The Village of Mineola has had an ethics board for two decades, but no code of ethics to guide it – until a vote by the Mineola Board of Trustees last Wednesday night.
Village trustees voted unanimously for a ethics code that closely mirrors the used by the New York Conference of Mayors.
“If we have a good ethics board and a code of ethics we can follow up on, we’re in good shape,” Village of Mineola Deputy Mayor Paul Pereira said.
Acting village attorney John Gibbons said village attorney John Spellman, Gibbons’ law partner, discovered that the village lacked an ethics code as required by state municipal law. “The code is a state form that we got from NYCOM,” Gibbons said “It’s really to give someone in the village, like an employee, a point of reference. Most of it is pretty obvious. It’s a guide.”
The ethics code prohibits a municipal officer or employee to make a decision “that could result in a direct or indirect financial or material benefit to himself or herself” or to benefit a relative or private organization in which they have an interest. It requires a municipal officer to disclose whether an action he or she took could “result in a direct or indirect financial or material benefit” on a matter brought before the board. It also prohibits investments that “would otherwise impair the person’s independence of judgment” in performing his or her duties.
Village of Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss said he has appointed an ethics board, but he didn’t know the last time the board had met.
“We’re tasking the ethics board to do a little bit more than they had done in the past,” Strauss said.
Gibbons said if a village trustee is uncertain about taking a certain action, the trustee can go to the ethics board for an opinion. He said members of the public can also approach trustees about initiating an inquiry on a specific issue or could also approach the ethics board directly to initiate an inquiry.
Strauss said he also wants to appoint a civil employee to review financial disclosure forms, which must be filed by elected village officials, appointees to village boards and department managers.
The current members of the village ethics board, Strauss said, are Russ Sutherland, Joan Hobbs, Bernadette Pizzardi and Rev. Chet Easton of the First Presbyterian Church in Mineola.
Village officials said nothing had occurred in the village to create a need for the code of ethics.
“There weren’t any issues that prompted this,” Village Trustee Paul Cusato said, adding he was “shocked” to learn an ethics code wasn’t in place .
“It wasn’t something that was an urgent need by the board,” Walsh said.
In other action, the village board adopted a local law limiting the area of a driveway to 25 percent of the front yard square footage of any residential lot. The law stipulates that only one driveway shall be permitted for each residential structure and no circular driveways will be permitted.
“I don’t think anybody wants to turn this village into a village of cars on their own front lawns,” Strauss said.
Pereira said the law would “eliminate tensions” between neighbors.
The law prohibits the construction of circular driveways, Gibbons said, but does not require the removal of existing circular driveways.
“An illegal situation does not become legal,” Gibbons said.
The board also adopted a local law requiring any property owner or property owner’s representative to notify the village Building Department of truss type pre-engineered wood or timber construction used in any structures.
The truss is a triangular-shaped form used in roof construction that can result in the sudden collapse of a roof when a structure with truss construction catches fire.
Under the new law, the electric control box outside any building with truss construction will carry a sticker indicating the form of construction used to protect firefighters responding to a call.
“This is a great piece of information for a chief of police or a fire department to have,” Mineola Fire Department Chief Jeff Clark said. “This will definitely save lives.”