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Hempstead Town approves stricter laws against nepotism

Hempstead officials will list in-laws and spouses as

Hempstead officials will list in-laws and spouses as relatives to toughen anti-nepotism law.  Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Hempstead Town Board members this week passed stricter ethics requirements to minimize nepotism and approved a whistleblower protection law for town employees.

Board members on Tuesday updated the town ethics code to include relatives listed as in-laws and spouses to reduce conflicts of interest and nepotism.

The ethics code now states that “no town officer or employee shall directly supervise, nor seek to influence, the supervision, or the terms and conditions of employment, work assignments, work schedule, compensation or performance evaluation of a relative … his or her spouse, or a spouse of his or her child or sibling.”

The new law also prohibits relatives from being assigned to the same office or department as their superior officer except in limited circumstances.

Town ethics counsel Steven Leventhal called the ethics code a work in progress and subject to changes and improvements.

“Nepotism undermines confidence in government, and these resolutions should be effective,” Leventhal said. “These resolutions make the ethics code robust.”

The new nepotism provisions update an ethics code revised in April that did not address in-laws and domestic partners as relatives. Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen had requested adding their designation during the April vote, but the ethics code passed unanimously.

Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman later issued an opinion that the town should update its ethics code to follow the county’s definition for nepotism, which included spouses and in-laws.

The town board also unanimously passed a whistleblower protection act “to establish procedures to protect employees who discover illegal or improper governmental activities from retaliation.”

Gillen proposed whistleblower protections in August to town workers reporting fraud, mismanagement and a waste of taxpayer money. Her initial proposal was tabled indefinitely last year before it was brought back for a vote during Tuesday’s meeting.

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