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A primer on the ethics panel

Suffolk County executive Steve Levy holds a news

Suffolk County executive Steve Levy holds a news conference at the Dennison building in Hauppauge as he calls for the state legislature to impose the two-percent tax cap. Assemblyman Dean Murray stands behind him. (May 5, 2011) Photo Credit: James Carbone

What is it?

The commission is a public body empowered to interpret and enforce codes of conduct that have been established for government employees. Impartiality and freedom from political influence are at its root.


What does it do?

It handles complaints about potential violations of the county ethics code, offers opinions on whether conduct would violate the rules, and collects and reviews financial disclosure forms from public officials.


Who appoints members?

During the period covered in the Suffolk County grand jury report released yesterday, the commission had three members -- one appointed by the county executive, one by the county legislature and one by the legislature's presiding officer.


What are its powers?

During the period covered by the report, the commission had the power to find violators of the ethics code guilty of Class A misdemeanors, punishable by up to a year in prison or fine of up to $1,000. It could also refer cases to criminal investigators, void improper contracts, remove violators from office, discharge employees and suspend pay.


How old is the commission?

Suffolk County first created a Code of Ethics and Board of Ethics in 1968. Both have evolved over the years. The county first required officials to file financial disclosure forms in 1978. That form, too, has been subject to revision over time.


Is there an ethics body today?

Yes. In October, the legislature voted to abolish the ethics commission and replace it with a five-member ethics board. The new board includes two members appointed by the county executive and one each by the legislature's presiding officer, majority leader and minority leader. Three of the five have been appointed.

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