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Hempstead supervisor proposes ethics reforms, including anti-nepotism

On Monday, Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen proposed a package of ethics reforms that include anti-nepotism measures, a ban on political activity on town property and increase the town ethics board from three members to five. Credit: Newsday / Yeong-Ung Yang

Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen on Monday proposed a package of "desperately needed" ethics reforms to combat nepotism and ban political activity by town employees during work hours or on town property.

The reforms, if approved, would require town employees and job applicants to disclose relatives on the Hempstead payroll, prohibit officials from pressuring employees to make political contributions and increase the town ethics board from three members to five, among other changes, Gillen said.

"The town's current ethics code and rules are scattered, disjointed," she said in Town Hall on Monday, flanked by Town Clerk Sylvia Cabana.

The new measures should provide residents "with the highest level of honesty, integrity, and professionalism," she said.

The proposal of Gillen, a Democrat, would require the approval of the Republican-controlled town board.  

Gillen said her staff had crafted the reform package without the input of town board members, but that she will now seek their feedback.

Erin King Sweeney, the board's Republican majority leader, said on Monday that she could not comment on all of Gillen's ethics proposals, as the supervisor had not previously shared the plan with board members and King Sweeney had not yet reviewed it.

She expressed support for certain elements, such as the restrictions on political activities, although she questioned whether the measure might be redundant with existing statutes.

"Sincere and meaningful ethics reform and transparency are priorities to which the town board has demonstrated a genuine commitment," King Sweeney said, noting other ethics measures passed earlier this year, such as a requirement that town contracts of $10,000 or more be posted online.

King Sweeney also said that the town board has been working on its own ethics reform package for months.

The town board passed another set of ethics reforms last fall under   previous Supervisor Anthony Santino. Gillen spokesman Mike Fricchione said the new measures go further than those.

The new anti-politicking proposal springs from complaints Gillen and Cabana said they have received from town employees that their superiors had pressured them to donate to campaigns and attend political fundraisers.

"Right now there's a culture of fear here," Gillen said.

They declined to say which officials had allegedly pressured others, although Cabana said her employees had said "they had been forced in the past to donate to prior clerks."

Gillen's proposed ethics board reforms would also prohibit political party officers from sitting on the board, and require both major political parties be represented on the board.

Gillen noted that ethics board chairman  John Ryan also serves as an attorney for the Village of Floral Park, the Hempstead Town Industrial Development Agency, the Nassau County Board of Elections and the Nassau County Republican Political Committee.

"These concurrent representations are rife with conflicts of interest," she said.

Ryan said in an interview that he would welcome Gillen's reforms, but he said his other positions do not pose a conflict.

Gillen said she hopes the town board will vote on the package in the next two months.

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