Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen proposed an ethics reform package on Monday focused on addressing issues of nepotism and politics in the workplace, which she said have plagued the town in recent years.
Gillen drafted the measures over the last several months, she said, noting that she and her staff studied the ethics policies and procedures of municipalities on Long Island and elsewhere. She said she will now “begin the dialogue” with members of the Town Board before ultimately holding a public hearing on the revised code.
Gillen, of Rockville Centre, who became Hempstead’s first Democratic supervisor-elect in more than a century last November, ran on a platform of ethics reform and transparency, which she said at the news conference Monday is the best safeguard against corruption and conflicts of interest.
She called the current ethics code “scattered, disjointed and not easily found in one place,” noting that the town is desperate for new ones.
The proposed package aims at preventing job preference to family members of town employees and avoiding any situation where one family member would be supervising another. It would also prohibit elected officials from hiring a relative of any kind, Gillen said, even if they recuse themselves from the vote. She emphasized that she is not targeting any family members that work for the town now, noting that many are good employees. “It’s about preventing any appearance of impropriety going forward,” she said.
“The driving force of town government is to benefit and serve the public,” Gillen added, “not to dole out benefits to the politically connected.” In April, Gillen filed suit against the town board for a series of controversial job protections and interdepartmental transfers successfully pushed by former Town Supervisor Anthony Santino last year during his last meeting, which ensured that many appointees would keep their jobs, and that some would get significant raises.
Gillen’s proposed package would also prohibit politicking at the town’s headquarters, and would transform what she called a three-member partisan ethics board to a six-member bi-partisan board that excludes political party leaders.
She said she has received a number of complaints from town employees saying that they had been pressured in the past by their superiors to buy tickets to political fundraisers or to do petitioning.
Town Clerk Sylvia Cabana, who joined Gillen at the news conference, said she has also received complaints from about 10 staff members that they felt pressured by former clerks to donate to their campaigns. She and Gillen noted that they do not accept money from town employees.
“If they want to engage in any political activity not on government time, it’s their First Amendment right,” Cabana said of town employees. “During government time, from the hours that we’re here to serve the public of the Town of Hempstead, no politician from either party should be politicking and asking them to contribute money to their campaigns.”
Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, a Republican, said in a statement Monday that the town board has been proactive regarding ethics reform in recent years by placing Freedom of Information forms online, requiring competitive bidding on more government contracts and pushing for the appointment for the town’s first compliance officer.
“As in the past, proposed updates to our code will be shared with the Supervisor in the interest of transparency, and meaningful dialogue will be invited,” King Sweeney said in a statement. “…Working collaboratively with colleagues is where transparency really begins.”