The Hempstead Village board of trustees on Tuesday voted unanimously to create a board of ethics comprising community members that will review complaints of impropriety by village officials and employees.
The vote came a little more than one year after authorities in Nassau County unsealed the first in a series of indictments against former village trustee Perry Pettus, who, prosecutors alleged, extorted local business owners and accepted bribes. Pettus pleaded guilty in June to more than a dozen charges that included bribe-receiving and official misconduct. Four village police officers have also been charged with crimes since November. They have pleaded not guilty.
Mayor Don Ryan said after the meeting that the creation of the ethics board was not prompted by the accusations against Pettus and the officers, however, calling the charges and the decision to revise the village ethics code "coincidental."
"It's the concern about a climate that is nationwide," Ryan said. "It's not just the Village of Hempstead, obviously, but the town, the county, the state. It doesn't seem to be anywhere that you don't go and find that there's some issues."
Ryan said the village began working on the revisions to the ethics code about two months ago. The changes, he said, will give residents greater influence over how complaints against village officials are assessed.
According to the resolution, the new ethics board will have:
- three village residents
- a village clergy member
- a village business owner
- a member of a civic association
- a member of a village parent-teacher association
The board will not include an ethics expert, but the village attorney will play an advisory role as a nonvoting member.
"We wanted to put something in place where residents could listen [and] make some decisions about the direction we go after a complaint is registered," Ryan said. "They'll have an opportunity to participate every step of the way."