Democratic town councilmembers blocked North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSenna’s picks to fill six seats on the town’s Board of Ethics on Thursday during a contentious board meeting that last more than four hours.
DeSena’s recommendations included The Islamic Center of Long Island Chair Isma Chaudhry, Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss, Robert Reilly, LIU associate professor Qiping Zhang, Chabad of Mineoal Rabbi Anchelle Perl, Derek Chan and Francisco Vazquez.
“It’s very important we have an independent board of ethics with appointed terms so they can render opinions and not worry that it could cause them to be dismissed,” DeSena said. “Some of these board members’ terms have expired months and even years ago.”
Board Democrats said the selections were not representative of the town’s geographical diversity and they did not receive the resumes on DeSena’s picks until shortly before the meeting in explaining their abstaining.
The board of ethics is responsible for implementing the provisions of the Town’s Code of Ethics, according to the town’s websites.
Its responsibilities include approving and reviewing financial statements, rendering advisory opinions to town employees on the code of ethics and enforcing the code while determining penalties, among other things.
The current six board members are holdovers from the previous administration and are not bound by their four-year terms, which is enacted in order to not sway board members to the Town Board out of fear of being dismissed, DeSena said.
Four-year terms would outlast anyone on the Town Board, including the supervisor since all seven members serve two-year terms.
Councilman Robert Troiano Jr. said District 1, which incorporates Carle Place, New Cassel, Old Westbury and Westbury, was unrepresented in the six picks.
“I’m going to ask you to please go back and relook at these and see if you can do a better job,” Troiano Jr. said to Desena.
Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte said she was abstaining because she received resumes of the recommendations roughly 20 minutes before the meeting started at 7 p.m. and wanted to make sure it was diverse.
In January, Republicans had objections to the appointment of Town Attorney John Chiara by board Democrats, saying they were not part of the interview process and wanted more time.
The vote to appoint Chiara passed 5-2 with DeSena voting yes due to his extensive resume, but objected to not being part of the interview process.
Dalimonte said the seven recommendations were made up of one from Great Neck, Port Washington and Roslyn each as well as two from Manhasset and Mineola, respectively. None of the seven villages Dalimonte mentioned were from Troiano Jr.’s District 1.
Of the current six board members, Joseph Sciame, Rabbi Robert Widom, Rev. Charles Vogeley, Hon. Richard Kestenbaum and Bette Leong and Chaudhry, none reside in District One.
Councilman David Adhami said that he sees diversity in regards to religion, race and gender and wanted Troiano to specify the issues he was referencing because it seemed geographical diversity was the only thing lacking.
Troiano Jr. rebutted “there is some racial diversity but we could see additional racial diversity” and referenced at a later resolution that the African American community was not represented.
Following Adhami’s vote to accept one of the resolutions, Troiano Jr. said “there you go, you don’t really care.”
Councilman Dennis Walsh interjected following Troiano’s observation saying that he “is a little too much” along with DeSena saying that was not right of him to say.
“It’s my observation that you were just disrespectful,” Walsh said.
All seven of the recommendations DeSena made last night could be recommended again but would need a majority vote in order to be appointed.
The next Town of North Hempstead Town Board meeting will be Thursday, March 10.