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Hempstead's ethics code not tough enough, county says

Hempstead Town Board members said they would consider

Hempstead Town Board members said they would consider further reforms in response to Schnirman's criticism. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman is recommending that the Hempstead Town Board revise its ethics code to more clearly define relatives and include spouses and in-laws.

Schnirman sent a letter to Supervisor Laura Gillen and the six board members, outlining the county’s ethics code and a current county comptroller audit on nepotism.

The letter was prompted by the town board's update of its ethics code in April that did not specifically define relatives, but otherwise aimed to combat nepotism, conflicts of interest and the use of town offices for private gain.

“The limited definition and application outlined in Hempstead’s recently adopted Code of Ethics is in sharp contrast to the definition of relatives noted in Nassau County’s charter,” Schnirman wrote. “It is this office’s belief and opinion that these limitations will severely impact your code’s ability to combat the negative impact of nepotism and will limit the town’s ability to further implement positive reform measures.”

The county comptroller has no authority over town government, but conducts audits of Nassau County and town departments and makes recommendations on finances and government practices.

Schnirman said the town does not list in-laws or domestic partners in its nepotism provisions. The county code includes stepfamily, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws and grandparents.

Gillen questioned during the April 16 board meeting why the proposed changes did not define in-laws as relatives, but she ultimately joined the board in unanimously approving the update. The new code prohibits hiring, firing or directly supervising relatives in town jobs.

“My ethics proposal included extensive anti-nepotism measures addressing the hiring and supervision of relatives to include all in-laws and domestic partners,” Gillen said in a statement Tuesday. “Unfortunately, the Town Council watered down that definition. I will continue trying to work with the Council on embracing more meaningful prohibitions against nepotism so that we can finally root this out of Town Hall.”

Town officials noted that state law permits hiring a spouse and in-laws as long as they are not directly supervised.

Republican Majority Leader Erin King Sweeney said the town board was not opposed to defining in-laws as relatives.

Council members said they would consider further reforms in response to Schnirman’s letter.

“The Hempstead Town Board worked diligently on crafting a comprehensive enhanced ethics proposal that addressed many issues, including nepotism and were very proud to see that groundbreaking legislation passed unanimously,” Republican board members said in a statement. “The board will review the Comptroller’s letter. Our ethics legislation is a working document and we will carefully consider all suggestions as we move forward.”

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