Nassau County and its three towns say new or strengthened ethics laws will curb nepotism, but more than 100 current or former elected officeholders, high-level appointees and political club leaders — Republican and Democratic — have had at least one family member working in local government at some point since 2015.
Nearly 30 of these officials had at least two relatives on a county or town payroll, and several had three or four, according to an analysis of public records.
Those relatives earn a total of $8 million annually in salary alone.
After a spate of high-profile corruption arrests in recent months, Republican-controlled Oyster Bay and Hempstead towns and Democratic-controlled North Hempstead all passed ethics code overhauls. Anti-nepotism provisions included in those packages seek to restrict the ability of town employees to take part in the hiring, promotion or supervision of relatives.
Nassau has had a similar law since 2007, but officials this year bolstered the powers of the body that reviews potential violations, the county board of ethics.
Nonetheless, the practice of political leaders’ family members getting government jobs has largely gone unabated.
Experts in local government ethics say anti-nepotism measures can work if enforced properly. But they questioned their effectiveness because officials’ relatives are often spread between municipalities controlled by the same political party — outside the reach of individual laws.
“If you’ve been hired because of your connection to a powerful person, you don’t have to be working directly for that person to receive special treatment,” said Richard Briffault, a professor of legislation at Columbia Law School who chairs New York City’s Conflicts of Interest Board, the city’s independent ethics oversight panel.
“At some point, the separation isn’t important,” Briffault said. “Taxpayers are still going to wonder if the hiring or promotion was made on the merit.”
No one interviewed for this story provided a blanket defense of nepotism, but some county, town and party leaders defended the hiring of relatives in certain cases, saying they were qualified for their jobs.
Editorial: Keep a spotlight on nepotismIt would be difficult and unfair to create a law so broad that it kept relatives of elected officials, who might have the needed skills, from getting a job on any public payroll. The best answer is transparency.
Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs, speaking about patronage jobs at the county board of elections, noted state law requiring equal representation of Republicans and Democrats to guard against partisan decisions.
“If there are people who sometimes happen to be in the same family, I don’t love it,” said Jacobs, who does not have any relatives on a local government payroll. “But I look at that and say, as long as the job gets done.”
Nassau County GOP chairman Joseph Mondello, whose party controls the bulk of patronage jobs in the county and towns — and whose sister, daughter and son-in-law have had local government jobs in recent years — declined to comment.
The anti-nepotism laws in place at the county and town levels in Nassau primarily prohibit officials’ direct hiring or supervision of relatives, or their influencing of such hires in that municipality.
But the laws don’t explicitly cover relatives working in other public agencies where the officials aren’t employed, a situation that the Newsday review found was commonplace.
Newsday developed its data by reviewing 2015 and 2016 payrolls for Nassau County and its three towns. Voter registration rolls and other public records were cross-referenced to find relatives with common addresses, including those with different last names.
Through those records and interviews with government and political party officials, Newsday confirmed that at least 102 county political figures had a total of at least 141 relatives working in public jobs at some point since the end of 2014.
Some of the relatives were political appointees, meaning they can be hired outside of the competitive Civil Service process; others held Civil Service jobs that require candidates to pass hiring tests for specific job titles and be ranked with competitors based on their scores.
Examples are numerous:
- Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, has a brother, Rob, who is a $107,500-a-year deputy public works commissioner in Oyster Bay. The county executive’s sister-in-law, Shannon Mangano, works as a $66,000-a-year community research assistant in Hempstead’s parks department.
Edward Mangano, who is not seeking re-election next month, has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of taking bribes and kickbacks from a local businessman in return for favors, including a county contract.
Mangano’s chief deputy, Rob Walker, has a brother, Bryan Walker, who serves as an appointed labor supervisor for Oyster Bay’s parks department, with an annual salary of $85,000. Their mother, Rose Marie Walker, is a Nassau County legislator from Hicksville who previously was an Oyster Bay Town councilwoman.
- Former Democratic Nassau legislators Roger Corbin and Patrick Williams have family members who have worked at the county Board of Elections — one of the few county departments where the Democratic Party controls some jobs.
Corbin this year began serving a 2- to 6-year prison sentence for his bribery and official misconduct conviction tied to a scheme to steer an $80 million New Cassel redevelopment project to a favored developer. Williams is serving a one-year jail sentence related to the same case.
Corbin’s wife, Regina Corbin, is a $109,000-a-year administrative assistant who has worked for Nassau since the 1990s. Williams’ son, Billy D. Williams, earned $27,000 a year as an elections board data entry operator, until his resignation in September.
- Democratic County Legis. Carrié Solages has a brother, Philipe Solages, who is a $26,000-a-year part-time assistant counsel to the Democratic elections commissioner. Carrié Solages was arrested in June on domestic violence charges and has pleaded not guilty.
Former Hempstead Village Mayor Wayne Hall, a Democrat who lost a re-election bid this year, has a son, Wayne Hall II, who works as a $53,000-a-year registration clerk at the elections board.
- Republicans who work for the elections board include Cynthia Labriola, a $65,000 administrative assistant and the wife of Steve Labriola, a Mangano administration aide and GOP county comptroller candidate, and Mondello’s sister Norma Ferretti, a $67,000-a-year clerk.
Steve and Cynthia Labriola’s daughter, Lisa, was hired this year as a $70,000 civilian intelligence analyst in the county police department, after previously working as a seasonal county parks worker.
- Ferretti’s daughter-in-law, Doreen Ferretti, is an executive assistant to the Hempstead Town Board, making $90,000 a year. Her grandson, John Ferretti Jr., is chief deputy Nassau County clerk, earning $137,000.
John Ferretti is running against Democrat Michael Sheridan for Nassau County Legislature in the 15th District. The seat was vacated recently by Dennis Dunne Sr., who was then appointed to the Hempstead Town Board. In the 1980s and ’90s, Dunne served as former Republican County Executive Thomas Gulotta’s veterans services chief.
Dunne’s son, Dennis Dunne Jr., since 1994 has worked as a Hempstead building plan examiner. He earns $131,000 a year.
- George Maragos, the Democratic county comptroller, in 2015 hired his sister-in-law, Anthia Papadopoulos, as a $90,000-a-year inspector in his office.
In June, Maragos said the hiring “appears to have been inconsistent with the Nassau County Code of Ethics,” and requested a waiver to allow her to continue in the position, which she still holds. Maragos, who last month lost a primary for county executive, was responding to an ethics complaint filed by Jacobs. The county Democratic chief feuded with Maragos this year after Jacobs decided to back County Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin) for county executive.
Maragos has also employed his niece, Georgia Gavaris, as a seasonal clerk in the comptroller’s office.
- As recently as January, all nine elected officials in Oyster Bay had at least one family member who had received pay from the town or county since the end of 2014.
Rose Venditto, 93, mother of former Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, since the 1990s had worked as a part-time town recreation aide, assigned to an office at a Massapequa park. She was paid $23,000 in 2016 and resigned in January, town records show.
John Venditto resigned in January after he was charged in the same corruption case as Mangano. Venditto has pleaded not guilty to federal charges, including conspiracy to commit bribery, fraud and obstruction of justice.
Venditto was charged subsequently in a state corruption case alleging that he conspired to have the town purchase property from a politically influential family. He pleaded not guilty.
Also working in Oyster Bay until recently was Mondello’s daughter Elizabeth Mondello, who was paid $10,000 in 2016 as a part-time recreation aide, inspecting playground equipment. She resigned in June.
- At least 14 local Republican Party club presidents and leaders who hold Hempstead Town jobs have a total of two dozen family members working for the town. They include wives, brothers and, in some cases, multiple children from the same household.
Hempstead, which the GOP has controlled for decades, employs two brothers and a sister-in-law of former Town Supervisor Kate Murray. She left office in 2015 and works as Nassau Community College’s $148,000-a-year vice president of institutional advancement.
Murray’s sister-in-law, Kathleen Quinlan, also has a sister, Theresa DiChiara, and a niece, Jacqueline DiChiara, on the town payroll.
- Earlier this year, Hempstead Councilman Anthony D’Esposito drew criticism for voting for a raise for his mother, Carmen D’Esposito, an $86,000-a-year secretary to the town highway commissioner.
Anthony D’Esposito’s father, Island Park GOP leader Stephen D’Esposito, the councilman’s brother Timothy and his sister-in-law Danielle D’Esposito also work for Hempstead. Stephen D’Esposito is paid $169,000 as Supervisor Anthony Santino’s chief of staff. Timothy D’Esposito is a $92,000-a-year conservation vessel captain; Danielle D’Esposito serves as a tax receiver clerk, making $52,000.
- Democratic-controlled North Hempstead Town has had some of the highest-profile nepotism cases in Nassau.
Newsday reported last year that then-town Highway Superintendent Thomas Tiernan averaged $25,000 a year in overtime beyond his $125,000-a-year salary.
Tiernan, who is no longer with the town, supervised his brother John in the highway department. Thomas Tiernan’s son, Thomas II, is a laborer for a town parking district; Thomas Tiernan’s wife, Jill Guiney, is a civil engineer in the town public works department.
His sister Helen McCann was a secretary in the town solid waste management agency. McCann was charged last year with embezzling $98,000 in fees paid by residents to the town’s solid waste agency, and has pleaded not guilty.
McCann, who no longer works for the town, previously was secretary to North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman, who stepped down in 2013 and now works as a top aide to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.
- From 2014 until June, Kaiman’s wife, Kim, worked as an $80,000-a-year tourism director for the town. The Nassau County Civil Service Commission determined this year that her job duties did not correspond to the Civil Service title she held, deputy finance commissioner.
Until last year, Concetta Terry, wife of former North Hempstead Democratic leader Gerard Terry, held a $75,000 job in the town clerk’s office. Gerard Terry, who has pleaded guilty to a federal and state tax evasion charge, previously held six government jobs or contracts, including as Democratic counsel to the Nassau County Board of Elections.
Officials defend jobs
Most of the more than a dozen officials with relatives on government payrolls who were contacted individually or through department heads or representatives for this story, declined to comment or couldn’t be reached.
The handful who did speak defended the hiring of their relatives.
“I’m proud of my family and their exemplary work as public servants,” said John Ferretti Jr., Mondello’s great-nephew.
Steve Labriola said his wife and daughter hold competitive Civil Service jobs.
“Both my wife and daughter are on independent payrolls beyond my supervision or control, both are college educated and well qualified for the positions they hold in the Civil Service,” he said.
Suffolk County has had fewer significant cases involving nepotism.
But a legislative analysis revealed this year that Elaine Barraga, a Suffolk County attorney and the daughter of county Legis. Thomas Barraga (R-West Islip), received $195,000 in pay and benefits increases from promotions that were not authorized by the county legislature.
The last raise came in December, the day before Thomas Barraga provided a key vote for passage of a mortgage fee increase supported by Bellone, a Democrat.
The Bellone administration called the lack of legislative waivers for Elaine Barraga’s promotions an “administrative oversight.” Thomas Barraga has said he played no role in his daughter’s promotion and never spoke to Bellone or his aides about it.
Impact of nepotism
Experts say anti-nepotism laws are little more than window dressing if officials don’t have the will to enforce them.
“They protect from some of the worst abuses in municipal government,” said Paul Sabatino, a former Suffolk County legislative counsel who helped write the county’s ethics code. “But you need character from the people in the municipalities enforcing them.”
Sabatino said officials on Long Island are deft at securing jobs for preferred candidates, including in positions governed by Civil Service hiring rules.
He said tactics include tailoring job specifications to favor certain people; delaying hiring from lists to allow favored candidates to apply; discouraging higher-scoring candidates from taking positions by mentioning salary restrictions and reclassifying titles to allow leeway in hiring.
Widespread nepotism can make fewer jobs available for qualified outside candidates and can hurt workforce productivity, other experts said.
“Things like this can be really corrosive of morale and undermine the efficient operation of government,” said Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who specializes in government ethics.
Robert G. Jones, a psychology professor at Missouri State University who studies the effects of nepotism in the public and private sectors, said taxpayers may be willing to overlook nepotism if they believe government is serving them well.
For years the county and the three towns largely ignored ethics reforms, without much clamor from residents, who were more focused on issues of taxes. But this year, all three town supervisors and the two candidates running for Nassau county executive had made the issue a centerpiece.
“If people see things functioning well, they may not see that as being particularly unfair,” he said. “But if things aren’t going well, people may look around and say, ‘There are family members here who don’t appear to be qualified being put in these jobs.’”
Nassau County (passed 2007): “No officer or employee of the county shall hire or induce others to hire a relative of such officer or employee, nor shall any officer or employee of the county directly supervise or evaluate the work of any relative employed by the county.”
Town of Oyster Bay (2016): “No town officer or employee, either individually or as a member of a town board or commission, shall participate in any decision to appoint, hire, promote, discipline or discharge a relative or a member of his or her household . . . No town officer or employee shall supervise a relative or member of his or her household in the performance of such person’s official duties.”
North Hempstead (2017): “No person who is a relative of an elected official, as defined under this chapter, shall be employed by the town except as required by Civil Service Law and the rules promulgated thereunder . . . No town office or employee, either individually or as a member of a board, shall participate in any decision to hire, promote, discipline or discharge a relative working as an employee.”
Hempstead (2017): “Elected members of the Town Board are prohibited from voting on issues that affect immediate family members . . . Such issues include hiring, promotions, transfers, leave of absences, extended sick leave, etc ... Elected officials, managers and all employees are barred from having direct managerial authority over immediate family members.”
Source: Town and county codes
HOW THE STORY WAS REPORTED
Newsday sought to identify as many examples as possible of political figures’ family members who are on local public payrolls, primarily in Nassau County and its towns: Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay.
The research focused on three groups: Current and former elected officials, high-level political appointees, such as deputies and department heads, and lower-level public employees who are leaders of local political clubs.
Newsday identified more than 100 of these political figures who have had at least one family member on a public payroll in Nassau County since 2015.
Sources used to generate the list included government payroll records for 2015 and 2016, county, town and political party officials and prior news reporting. Voter registration rolls and address histories were used to confirm relationships. Representatives for the county and the towns provided updates to job titles and employment status when necessary.