North Hempstead officials voted unanimously Tuesday to reform the town ethics code and adopt new anti-nepotism policies, despite a last-minute discussion about the proposed law’s scope.
The 7-0 vote follows months of research by a bipartisan working group that was formed after Newsday investigations about the Highway Department’s overtime use and former town Democratic Party Leader Gerard Terry’s $1.4 million in state and federal tax debts.
Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said that the laws would pave the way for the town’s future and that residents “deserved no less.”
Councilwoman Dina De Giorgio, who served on the six-member working group, said that the time was nigh for the revisions and that the events that prompted the town ethics review were “unacceptable and cannot happen again, and should not be tolerated.”
Last year, the town faced numerous personnel challenges. Five other top officials resigned or were terminated, including former Highway Superintendent Thomas P. Tiernan and his sister Helen McCann, an administrative assistant who was charged by the Nassau County district attorney’s office with embezzling cash from the town’s Solid Waste Management Agency. Deputy Town Clerk Concetta Terry, Gerard Terry’s wife, resigned in June after being cited by the ethics board for failing to disclose her debts.
Port Washington resident Harold Warshay said that in all of his years living in the town, he’d never seen such ”corruption” going on. “It’s beyond,” he added.
The new policies intend to eliminate conflicts of interest. The anti-nepotism laws include restricting supervision of relatives and requiring all prospective applicants and current employees to disclose the names of family members working for the town.
The proposed ethics reforms forbid town employees from having a personal interest in town contracts, ban staff from accepting private jobs and require most employees to file financial disclosure forms, among other mandates.
Just before the vote, De Giorgio proposed what she called an “innocuous” addition to the ethics law that would designate the town attorney as the ethics board’s legal counsel, but also authorize the board to seek independent outside counsel.
Other council members spoke against the suggestion, saying that the proposed legislation was satisfactory and that the time for additional revisions had expired. Ethics board members Rabbi Robert Widom and the Hon. Richard Kestenbaum village justice of Great Neck Plaza, said they would ask for outside counsel should the need arise.
De Giorgio said her proposal mirrored the ethics codes of other towns, such as Huntington and Brookhaven, and that she’d pursue the matter further at a future board meeting.