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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Nassau towns suddenly embrace ethics reform

Former North Hempstead Democratic Party leader Gerard Terry,

Former North Hempstead Democratic Party leader Gerard Terry, once a powerful political figure in the town, leaves Nassau County Court after pleading guilty to tax fraud on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The mad dash toward ethics reform in Nassau’s three towns began in North Hempstead just a year ago when a Democratic political operative began teetering under the weight of a scandal that ultimately would deprive him of power and multiple municipal and party jobs.

The operative, Gerard Terry, once a powerful political force in the town, pleaded guilty Monday to one count of criminal tax fraud for failing to file a 2010 state return form, and failing to pay $3,000 in taxes. He still faces federal tax evasion charges.

Terry wasn’t North Hempstead’s only issue. More than five other top town employees resigned or were terminated in 2016. They included Terry’s spouse, for not disclosing her debts on her financial disclosure form; the town’s highway superintendent; and the superintendent’s sister, an administrative assistant who was charged with embezzling cash from North Hempstead’s solid waste management agency.

In response, the town board took what would turn out to be the first stab at ethics reform among Nassau’s three towns.

Oyster Bay and Hempstead followed this year. This year.

That’s key since supervisors in all three towns want to keep their jobs after November’s elections.

It’s worth noting that in the three towns, the zest for ethics reform came only after public disclosure — via Newsday reports, or state and federal indictments — involving town personnel.

That was on top of federal indictments of the county’s top elected official, Edward Mangano, who is not seeking a third term as he fights corruption-related allegations.

And that was on top of the federal corruption-related conviction — which is under appeal — of former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who as head of Long Island’s Senate delegation once was the region’s most powerful elected official.

In Oyster Bay, Joseph Saladino, who was appointed supervisor after his predecessor, John Venditto, resigned following his indictment on federal corruption-related charges, held a transparent process for a new parks concession vendor. Venditto also has pleaded not guilty.

Saladino is one of five candidates running for town supervisor — in a town where nine former or current town employees and contractors have been indicted or convicted in connection with a variety of state and federal charges.

In Hempstead, the impact of the town’s new ethics measures has all but been eclipsed by the political fighting between GOP Supervisor Anthony Santino and two town board members who oppose the measures.

But let’s get back to North Hempstead, where the board last year passed policies intended to eliminate conflicts of interest. The measures included an anti-nepotism law and expanded use of disclosure forms.

On Monday, a town spokeswoman said all but one of the employees required to fill out the new disclosure forms had done so by May. The forms now go to the town’s ethics board for review.

As for the holdout? The ethics board will review that case too — and if it deems it necessary, impose a fine, the spokeswoman said.

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