Suffolk County lawmakers this week replaced the beleagured county Ethics Commission and bolstered ethics rules to restore public trust after County Executive Steve Levy forfeited his $4.3 million warchest to prosecutors to resolve a criminal investigation.
A new Board of Ethics will take the place of the commission, which is under investigation. The updated law probibits newly listed conflicts of interest violations and more clearly defines those in the current law.
“Our ethics laws were long overdue for an update,” said Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook), who chairs the committee that investigated the ethics commission after allegations it had improperly sided with Levy in a financial disclosure dispute.
The committee ceased that probe when District Attorney Tom Spota also began investigating the commission amid the continuing review of Levy’s campaign fund raising.
The county executive will appoints two of the new ethics board’s five members with one each picked by the presiding officer, majority leader and minority leader. It will be independent of the county attorney and the legislature has oversight.
The board will have the same role to provide ethics training, prepare advisory opinions, review financial disclosure statements and conduct investigations but now will have deadlines to render opinions and issue decisions after complaint hearings.
The new ethics rules for county workers forbid coercing fellow employee into political activities or donations, using workers or resources for personal use, using their official position for improper financial gain and receiving private compensation for performing official duties. Financial disclosure statements will also require more details.
Minority Leader John M. Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said the new rules will “close the loopholes and eliminate the ambiguities.”