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Mastic Beach Village votes to create ethics board to review potential conflicts of interest

Mastic Beach Village Hall is shown in a

Mastic Beach Village Hall is shown in a photo taken on Jan. 8, 2015. Credit: Ed Betz

A divided five-member Mastic Beach Village Board has voted to establish an ethics committee to investigate complaints and make recommendations to the board.

Members of the committee will be appointed by the village board and will write advisory decisions and make recommendations based on formal complaints against village officials, village attorney Brian Egan said. The committee will also review potential conflicts of interest as they arise, officials said.

Mastic Beach -- which has a population of 12,930, according to the 2010 census -- hasn't received any formal complaints filed against officials since it was incorporated in 2010, officials said.

Mayor Bill Biondi said one reason for creating the committee is that the work environment on the board became "different" after the March elections when trustees Bruce Summa and Maura Spery -- often at odds with the three other members -- were voted in. Village board meetings have become acrimonious at times and last for hours as officials debate and dispute issues with each other and those attending.

Biondi and other trustees declined to point to specific incidents of what was "different."

The board last month unanimously adopted a resolution to create the ethics committee.

Most municipalities have ethic committees to investigate complaints, Biondi said.

In Patchogue Village, a complaint from a resident is filed in the clerk's office. It is then forwarded to the village attorney, who meets with the chairman of the ethics board to discuss the issue, Mayor Paul Pontieri said. For a serious complaint, the full ethics board would review the matter, Pontieri said.

Details on how the Mastic Beach committee will operate haven't been released. Each board member is to appoint one person to the five-member ethics committee to serve, unpaid, for a one-year term. Committee members are to choose a chairperson.

The goal in forming the committee, Egan said, is to strengthen the village's existing ethics code, which he said doesn't have any real enforcement powers or authority, as well as provide a mechanism for reviewing potential conflicts and other issues in the future.

State law requires a municipality to have an ethics code, but not a committee to review potential violations, said Robert Freeman, executive director of the state's Committee on Open Government in Albany.

Forming a committee is "a good idea, because inevitably there are going to be questions as it relates to ethics and similar matters that warrant review by an independent body," Freeman said.

Mastic Beach board member Maura Spery said residents have repeatedly asked for an ethics committee and that its creation is years overdue.

"You always need checks and balances in government," she said.

Pattersquash Creek Civic Association president Frank Fugarino said he advocated for an ethics committee more than a year ago.

"From time to time, issues arise and there could be missteps," he said. "It keeps everyone aware that you can be held accountable."

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