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Oyster Bay Town ethics board has too few members to meet

Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino, shown during

Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino, shown during an inaugural ceremony at Hicksville High School on Jan. 10. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

The Oyster Bay Town ethics board hasn’t met since January because resignations have left the five-member board without enough people to hold a meeting.

The ethics board last met on Jan. 17, chairman Alfred Constants III said Monday. A scheduled March 14 meeting was canceled because the board only has two members — Constants and Margaret Eaton.

“We’re two,” Constants said. “We can’t be a quorum.”

Town code requires the ethics board to review financial disclosure forms, investigate complaints, implement ethics training, create an annual report and review the ethics code. The town’s code, adopted in November 2016, states the ethics board must meet at least once every three months. It met nine times last year.

The town board appointed a new ethics board in February 2017, but one member dropped out before being sworn in, and three have resigned. The appointments were for staggered terms from one to five years.

Constants, a Locust Valley attorney, said town officials have been reviewing potential ethics board candidates but no replacements have been appointed. Board members are not paid.

“I thought it would be sooner,” Constants said of replacing the members who left the board.

Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino said last month that one reason ethics board members had resigned was because “they were harassed and treated poorly, improperly, in meetings where people would hold up cellphones in their face.”

Constants said Monday he didn’t know why members had resigned, but those members of the public who attended meetings were “pretty civil.”

Edward Bermant, 72, a retired banker from East Norwich, served on the ethics board from April to October last year. He said in an interview he resigned because he thought the board wasn’t truly independent.

“It was far from independent,” Bermant said. One concern, he said, was that the board’s attorney, Steven Leventhal, was appointed by the town board rather than the ethics board.

“That does not qualify as being independent in my mind,” Bermant said.

Bermant said the ethics board, under Leventhal’s direction, had incorrectly responded to some ethics complaints with letters that said the board wasn’t authorized to investigate the claims.

“The lawyer was trying to tamp down any efforts for us to do our job, to conduct an investigation,” Bermant said.

Leventhal, an attorney with the Roslyn-based firm Leventhal, Cursio, Mullaney and Sliney LLP, said he could not respond to Bermant because “as counsel to the ethics board I am unable to comment on conversations that were protected by the attorney-client privilege.”

Leventhal was hired during former Town Supervisor John Venditto’s administration and drafted the ethics code.

Saladino has touted the appointment of the new ethics board as a step away from the past administration. Last week, former Oyster Bay Town Attorney Leonard Genova testified in the federal trial of former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, his wife Linda, and Venditto that the ethics board, on which he had served, “never met” and didn’t review financial disclosures as it was supposed to.

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