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Hempstead Town Board must revote on ethics reform law

Hempstead Town Hall is seen in an undated

Hempstead Town Hall is seen in an undated photo. Credit: Google

The Hempstead Town Board must revote on an ethics reform law it passed last month because of an error in the public notice for the hearing, a town spokesman said.

The mistake was discovered Wednesday as town officials sought to blame the same error for forcing the town board to scuttle a public hearing Tuesday night for legislation restricting mass mailers ahead of elections.

The issue stems from a monthslong feud between Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney and Supervisor Anthony Santino, both of whom are Republicans, that has spilled onto the dais at town board meetings. King Sweeney has been calling for ethics reform and Santino’s proposal, which passed by a 4-3 vote, includes a $125,000 outside income cap that King Sweeney has said is a “political hit job” to keep her, an aviation attorney, from running for re-election.

The quarrel reached new heights during Tuesday’s town board meeting, during which public hearings on the 2018 budget and the mass mailers legislation were scheduled.

But after the board voted to pass the town’s 2018 budget, Councilman Anthony D’Esposito made a motion to adjourn the mass mailers hearing — without public comment — amid outcry from residents and King Sweeney and Bruce Blakeman, both of whom had sponsored the legislation.

On Tuesday night, town spokesman Mike Deery said the hearing was adjourned because the town attorney didn’t receive the legislation early enough to give “proper public notice.”

Deery repeated that claim Wednesday, adding that the notice was not published 10 days ahead of the public hearing on the legislation, even though the town board voted unanimously Oct. 3 to schedule the hearing. But town code makes no mention of a 10-day requirement, only stating there be “not less than three nor more than 30 days” between a public notice and a hearing.

Then, later Wednesday in response to Newsday’s queries, Town Attorney Joe Ra said the error was actually with the language of the notice, saying it did not have the required “brief explanatory statement.”

“Somehow in my head I assumed it was because of the time frame,” Ra said of the differing explanations. He said his office did not review the public notice language submitted by King Sweeney’s office.

Then King Sweeney’s office pointed out that the public notice for Santino’s recently passed ethics law also lacked the explanatory statement.

Deery later said, again in response to Newsday, that although the ethics law would not take effect until 2018, “the supervisor intends for the town board to readopt it with the appropriate definition.”

Deery did not know how many other town laws’ statuses could be affected, and said there was no time frame for the supervisor to reintroduce the legislation. He said it does not need to be repealed before the town board can vote on it again.

“Now we have clear proof that Santino’s so-called ethics reform was always a sham and a farce,” King Sweeney said Wednesday. “It was an ill-conceived plan that was not properly vetted and was driven by vendetta and not sound principle.”

Democratic supervisor candidate Laura Gillen, who has campaigned on ethics reform as well as limiting mass mailers, and proposes an opt-in program for residents who want to receive them, said, “This is just more evidence that the Town of Hempstead has become utterly dysfunctional under Tony Santino’s poor leadership.”

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