Town of North Hempstead officials approved Tuesday changes intended to strengthen its ethics code and the creation of anti-nepotism policies aimed at improving transparency in the town’s governmental operations.
“We can now offer better guidance on ethical issues to our elected representatives, employees and contractors,” Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting. “We’re moving restrictions from policy to law so that they can be more effectively enforced.”
The town began taking steps last April to address corruption and conflicts of interest after Gerard Terry, the former town Democratic chairman who served as attorney to the town zoning board, was found to have $1.4 million in tax debts and a former employee, Helen McCann, was arrested for allegedly stealing $98,000 from the Solid Waste Management Authority.
The Town Board approved a package of revisions to its ethics code in March, requiring contractors and more officials to file financial disclosures and adding the finances of family members who work for the town to the list of information that must be disclosed.
Changes made to its ethics code on Tuesday include prohibiting town employees from having personal interests in town contracts, banning town employees from receiving gifts worth a total more than $75 in a year and preventing town employees from accepting outside work.
Amendments to the ethics code also include notifying new employees of filing requirements for financial disclosure statements and permitting the town’s ethics board to investigate any potential conflict of interest in a financial disclosure statement and report it to the town supervisor, Town Board and town attorney.
As part of the code changes, the ethics board will increase from six members to seven and the length of terms for an ethics board member will decrease from six years to four years.
The approved anti-nepotism laws include prohibiting relatives of elected town officials to be employed by the town, prohibiting a town employee from participating in any personnel decision about a relative and banning town employees from supervising a relative.
The new law also requires the ethics board to alert the town’s human resources department if an employee discloses that they have a relative working at the town and requiring job applicants to disclose if they have a relative working at the town.
Bosworth said the town’s ethics working group, which was formed last year to “come up with ways to improve” the town’s ethics procedures, met over the past few months and recommended changes to the town’s ethics code.
“Together, the Board of Ethics and the ethics working group have paved the way for North Hempstead government to operate in an ethical and transparent way,” she said. “Our residents deserve no less.”
Prior to the vote, Town Councilwoman Dina De Giorgio, who served on the ethics working group, attempted unsuccessfully to add a section to the proposed ethics reforms that required the ethics board to request an independent attorney if it is determined that the town attorney has a conflict of interest with any matter in front of the board.
But Town Councilman Peter Zuckerman, who also served on the ethics working group, said it was “not consistent” with ethics policies to propose an addition to the law without the ethics working group meeting to discuss it first.
“I find it to be just not appropriate at this time for that particular addition to be considered,” Zuckerman said. “I believe the legislation that we have proposed is satisfactory and is something that we can all be proud of.”
Officials said that moving forward, any ideas related to the town’s ethics laws will be discussed and can be added to the code if necessary.