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Reclaim NY praises, criticizes Santino ethics reform proposals

Hempstead Town Supervisor Anthony Santino discusses his ethics

Hempstead Town Supervisor Anthony Santino discusses his ethics reform plan on Friday, July 21, 2017. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A fiscally conservative good-government group last week credited Republican Hempstead Town Supervisor Anthony Santino for offering some “common sense proposals” to combat conflicts of interests and nepotism as part of a plan to update the town’s ethics code.

But it criticized his planned cap on elected official’s outside income as “a poor excuse for ethics reform.”

Reclaim New York said in a news release that capping board members’ outside income to $125,000 a year “keeps away qualified people from government service while doing nothing to address the source of outside income.”

Rebekah Mercer, daughter of Long Island billionaire and political contributor Robert Mercer, chairs the board of the nonpartisan organization.

The group’s position supports that of Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, a Wantagh Republican who has been in an unusual public fight with Santino for months over ethics reform and other issues.

An aviation attorney, Sweeney has termed Santino’s proposed income limit as “a political hit job” to prevent her and other successful professionals from running for office.

Santino’s plan would limit town board members’ total income to $196,000 a year, including their $71,000 town board salary. As supervisor, Santino earns $160,000 annually.

In a news release, King Sweeney thanked Reclaim New York for its “dedication to transparency and ethics reform.” She characterized Santino’s reform proposals as “a combination of redundant provisions and vindictive nonsense designed to silence independent members of the board.”

Town spokesman Michael Deery responded, “In an unprovoked attack on a progressive ethics reform proposal that would limit outside income for elected officials, Hempstead Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney has aligned herself with an extreme alt-right advocacy group.” He said other good-government groups support outside income limits, which also have been adopted by Congress.

Reclaim New York spokesman Doug Kellogg said, “Hempstead residents should be disappointed to see their Town Supervisor so quickly turn to inaccurate, baseless attacks.” He said Reclaim New York wants to work toward “the best ethics reform plan possible” and would not flinch “because someone threw a tantrum and called us names.”

Despite private disagreements, there has not been a public fight among Republicans on the Hempstead Town Board in recent memory. Republicans have controlled Hempstead, the home base of the Nassau GOP organization, for more than a century.

King Sweeney had attempted to get her ethics proposals for an inspector general to review contracts as well as other disclosure requirements onto Tuesday’s town board agenda, but she said Town Attorney Joseph Ra ruled them defective. The town board is expected to designate a public hearing next month on Santino’s plan.

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