North Hempstead should hire a procurement chief to oversee contracting, require vendors to disclose tax debts, and ban employees from supervising relatives to better identify conflicts of interest, according to the town’s investigation into its policies after Newsday stories about nepotism and its screening process for vendors.
The recommendations issued Wednesday by Town Attorney Elizabeth Botwin cover wide-ranging ethical and policy issues, including the town’s relationship with longtime vendors and the influence of family members in hiring relatives.
Newsday reported in January that Gerard Terry, the former North Hempstead Democratic Party leader and outside counsel for the town, had compiled nearly $1.4 million in tax debts while making hundreds of thousands of dollars in public jobs. Newsday also reported that Helen McCann, charged with embezzling more than $98,000 from the town’s Solid Waste Management Authority, was related to several town employees.
“With the revelations of the past few months we have really taken a critical look at some of our policies and procedures to see what we could do better,” Supervisor Judi Bosworth said Wednesday.
Terry was arrested on April 12 and charged with one count of felony tax fraud. He and McCann have pleaded not guilty. Bosworth called the revelations about Terry a “great surprise.”
Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas, who has urged Nassau County lawmakers to form an independent inspector general’s office that would review contracts, commended the town. “Comprehensive and independent oversight and robust ethical rules are critical to giving the taxpayers the county and municipal governments they deserve,” Singas said in a statement.
Bosworth said a bipartisan “working group” would be formed to review the town’s ethics code and Botwin’s recommendations.
A contracting chief would centralize control of the procurement process, which officials said needed to be better managed. Staff members have in some cases relied too closely on longtime vendors, hiring them for work that hadn’t been authorized, Bosworth said.
The town should address nepotism by banning supervisors from overseeing relatives and employees from affecting the hiring, promotion, or discipline of relatives, wrote Botwin, who proposed a database to track family relationships.
McCann’s brother is the town’s highway superintendent, Thomas Tiernan, who supervises his brother, John Tiernan, a highway construction supervisor. Thomas Tiernan’s wife and son also work for the town. Town officials in March required employees, contractors and others who must file financial disclosures to list all of their relatives who work for the town.
“For sure, we need to know which people have family members” working for the town, Bosworth said, adding that officials are evaluating the Tiernans’ working relationship.
Bosworth said the working group will review its vendor donation policy. For example, the town could require vendors to disclose their donations in a centralized database or that they donate to candidates, rather than a party committee.