The Oyster Bay Town Board plans to hold a hearing Tuesday on the creation of an in-house court system to prosecute town code violations rather than try them under the state court system.
The town attempted to get state authorization to create such a court system, called a Bureau of Administrative Adjudication, last year. The bill died in the Assembly after the New York Civil Liberties Union said in testimony that it “would shroud Oyster Bay’s code enforcement system in secrecy” and called for the effort to be “stopped in its tracks.”
Town officials said approval from Albany is no longer needed because Oyster Bay’s population has reached a legal threshold. State law allows municipalities with populations between 300,000 and 350,000 to create the bureaus, though municipalities can be authorized through special legislation as Huntington, Babylon and East Hampton towns have been.
“The recent census numbers has us over 300,000, and therefore we can do this on our own,” Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino said in an interview.
According to the 2020 Census, the town of Oyster Bay’s population increased to 301,229 that year. The town’s population fell to 299,583 in 2021, based on the latest population estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Under Oyster Bay’s proposal, the town supervisor would appoint, with approval by the town board, a director of the bureau who would create rules for conducting trials and appoint administrative judges to hear and rule on cases. The director would serve for five years.
State law says the bureau can hear cases for “all code and ordinance violations regarding conditions which constitute a threat or danger to the public health, safety or welfare.”
Whereas criminal trials require prosecutors to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the bureau judges would rule based on the “preponderance of the evidence.”
A bureau could impose civil penalties, such as fines, but not imprisonment, which is a criminal penalty.
Saladino said he is responding to residents’ concerns about code violations in his efforts to create the bureau.
“They would like something that quickly addresses these matters,” he said.
Saladino said the bureau was needed to protect the identities of people who make complaints to the town about code violations due to changes in the discovery laws that require prosecutors in criminal cases to turn over information to the defendants in the early stages of prosecution.
“We’re trying to assist our residents who fear retribution for reporting quality-of-life concerns in their neighborhood,” Saladino said.
Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) said in a statement that he has “grave concerns” that the proposed bureau “does not provide for basic due process rights for those charged with violations.”
Saladino said Lavine’s statements were “a lot of politics.”
The hearing is at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Town Hall and will be livestreamed.