Nassau’s lame-duck Board of Ethics has rebuffed District Attorney Madeline Singas’ request for an opinion on the legality of partisan governmental mailings even as the county attorney acknowledged this week that the board’s current membership does not conform with Nassau’s revised ethics code.
The board said in a letter to Singas last week that it cannot act on “hypothetical facts” to determine whether government officials had misused government resources by touting their records in taxpayer-funded mailings or flyers. It suggested that Singas submit a particular mailing for the board to review.
The decision was signed by Chairman Owen Smith, one of only three members remaining on the Ethics Board since the county legislature revised the county ethics code in July. The legislative changes would bar Smith and member John Ryan from serving on the board.
Except for the county attorney, the revamped ethics code directs that no member of the five-member board “shall be a public employee in any jurisdiction” or “hold any political party office.”
Smith, a former deputy to the late Republican county executive Fran Purcell, is a vice chairman of the Nassau Republican Committee. Ryan, the longtime counsel to the Nassau GOP, is on the county payroll at the county Board of Elections.
County Attorney Carnell Foskey said Smith and Ryan “were appointed prior to the effective date of the recently amended Code of Ethics. Since these members are holdover appointments, they can still remain on the Board of Ethics. However, any new appointments would be subject to the amended Code of Ethics requirements. The appointment of the new members on the Board will be left to the next administration.”
County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican who is fighting federal corruption charges, is not seeking re-election this fall.
Singas, a Democrat, in September had asked the ethics board to weigh in on the use of taxpayer resources to fund mailings that promote elected officials’ re-election campaigns. She noted that the county charter and state constitution bar the use of public resources for personal or political interests. But she also said no specific rules exist to prevent abuse.
Nassau’s elected officials — Republican and Democrat — have sent government mailings over the years that blame the other political party for tax increases or other county problems while boasting, sometimes inaccurately, about their own records.
The ethics board told Singas it needed “a particular set of facts” to do a proper analysis. The panel noted that the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, had ruled that all circumstances must be considered when making a determination about abuse.
Singas spokesman Brendan Brosh said the ethics board response was “no surprise” because the board “has ignored repeated calls to take action to stop politicians from wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on self-promotional political mailings.”
He said it “underscores that the changes made to the ethics code with great fanfare last summer are wholly insufficient. The people of Nassau County deserve better.”