Hempstead revised ethics code unanimously passed

Town Supervisor Laura Gillen oversaw the update of the ethics code. (Photo by Jed Hendrixson)

The Hempstead Town Board unanimously passed a long sought overhaul of the town ethics code last Tuesday.

Thomas Muscarella, a Republican from Garden City, was sworn in at the meeting, replacing former Councilman Edward Ambrosino. Ambrosino resigned from his position on April 3 after pleading guilty to felony tax evasion.

Democratic Supervisor Laura Gillen voted against Muscarella being appointed. She was critical after the board’s four Republicans voted to appoint Muscarella. She said that the action was undemocratic and would result in an unfair advantage when he runs for election to the seat in November.

The circumstances surrounding the vacancy that was filled by Muscarella added to the reasons the board felt an updated code was necessary.  Steve Leventhal, the town ethics counsel, said the previous code was a “bare-bones statute that was really inadequate.”

The new ethics code is designed to help with conflict of interest issues, clarifying rules on nepotism and political contributions, and reducing the use of town offices for private gain, among other things. It will also result in the Town Board members updating their financial disclosure statements.

The Board of Ethics will also be increased from three to five people, with no more than two people representing any one political party.

Reasons for the new ethics code go past Ambrosino’s reason for resignation.

Last month, a Nassau County Supreme Court judge ruled that former Hempstead Town Supervisor Anthony Santino, as well as current board members, violated the town’s ethics code. This occurred when they voted on and ratified an amendment regarding a collective bargaining agreement.

Court documents showed that certain board members should not have voted because family members would benefit from the amendment’s passing. These board members included Santino and Councilman Anthony D’Esposito.

Without their votes, the amendment would not have passed. The amendment has since been nullified.

The revised code also includes a clause prohibiting town officials from limiting the free-speech rights of contractors and town employees.  This was added after a memo allegedly showed that Gillen had contacted a town contractor after an employee publicly criticized her.

The clause was added by D’Esposito following the circulation of the memo.

A Town Board news release stated that the memo was sent from the employer to the employee. D’Esposito said that the employer is the town’s bond counsel Hawkins Delafield & Wood.

The memo stated that Gillen had contacted the company about the employee’s public comments. It allegedly asked the employee to stop making comments and said that refusal to do so could result in the employee’s “termination.”

The Town of Hempstead board members were united in their decision to update the ethics code.

“Today is a great day in the Town of Hempstead,” Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney said at a news conference regarding the updated code earlier this year. “It shows that we care about transparency and accountability and that we are there for the taxpayers, ensuring the taxpayers that we’re there for them and doing so in a decent and honest way.”

 

 

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