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Suffolk County Community College trustees OK new ethics code

Suffolk Community College trustees have approved a new code of professional ethics for their board and created a three-member ethics board to investigate complaints and recommend discipline, including possible removal of trustees.

The new rules, approved Thursday night in an 8-0 vote, provide guidance for trustees in exercising their fiduciary duties, disclosing potential conflicts of interest and setting minimum standards of conduct.

Final action on any ethics ruling will remain with the 10-member board of trustees.

The board of trustees last year censured board chairwoman Dafny Irizarry. The board said it had found “reasonable cause” that she violated the “confidentiality provision” of the college’s sexual harassment policy in disclosing the complaint of a female student to a third party.

Before the vote, Irizarry stepped down as board chair after two years at the helm. She remains on the board with a term that lasts until 2018.

The controversy dragged on through much of 2014 and 2015 and involved the hiring of outside investigators and attorneys. It underscored the fact that the college had no procedures for dealing with ethics complaints against trustees.

During the controversy, trustees sought unsuccessfully to turn the issue over to the county board of ethics. The Suffolk County Legislature balked at the college’s proposal to expand the powers of the county ethics board to deal with complaints against college officials.

Although Irizarry “vehemently disagreed” with the board finding last year, she voted Thursday to adopt the new code. She said it was important to have a “strong and explicit” ethics policy to guide trustees.

Teresa Sanders, board chairwoman, called the new ethics board critical because “it helps us have an entity to which we can refer issues, and we didn’t have that before.”

The unpaid ethics panel members will have five-year terms; no more than two ethics board members can come from the same political party.

Sanders said she hopes to recruit experts such as retired judges to serve.

Under the new ethics rules, trustees will be barred from disclosing confidential information, using their position to gain unwarranted privileges or making personal investments in enterprises that would create a “substantial conflict” with their board roles.

Board members also will have to disclose any potential conflicts, and leave it for other board members to decide if a conflict exists. The board member with the potential conflict cannot be present during the discussions.

The code prohibits trustees from participating in any decision to hire, fire or promote a relative, and requires public disclosure of any action involving a trustee’s relative.

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