The Hempstead Town Board Tuesday night approved Supervisor Anthony Santino’s ethics reform legislation after a rancorous, hourslong public hearing at which competing amendments, including one to hire an inspector general, were voted down.
Santino’s ethics reform package — passed with a 4-3 vote — includes an outside income cap, a ban on town board members voting on issues pertaining to their immediate family members, and a measure that would bar employees and candidates convicted of a felony from service.
“I’m proud my strong ethics reform proposal is now the law of the land in Hempstead,” Santino said in a statement issued after the vote. “We are opening the doors and windows of government, giving residents the transparency they deserve through unparalleled public disclosure provisions.”
Santino, council members Anthony D’Esposito and Dennis Dunne, as well as the board’s sole Democrat, senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby voted for the proposal, while council members Erin King Sweeney, Bruce Blakeman and Edward Ambrosino voted against it.
An amendment Santino announced early Tuesday morning before the meeting, offering town board members an alternative to his $125,000 yearly outside income cap through a “full disclosure” provision, also passed 4-3, with King Sweeney, Blakeman and Ambrosino voting against it.
Under the new ethics package, the town will ban town officials from working for entities that do business with the town — except in cases where the town’s ethics commission authorizes such work — prohibit speaking fees, and impose a two-year ban on former town employees “lobbying” Hempstead government officials, starting from the date the employee leaves the town.
Elected officials also will be required to disclose all their clients through work or consulting contracts, and “any clients who are represented by any outside firms or companies for which the official works, consults or serves as an associate or partner.”
Santino said the disclosures would have the same effect as a cap on outside income to ensure elected officials do not have conflicts of interest.
Santino spent most of the meeting on the defensive from opposing council members and about a dozen residents during the eight-hour hearing. He shouted back and forth with Blakeman and King Sweeney over control of the meeting, at one point telling Blakeman, “you have no decency.”
“If you have nothing to hide, there should be no fear of disclosure,” Santino said. “I’m not trying to take anyone out. I’m trying to show the light of day and transparency.”
Laura Gillen, Santino’s Democratic challenger in the November election, during public comments called the supervisor’s ethics plan “nothing more than an election-year stunt.”
King Sweeney, an aviation attorney, earlier had called Santino’s proposed outside income cap a “political hit job” aimed at preventing her from running for re-election in two years.
She and Blakeman, who also is an attorney, said they hadn’t been shown Santino’s amendment before the meeting. The two also said the disclosure alternative would require them to disclose every client who used their law firms.
“I don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, other than put me out of business,” King Sweeney said to Santino.
“This is another form of bullying,” Blakeman added. “I’m going to fight you every step of the way.”
King Sweeney and Blakeman had proposed a total of 11 amendments to Santino’s legislation, but none passed. King Sweeney’s amendments included adding an inspector general for $135,000 annually, plus a $250,000 budget, additional requirements for town contracts to be posted online and changing the makeup of the town ethics board, while Blakeman had introduced an anti-fraternization policy and a proposed ban on political party participation.
“This is a sad day for the Town of Hempstead and what I thought the Republican Party stood for,” King Sweeney said.
Some board members expressed concern with the expense of an inspector general’s salary and budget. Ambrosino questioned the need for an inspector general, saying: “Despite the press and the chatter, there is no corruption in the Town of Hempstead.”
Town comptroller Kevin Conroy said the position would have to be approved by the state Civil Service commission and that “just the perception of suspected corruption . . . could lower our bond rating.”
The ethics reform proposals came after Ambrosino’s indictment in March on federal charges of income tax evasion and wire fraud. He pleaded not guilty and remains free on $250,000 bond. Both Santino and King Sweeney say their proposals were not inspired by “any specific individual or any specific situation.”
D’Esposito and Dunne both would be affected by the supervisor’s proposal. D’Esposito’s father, mother, brother and sister-in-law all are on the town payroll — he voted for a raise for his mother, a secretary in the highway department, in March — and Dunne’s son is a plans examiner. In addition, Santino’s sister is a secretary to the commissioner of general services, and Ambrosino’s daughter was a summer seasonal employee before she resigned a year ago.