Manorhaven village board announces appointment of ethics attorney

Manorhaven village board announces appointment of ethics attorney
From left to right: Trustee John Popeleski, Mayor Jim Avena, Deputy Mayor Priscilla von Roeschlaub, Trustee Rita DiLucio and Village Attorney Steven Leventhal at Manorhaven's September Board of Trustees meeting. (Photo by Luke Torrance)

The Manorhaven Board of Trustees formally approved the appointment of Steve Leventhal as the village ethics attorney at Thursday’s meeting.

Leventhal was Manorhaven’s village attorney until July 2018 and is a managing partner of Roslyn-based firm Leventhal, Mullaney, and Blinkoff PLLC.

Village Attorney Jonathan Fielding said Leventhal is “quite possibly the pre-eminent legal scholar in New York State on municipal ethics.”

Mayor Jim Avena said he originally formed a village ethics committee in 2016 and appointed five members but the group never met.

The five members of the committee are Angela McGrade, Bill McCarthy, Mike Masiello, Debbie Magrino, and Tom Pugliesi.

“I appointed them and I felt that they seemed to be people that would take the responsibility seriously as well as with clear thinking,” Avena said.

He said that the five members will receive ethics training within the next two weeks.

Manorhaven resident John Orr asked whether the committee could meet before the Manorhaven Board of Zoning Appeals votes on a proposed three-story building on Manhasset Isle.

The members of the zoning board are expected to vote on the variances on Feb. 19.

Trustee Rita DiLucia said she agreed with the resident’s sentiment.

“I think Mr. Orr’s kind of right,” she said. “I think that the ethics committee should review the board first and the complaints before a decision is made.”

Nick Marra, a Manorhaven resident, asked whether residents will be allowed to attend the ethics meeting. Fielding said it was likely a public hearing will be held to appoint the chairperson of the committee.

He said when investigating claims of ethics violations, however, those meetings will be confidential.

Fielding said that the committee will have the authority to “render advisory opinions to this board and other boards about questions of potential violations of the code of conduct within the village.”

According to the village code, the Board of Ethics can assess a fine of up to $10,000 of any village official who is determined to have violated the village code of ethics. They will also be able to refer the matter to the appropriate prosecutor, such as the attorney general.

Avena said the first action by the ethics committee will be to ask Caroline DuBois, acting secretary of the Manorhaven Action Committee, for the evidence of conflict of interest that she said she has turned over to the District Attorney.

DuBois also alleges Leventhal to have been the former attorney of Peter Dejana, a local businessman and owner of the Manhasset Isle property where the three-story building has been proposed.

Leventhal said in a telephone interview that he has not represented Dejana “in any way, shape, or form.”

Leventhal serves as ethics counsel to two counties, four towns, and two villages. He is the former chair of the Nassau County Board of Ethics and is a co-chair of the ethics committee for the local and state government law section of the New York State Bar.

He said he is very pleased to have been appointed to the position and is “anxious to organize a meeting of the village board” and to provide ethics training for village officials and staff.

The primary goal of an ethics committee is to prevent unintended ethics violations before they occur by helping local government officials understand the code of ethics, Leventhal said.

At the next meeting of the Board of Trustees in February, village officials will discuss banning the recreational sale of marijuana and amending of the village code to limit the number of curb-cuts, when a curb is eliminated to allow for the entrance of a driveway which lessens the availability of street parking, of new homes.

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