violation, by the way, of state law?

Genova resigned in January; Saladino gained his post after former supervisor John Venditto, who has pleaded not guilty to federal corruption-related charges, resigned in January as well. That was one year after Ippolito pleaded guilty to federal income-tax evasion charges for failing to report $2 million in consulting fees he’d received from Carlo Lizza & Sons Paving, where he’d worked until joining the town in 2009, and from the Lizza Family Trust.

U.S. District Court Judge Leonard D. Wexler, who handled the case, at one point declared that “something is rotten in Oyster Bay” — and yet the ethics board received no complaints for two decades?

But Oyster Bay isn’t the only municipality working to shutter and strengthen the ethics barn door. Huntington made changes in 2015; and last week, North Hempstead’s town board voted unanimously to reform its code, and adopt an anti-nepotism policy. North Hempstead moved — it bears noting — only after Newsday investigations about overtime in the town highway department and the tax woes of former town Democratic Party Leader Gerard Terry, who has been indicted on state and federal income tax-related charges.

And then there’s Suffolk, where the administration of County Executive Steve Bellone violated county nepotism law by failing to have lawmakers approve a promotion for Legis. Thomas Barraga’s daughter — before promoting her to a $150,540-a-year job as a bureau chief in the county attorney’s office.

Well, as it turns out, there wasn’t one promotion. There were three. And last week, a legislative committee, with two abstentions, approved a bill to retroactively make things right.

That measure — clippity clop, clippity clop — is slated to go before the full legislature for a vote today.

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