City council struggles to agree on ethics committee
The Supervisor’s Seven Choices Are Rejected
The town of North Hempstead held its third town council meeting of 2022 on February 17. All city councilors and city supervisor Jennifer DeSena were present for the lengthy meeting that lasted four and a half hours.
The meeting was full of city residents expressing their concerns or testifying to the city council‘s ongoing struggles to present a united front. Among the many items on the agenda, the vote on the appointment of new members to the City’s Ethics Council shone and caused disagreements among council members.
The ethics council is an important aspect of city government because the council is responsible for implementing the provisions of the city’s code of ethics. According to the Town of North Hempstead’s website, the council has a variety of functions, including “enforcing the code of ethics and determining penalties” and “providing advisory opinions to town employees regarding the code of ethics. “.
When discussing the ethics committee, DeSena pointed out that “one of the primary responsibilities of the board is to review financial disclosure forms to determine if anyone might have a conflict of interest.”
Considering that the financial world is constantly changing with new modes of ownership and new cryptocurrencies, “you want to have a board in place that is confident that its decision will be respected,” DeSena pointed out.
Ethics board members serve four-year terms, and the majority of current board members’ terms expired months or even years ago.
“These four-year terms are important because they [the board] independent of everyone including this one [town] board, and including myself, the supervisor, since my term is only two years,” DeSena said during the board discussion.
As the terms of the members of the ethics committee have all expired, they have been in a “state of survival” for months and years now.
“When they don’t have a warrant, they’re not independent,” DeSena said. “When you are suspended, you can be replaced at any time. You can be replaced at the next meeting and you will never know when it will happen and you will never know if it will be a result of a decision you have made.
To allow the board to work independently and have security again with a four-year term, DeSena nominated seven candidates to fill the ethics board. She expressed her confusion as to why the council had not been filled and appointed sooner, explaining why she named them all overnight.
First to voice his concerns was City Councilman Robert Troiano, a Democrat, who explained how diversity among ethics board members is a priority to ensure the city feels represented by a board that looks like them and who will represent their best interests.
“I don’t see that diversity in the seven supervisor appointments,” Troiano said. “I understand and believe that [DeSena] is great at respecting diversity, but I don’t see that in their recommendations. So I’m going to ask you to go back and review them and see if you can do a better job of creating more diversity.
Troiano decided to abstain in the first vote to reappoint ethics committee member Dr. Isma Chaudhry.
After that, Councilman Peter Zuckerman, Councilor Veronica Lurvey, and Councilor Mariann Dalimonte — all Democrats — followed suit and decided to abstain in the first vote, and the next six votes to nominate other committee members. of ethics.
“We just got the resumes 15 to 20 minutes before we had to come here,” Dalimonte said. “I was therefore unable to consult the candidates’ curriculum vitae. I want everyone to know that I’m going to abstain on all votes until I have time to review this and make sure it’s diverse.
“I also want to say that my vote of abstention is not an indictment or in any way a judgment on any of the people proposed by the supervisor,” Lurvey added.
Dalimonte pointed out that there is one person from Great Neck, two from Manhasset, two from Mineola, one from Roslyn and one from Port Washington that DeSena has named to the ethics committee.
“I think the council should be more diverse and should be filled with people from across the town and not just in certain areas of the town of North Hempstead,” Dalimonte said.
“I was looking for people who I knew would contribute, either because they know financial products or because they know the law,” DeSena said in defense of his picks. “I had people from different ethnic groups and religious groups named. I was very conscientious about finding diversity, including geographical diversity.
Of the seven nominees, one is Francisco Vasquez of Port Washington.
“Vasquez is an accomplished bankruptcy attorney and assists as counsel for the Knights of Columbus,” DeSena said during the board meeting.
“I know we don’t have Hispanic representation for the city and when I was looking for someone from the Port Washington area, I remembered their name,” she added. “I wanted to bring people into the city who aren’t part of it yet. I am new to local government and have seen so many people want to know more about local government and Francisco Vasquez is one of them.
DeSena and fellow Republican board members Dennis Walsh and David Adhami voted yes on the first vote and went on to vote yes for the next six ethics board nominations.
Since none of the seven candidates received the minimum number of four votes required to pass, no one was elected at the meeting.
The remaining members will remain for the time being. With survival, only five people make up the ethics board. Two places are vacant.
“With two vacancies, I can’t believe [the town board] wouldn’t even nominate one of my candidates to fill a position,” DeSena said. “I am surprised [the town board] was unwilling to give me the courtesy of a review of two of the seven nominees.
Troiano continued to express concern over the lack of diversity. “There is no one from District 1 who has been recommended here,” said Troiano, who represents that district. It includes Westbury and Carle Place.
“It’s not necessary for every city to have a representative on the ethics council,” DeSena replied. “It’s clear that [Troiano] wants someone from his neighborhood nominated and I’m not against it. I know some people in his district who would be great in this position, so I’ll try to find someone and we’ll see.
The next city council will be on March 10.