Another new member of the Nassau County Legislature may be running afoul of the county charter.
Joshua Lafazan, a 23-year-old Syosset school board member who won a seat on the county legislature as a Democrat, posted on his Facebook page and sent an email to constituents this week that he plans to run for re-election to the school board in May. Lafazan was first elected to the school board when he was 18.
“There is no conflict of interest in holding both of these elected positions simultaneously, and NYS Education Law expressly allows me to do so,” he wrote.
But the county charter, which is part of state law, states, “No county legislator shall hold any other public office or be an employee of the county.”
Incoming Democratic legislator Debra Mule of Freeport originally said she would stay a trustee on the Freeport village board while serving in the county legislature but changed her mind after she learned about the charter prohibition. State law defines villages as municipalities and stipulates that any municipal board member is a public officer.
State law defines school districts as municipal corporations, which also makes any member of a school board a public officer.
In addition, a 1975 Supreme Court decision defines school board members as “public officers” who have “significant power over the expenditure of public funds.”
When asked who told him that he could be both a school board member and county legislator, Lafazan said via email, “New York State Education Law clearly dictates that serving as a county legislator is compatible with serving on a school board. This was confirmed for me by attorneys for the New York State School Board’s Association.”
Lafazan cited a section of state education law that Newsday could not find, and an attorney general’s opinion concerning members of city school boards.
Former Suffolk Chief Deputy County Executive Paul Sabatino, a longtime counsel to the Suffolk legislature, said he too could not find the section in the education law cited by Lafazan and dismissed the attorney general’s opinion as not applicable. He said the county charter overrides any opinion or general law provisions about compatible offices.
“The charter determines the criteria of employment for county officials,” Sabatino said. “The county charter clearly prohibits the holding of two public offices at the same time. A school board member is a public officer by definition and also by court ruling. Wearing two hats is an inherent conflict.”
Lafazan said he doesn’t get paid as a school board member, so “there is no conflict of interest. And should the appearance of a conflict on a specific voting matter ever arise, I would, of course, abstain,” he wrote.
Sabatino countered that school districts are often in conflict with the county, pointing to the lengthy litigation over the county guaranty, a state law that requires the county to pay all costs of tax refunds for erroneous property tax assessments. The county attempted to eliminate the guaranty — a move that would have shifted substantial costs to the school districts — but the districts sued to stop the guaranty’s termination and won.
Lafazan said, “Often times individuals will resign from a school board to serve in a higher capacity. I know my decision to seek a third term on the Syosset School Board breaks this precedence. However, judging by my election to the school board at 18 and to the legislature at 23, I am accustomed to, and not afraid to break precedence when I believe I am doing the right thing for my community.”