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Hempstead board defeats emergency motion to hire inspector general

Hempstead Town Board members voted during a contentious meeting Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017, to schedule a public hearing on Supervisor Anthony Santino's ethics package next month, but defeated an emergency proposal by Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney to consider hiring an inspector general. The board also voted to schedule a Sept. 5 hearing to vote on Santino's ethics reform package, introduced last month, which includes a $125,000 cap on outside income for elected officials, among other measures.  (Credit: Newsday / John Asbury, Stefanie Dazio)

Hempstead Town Board members voted during a contentious meeting Tuesday to schedule a public hearing on Supervisor Anthony Santino’s ethics package next month, but defeated an emergency proposal by Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney to consider hiring an inspector general.

The vote to add King Sweeney’s motion to the board’s calendar failed 5-2, with King Sweeney and Councilman Bruce Blakeman voting for the measure.

The board also voted 5-2 along the same lines to schedule a Sept. 5 hearing to vote on Santino’s ethics reform package, introduced last month, which includes a $125,000 cap on outside income for elected officials, among other measures.

King Sweeney has argued that Santino’s package is “a political hit job” aimed at preventing her from seeking re-election in two years, because her profession as an aviation attorney would exceed the income limit. Town Attorney Joe Ra said at the meeting the limit was set so town board members, who earn $71,000 in the role annually, can better focus on town business and avoid conflicts.

On the dais, King Sweeney sparred with Santino, who threatened to have some of the roughly 100 people in the audience removed for “catcalling” after they heckled him, saying he wasn’t allowing King Sweeney to speak or her motion to proceed.

“It’s a sad day in the Town of Hempstead when I cannot have a voice,” King Sweeney said. “It’s evidence of a ‘deep state’ in the Town of Hempstead.”

“I will run the meeting,” Santino shouted over King Sweeney and Blakeman’s objections, before noting: “I didn’t have the courtesy of seeing that resolution.”

Ra said King Sweeney’s motion was filed improperly, but she said she gave it to him two weeks earlier while he was out of the office and was stonewalled in adding the motion to the calendar.

King Sweeney had proposed hiring an inspector general at a salary of $135,000 with a $250,000 budget to review town contract. The inspector general would have been appointed for two years and would require a unanimous vote by the town board. The measure would have required the position be filled by a retired judge or former police officer or prosecutor.

Ra said the town does not have a Civil Service position listed for inspector general, so it would first require a public hearing to amend town code. King Sweeney’s proposal also would have required clearance from the town comptroller to clear the expenditures for the position.

Hempstead Democrats backed King Sweeney’s proposal, along with the conservative group Reclaim New York.

“It’s quite obvious people are upset,” Hempstead Town clerk candidate Sylvia Cabana said. “People don’t trust the government. The supervisor deserves respect, but the people deserve respect too.”

Blakeman also made a failed motion that all board members with relatives working for the town be recused from voting.

The town board next month now will hold a public hearing on Santino’s ethics reform package. In addition to the cap on outside income, it would increase public disclosure of contracts and bids, ban board members from voting on issues pertaining to their immediate family members, and bar employees and candidates convicted of a felony from service.

Town law required the board vote to schedule the public hearing before the measure can be passed.

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