On the Right: Ethics and Nassau’s political class

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The word “ethics” is bandied about ad nauseum in Nassau County political circles, but I doubt if many pols know its true meaning.

“Ethics” is derived from the Greek “ethike,” which means moral virtue.

It signified the rational inquiry into the principles of man’s moral life.

Ethics endeavor to explain why it is right to behave in one way, but not in another.

For Plato, virtue is part of statesmanship, and true politics is ethics in action.

Likewise, for Aristotle, politics is ethics on the grand scale.

No doubt there are many public officials in Nassau who are irreproachable.

Nevertheless, the unpleasant fact must be faced that a number of people in public life have habitually and gravely failed in their conduct of public affairs and have been found guilty of dishonest transactions.

The ever-growing list of Nassau politicians that have been indicted or convicted signifies that the moral compass among many in the political class is malfunctioning.

Just in case you forgot, here’s a partial list of those recently accused or proven guilty of violating the public trust: Ed Mangano, indicted; Rob Walker, indicted; Edward Ambrosino, indicted; John Venditto, indicted; Salvatore Cecere, indicted; Frank Antetomaso, indicted; Perry Pettus, indicted; Dean Skelos, convicted felon; Adam Skelos; convicted felon; Gerard Terry, convicted felon; Frederick Ippolito, convicted felon.

These days, “transparency” and “ethical reform” are slogans voiced by every candidate seeking office. But those campaign slogans are often discarded after victors are sworn into office.

Take, for example, County Executive Laura Curran. After running as a reformer sworn to “transparency,” one of her earliest appointments was ethnically-challenged Richie Kessel to the Nassau Industrial Development Agency board.

Reacting, a New York Post editorial titled “A Fresh Whiff of Corruption in Nassau County”(Sept. 26), said: “Nassau County Executive Laura Curran is supposed to be a reformer, having won the job by slamming the county’s massive corruption. So why is she empowering scandal-tarred hack Richie Kessel?… Kessel doesn’t belong at the head of any public agency, let alone one that hands out taxpayer funds. He has been probed by the state attorney general, comptroller and inspector general, as well as the feds…”

There is, however, one elected official making strides to turn the tide on municipal corruption: Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen.

In mid-September, she introduced a series of bills totaling 50 pages to amend Chapter 38 of the Town’s Code of “Ethical Standards” to foster greater confidence in Hempstead’s government.

The changes in the code “are designed to further strengthen the ethical standards that govern the actions of Town elected official, employees, and others acting on behalf of or in the name of the Town.”

“The proposal,” Gillen said at a press conference on Sept. 17, “gets to prohibit elected officials, and appointed staff members, including commissioners, deputy commissioners, directors and appointed members sitting on the town’s various boards and agencies, from holding high-level or influential positions in a political party.”

The proposal would also forbid political solicitations or fundraising activities on Town premises. It would bring an end to political nepotism — hiring relatives of elected officials.

A new whistleblower form would be created and made available online. Employees or concerned citizens would be able to file complains confidentially.

All town officials and appointees would be required to fill out a truly comprehensive disclosure form “to prevent conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflict of interest.”

A bipartisan Board of Ethics would be established. No officer, employee of the Town, relative of an elected official, officer or employee of the Township, could serve on the board.

These are all common-sense approaches to combating municipal corruption.

But the question now is, will the Republican majority on the council have the moral fiber to do the right thing and support the Gillen proposal, which repudiates over a century of the GOP’s cronyism approach to governing?

Don’t be surprised if Hempstead’s tone-deaf Republicans ignore Plato’s dictum that true politics is ethnics in action.

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