There’s a new sheriff in the Town of Oyster Bay — well, actually there are six. The members of a new ethics board were introduced by Supervisor Joseph Saladino at a Feb. 28 news conference, along with a revamped code of ethics. Referring to them as “independent and autonomous,” Saladino said that the board members would “continue to create an ethical firewall in the Town of Oyster Bay.”
The news conference was transmitted through speakers so town employees could listen while they worked.
“I am proud to join our supervisor in announcing these initiatives that we have been working on to help rebuild the trust of our residents,” said Councilwoman Michele Johnson, who stood by Saladino’s side at the press conference.
Many observers agree that trust and credibility are two things the town sorely needs, especially after the arrest of former Supervisor John Venditto on federal corruption charges. Saladino is working to bring about change, especially in those areas.
“We’ve ensured that there are no elected officials on the new board,” Saladino said. “The individuals are independent town residents who share a strong interest in serving the community.”
Twenty-one people initially expressed an interest in joining the board. Those who were chosen have contracts to serve for differing periods of time, from one to five years. And both major political parties are represented on the board, which is required to meet once per quarter, although Saladino said he would ask its members to meet more often.
“What’s different about this ethics board is that no more than two people are from the same political party, and they’re being led by an independent council to give them guidance,” Saldino explained, adding that after board scrutiny, all inquiries will be turned over to the town board. “This will include any questions of wrong behavior. If there is a need, we will deal with any infractions by town employees, and if they are breaking the law, they will be handed over to the authorities.”
The revamped ethics code includes new financial disclosure guidelines for employees. “There will be no conflicts of interest now — absolutely none,” Saladino said.
As well, all town employees will be required to attend training sessions, which will begin soon. “And we elected officials will be the first to take this training,” Saladino added.
The new Code of Ethics Booklet was created, Saladino said, utilizing state law literature. “Most municipalities have codes of ethics that were adopted in the 1970s,” he said. “Ours is courageous, especially in view of the anemic ethics codes found in other municipalities.”
Most ethics violations are unintentional, he said. “It’s because a worker doesn’t understand the ethics code,” he added, noting that the new code of ethics is much easier to understand. “We want to get the message out before there’s a problem.”
Saladino said that he sees both the new ethics and the board as a beginning of sorts for Oyster Bay. “I promise we will turn Oyster Bay around,” he said. “We are now taking steps to do that.”