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Islip considers law to ban party leaders from elected posts

Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt says that a proposed

Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt says that a proposed change to Islip Town's ethics law, if passed, would target her unfairly. March, 8, 2016 Credit: Ed Betz

Islip town board members are considering changes to the town’s ethics code, including a provision that would bar elected officials from holding major political party leadership posts.

Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt says that change, if passed, would target her unfairly.

“It is unfortunate that our ethics code is being used in a very unethical manner,” Bergin Weichbrodt said after the Aug. 9 board meeting, where the board voted 3 to 1 in favor of setting a public hearing on the new law at its Sept. 20 board meeting.

Bergin Weichbrodt voted against setting the public hearing, and Councilwoman Mary Kate Mullen was not at the meeting

Bergin Weichbrodt, who is a committee member of the Islip Republican Party, said the proposed changes to the town ethics code do not include minor parties.

Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter, a Republican, said the proposed law stems from her concerns about the overlap between the political and governmental arenas.

“Since I became Supervisor, I have been concerned about too close a connection between government and politics. I have expressed that concern many times,” Carpenter said in an emailed statement. “An elected official’s primary responsibility is to the public. If someone is in a position of power in the political structure, it competes with that fundamental responsibility. We have to make sure that elected officials serve only one master — and that must be the public.”

Across Long Island, a handful of municipalities prohibit elected officials from serving in political party leadership posts. Brookhaven has a law that bans a political executive committee member from serving as an elected official, “bingo inspector” or member of an appointed boards. Southold has banned members of a political committee from serving as elected officials.

If the proposed changes pass in Islip, elected officials currently holding leadership roles in major political parties will have to submit documentation to the town that shows compliance with the rule.

The proposed changes also include language protecting whistleblowers and clear disclosure of “substantial” campaign contributions received from major donors who may have town business. The changes also would prohibit town employees from participating in human resources decisions about family members or supervising their work.

Islip Republican chairman William Garbarino said the proposed changes regarding political party leadership seem unclear.

“I think if they have language like that, it appears that the bill is a first draft and they need a lot of work to straighten it out,” he said.

Bergin Weichbrodt pointed out that she is, in fact, not on the Islip GOP’s executive board, but participates as a committeewoman on an “ad-hoc executive committee” that advises on candidate screening. She still considers the proposed ethics changes unfair.

“I don’t think it should be applied to anybody,” Bergin Weichbrodt said. “People should be able to practice their religious beliefs and their political beliefs and their freedom of speech, and still be able to do an honest job.”

Islip ethics proposal

The proposed changes to the town ethics code includes a ban on elected officials also serving as party leaders:

“No person shall serve, either by appointment or election, in any position other than a committeeperson of a town, county, state or national major political party committee if he or she is an elected official of the Town of Islip. Any person who is currently an elected official of the Town of Islip and also in a position other than a committeeperson, shall deliver the Town Clerk such documentation establishing compliance with this subdivision within ten business days of the date of enactment of this chapter.”

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