Councilman Thomas J. McCarthy is shown in a file photo...

Councilman Thomas J. McCarthy is shown in a file photo taken in a meeting of the Smithtown Town Board on February 27, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

The Smithtown Board of Ethics has ruled that Councilman Thomas McCarthy violated the town ethics code when he cast the deciding vote in September for a $30,000 raise in his stipend as deputy town supervisor.

In a letter last Monday to Pat Biancaniello, a former councilwoman who called for an inquiry, the ethics board said McCarthy's vote "gave an appearance of a conflict of interest" even though he "might be involved in future budget discussions and votes involving Town Board salary issues."

McCarthy, who later rescinded his vote, did not return calls seeking comment. McCarthy's stipend increase is included in the 2015 town budget, which officials plan to vote on Thursday.

The town ethics code bars elected officials and employees from engaging "in any act which is in conflict or gives the appearance of conflict with the performance of the official's or employee's duties," according to the letter obtained by Newsday.

The code also requires officials and employees to "endeavor to pursue a course of conduct which will not raise suspicion among the public that he is likely to be engaged in acts that are in violation of his trust," the letter said.

The ethics board letter recommended that the town board clearly identify how salary increases for town board positions are to be voted upon "so that this issue does not recur." The letter did not cite penalties for the violation.

According to the town code, any person "who knowingly and willfully violates" the ethics code will be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to civil penalties. Members of boards and commissions found guilty of a negligent violation will also be subject to "immediate removal from such appointment," the code states.

Smithtown Town Attorney Matthew Jakubowski declined to comment on the ruling, but said that "historically, the imposition of fines and penalties have been administered by the board of ethics."

Ethics board members Steven L. Sarisohn and Joseph T. Saggese, and Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio all declined to comment on the ethics board's ruling. Tracey J. Epstein, another ethics board member, did not return calls for comment.

Biancaniello, who filed a written complaint to the ethics board on Sept. 17, said she was glad the board ruled McCarthy's vote was inappropriate.

"I knew it was the wrong thing for Councilman McCarthy to do," she said, adding that she supports the board's recommendation that the code be more explicit. "Obviously, Mr. McCarthy didn't understand it. So, to go back and make the code clearer for him and others who follow is a positive step."

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