North Hempstead is moving to require contractors who directly advise town boards to file financial disclosure statements — an effort to reform the town’s ethics code after Democratic town chairman and Zoning Board of Appeals attorney Gerard Terry failed to report he had compiled nearly $1.4 million in federal and state tax debts.
Town officials have said that Terry was not required to file disclosures as the town’s zoning board lawyer because he was a contractor and not a full-time employee. But as the town party leader, he was required to complete the report. Town officials did not enforce its 25-year-old requirement that town party leaders file disclosure forms.
Under a proposal to be heard at the town board’s March 22 meeting, any contractor that directly advises a board will be required to file financial disclosures with the town, which already compels elected officials and some senior staffers to file the forms.
After Newsday in January reported Terry’s tax debts, town officials said they would not renew his contract.
“What happened did point out it would have been important for a contractor to be required to fill out financial disclosure forms so we would have been aware of that kind of debt or any debt,” Supervisor Judi Bosworth said in an interview. “We see clearly that’s something that’s necessary. We’re rolling out a number of changes and reforms to make sure our town government is as transparent as possible and that every safeguard will be there.”
The financial disclosure forms require officials to disclose debts in excess of $5,000, including those of their spouses and dependent children. The Town Ethics Board is investigating Terry’s wife, Deputy Town Clerk Concetta Terry, for not disclosing her husband’s federal liens and state tax warrants on her forms.
“Sometimes when things happen, it makes you more aware and more conscious of things that need to be in place that weren’t,” Bosworth said. “This is definitely a situation I view as a very positive outcome for a situation that had evolved.”
Bosworth in January said that Town Attorney Elizabeth Botwin would review town policies and procedures in the wake of revelations about Terry. Bosworth said the town is looking at the current list of employees required to file financial disclosure forms and would update and expand the list.
Financial disclosure policies vary among Long Island municipalities. Oyster Bay Town does not have outside contractors advise town boards, but the attorney for the zoning board is required to file a financial disclosure form. Lawyers to Huntington’s zoning and planning boards are required to file disclosure statements.
Bosworth said the North Hempstead ethics board is looking at other reforms but declined to identify them, pending the ethics board’s review. “We are so fortunate to have an engaged and active ethics board,” Bosworth said.