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Southampton Village OKs hire of police chief's son despite ethics code concerns

Thomas Cummings Jr. will join the Southampton Village

Thomas Cummings Jr. will join the Southampton Village Police Department full time on Friday and will be paid $59,883 a year. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Southampton Village officials have approved the hiring of the police chief’s son as a full-time officer, despite a village ethics code that bars an employee from supervising a relative.

The board voted 5-0 at its Dec. 12 meeting to approve the appointment of Thomas Cummings Jr., 25, at an annual salary of $59,883 beginning on Friday. It also approved the appointment of Matthew Stetler to the same role.

Cummings' father is chief Thomas Cummings Sr.

Mayor Jesse Warren said Wednesday that he consulted with the New York Council of Mayors and believes that if Cummings Jr. does not directly report to his father, the appointment does not violate the law. 

Neither Cummings Sr. nor Trustees Mark Parash, Andrew Pilaro and Richard Yastrzemski responded to a request for comment. Trustee Kimberly Allan deferred comment to the mayor.

The vote was held at 12:02 a.m., more than three hours after the board entered executive session about 8:45 p.m. to discuss personnel matters with the police chief. That section of public session is not included in the online broadcast of the meeting, and the resolution was not listed on the agenda.

Warren said that moving forward he'd like filming of the meeting to continue after executive session.

"I am very upset about this; we have to go on video after executive session," he said. "This has been going on for decades."

The village’s ethics law, adopted in 2018, states that no village officer or employee shall supervise a relative, dependent or member of his or her household in the performance of such person’s official duties. The village ethics board, however, can grant a waiver for that provision. 

Steve Leventhal, the Roslyn-based attorney who last year wrote the law for the village, said the statute as written is commonly interpreted as referring to direct supervision.

"If supervision of his son can be performed by someone other than the police chief that would satisfy the code," Levanthal said.

Warren said the ethics board is expected to send a written directive to the police chief reminding him of the village's policy.

Cummings Jr. was hired off the Suffolk County Civil Service village police list with a grade of 85 on the entrance exam. The eligibility list from which he was hired expires on Monday, said Village Adminstrator Russell Kratoville.

Cummings Jr. also worked as a traffic control officer in the village in 2018 and as a part-time officer in 2019, according to village board resolutions. Cummings Sr. has been police chief since 2011.

Former Suffolk County Legislative Counsel and Deputy Suffolk County Executive Paul Sabatino noted the village law lacked standards for granting a waiver as well as specific penalties for those who violate the law.

“It’s an ethics code in name only, but without substance,” Sabatino said. “It’s so riddled with holes it’s like you have a block of Swiss cheese in front of you.”

Sabatino noted that even if the appointment does not violate the law, having a son work for his father in the department could pose a conflict of interest, particularly if disciplinary action is needed.

“It’s an impossible situation for the people involved,” he said. “Virtually every situation in the workplace becomes clouded by this unhealthy tension.”

Hempstead-based civil rights attorney Frederick Brewington, who is representing Southampton Village Police officer Kareem Proctor in a racial discrimination complaint against the village, was also critical of the appointment. He added that his client, who is black and alleges the village passed him over for promotions because of his race, plans to move forward with a lawsuit.

“For them to boldly do this is yet another question to their willingness to bend and maybe break the rules,” Brewington said. "Knowing that there are serious concerns with regards to nepotism and ethics, one of the things you don’t want to do is slide this through if indeed you have nothing to hide."

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