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Hempstead Town holds hearings on 2 plans for inspector general

The job could be created before Supervisor-elect Laura Gillen, a Democrat, takes office after defeating Republican Anthony Santino, who for months resisted calls for ethics reform.

Hempstead Town Supervisor-elect Laura Gillen and incumbent Supervisor

Hempstead Town Supervisor-elect Laura Gillen and incumbent Supervisor Anthony Santino. Credit: Howard Schnapp, left, and Barry Sloan

One of Anthony Santino’s last acts as Hempstead Town supervisor could be to fulfill one of his opponent’s first campaign promises.

The town board on Tuesday is to hold a public hearing on creating an inspector general’s office. Santino last month sponsored one of two bills to establish the position that would monitor possible waste and corruption, after eight months of resisting calls from board members, residents and then-supervisor candidate Laura Gillen to do just that.

The town board is holding hearings without input from Gillen, a Democrat who beat Republican Santino in the Nov. 7 election in a surprise win that shifted the power base on Long Island after 100 years of Republican control of the town.

An inspector general would review contracts and monitor potential waste, corruption, mismanagement and fraud within town government, according to drafts of the bills.

The Nassau County Legislature and the Town of Oyster Bay are working on similar legislation after high-profile corruption cases in the county in the past few years.

“The sudden new discussion is only there because they’re trying to cut me out of the process,” said Gillen, who takes over as supervisor on Jan. 2. “It’s absurd that lame-duck Supervisor Anthony Santino is trying to set policy for my administration.”

Town spokesman Mike Deery said Santino “has been focused on ethics reform for months upon months.”

Gillen pushed for an inspector general and other ethics reforms during her campaign. Santino’s bill comes after similar legislation sponsored by fellow Republican board members Erin King Sweeney and Bruce Blakeman was introduced.

Both bills are to be subjects of Tuesday’s public hearings, despite efforts by Blakeman and King Sweeney to delay them until after Gillen’s tenure begins. The board could immediately appoint an inspector general through emergency legislation.

“I think Supervisor Santino should exit with grace and dignity and not try to control the future of town government from the political graveyard,” Blakeman said.

Deery said it is common in government to have multiple pieces of legislation on the same topic at the same time. He said Santino’s inspector general bill grew out of his previous efforts toward ethics reform legislation.

“This is an organic process,” Deery said. “It’s appropriate that the proposals be considered at the same time.”

Mike Dawidziak, a Bohemia political consultant who often works with the GOP, said a move by the town board before Gillen takes control could backfire.

“You run that risk of looking like you’re circumventing the will of the people who voted in this new town board and making this big crucial decision before they get a chance to sit and make the decision for themselves,” he said.

Since April, King Sweeney and Blakeman have been feuding with Santino over their calls for ethics reform and an inspector general after the March indictment of Councilman Edward Ambrosino on federal charges of income-tax evasion and wire fraud, unrelated to his work on the town board. Their efforts to get such legislation on the board’s agenda repeatedly failed. Ambrosino has pleaded not guilty.

In July, Santino introduced his own ethics reform proposal that barred town board members from voting on issues concerning their immediate family members, and banned employees and candidates convicted of a felony from service. Santino’s legislation lacked a provision for an inspector general but included a $125,000 outside income cap that would have prohibited Blakeman and King Sweeney from running for re-election because their income as attorneys is higher than the proposed cap.

Santino’s ethics reform legislation passed in September, but an error in its public notice has forced a new public hearing that is also scheduled for Dec. 12.

Santino’s inspector general bill often uses identical language to the one sponsored by King Sweeney and Blakeman. Their bill would grant the inspector general broader authority and the use of subpoena power while Santino’s does not.

“I welcome any productive conversations about an inspector general/compliance officer. I’m not interested in questioning anyone’s motives,” King Sweeney said.

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