The Town of North Hempstead appears to be taking some good first steps toward fighting public corruption, including amending financial disclosure forms so that officials now have to divulge relatives on the town payroll.
Such steps may seem small. But given the public’s increasing awareness that opportunities for corruption are ripe in municipalities across Long Island, they nonetheless are important.
By putting such policies into place — and by enforcing those on the books — the town is building a defense system rather than putting its head into the sand.
If not for a report in Newsday, North Hempstead officials may not have known that the town’s former Democratic Party chairman, Gerard Terry, owed more than a million dollars in state and federal taxes — even as he once held six public jobs, including as a legal adviser to the town.
And Newsday’s Scott Eidler reported recently that the town’s highway superintendent, Thomas Tiernan, collected more than $134,000 in overtime over the past five years under a labor agreement.
He is the only town highway department head in Nassau and Suffolk to be paid overtime.
Officials discovered from the same report something else they did not know: that Tiernan — also the town’s highest paid employee — has several family members on the town payroll.
According to the Newsday report, Tiernan’s wife, brother and son are among the handful of related employees.
Tiernan’s sister, Helen McCann, who had worked as former town Supervisor Jon Kaiman’s secretary, was terminated in January.
She was charged last month with embezzling $98,000 from the town’s Solid Waste Management Agency.
With that, McCann, who has pleaded not guilty, became the first person in New York State to have a charge of grand larceny in the second degree as a public corruption crime leveled at arraignment.
That was under a 2014 law bolstering penalties for crimes tied to corruption by public officials.
Judi Bosworth, the town’s supervisor, promised early on that the town would address such issues.
That included enforcing the town’s financial disclosure law, which, had it been applied to Terry, would have given town officials notice of his tax issues.
Meanwhile, a town investigation continues into why Terry’s wife, who also is employed by the town, didn’t divulge the tax issues on her financial disclosure form.
Last week, the town board passed sweeping reforms to its ethics laws, requiring that contractors who advise town boards file financial disclosure forms.
The town also now requires that officials and others who file disclosure forms identify any family members who work for the town.
Family on a municipal payroll doesn’t have to be an issue. But preferential hiring, assignments, supervision, promotion and compensation certainly would be.
Bosworth said that the town could do more down the line, such as barring managers from supervising workers who are family members, to avoid even the appearance of favoritism.
It’s the kind of attention — and enforcement — of ethics that the region sorely needs.