Just one month after Riverhead’s Republican Party decided not to back incumbent Town Supervisor Sean Walter for re-election this fall, many partisans are crying foul over Mr. Walter’s renewed interest in a long-languishing ethics proposal whose sole immediate impact would be to force Riverhead Republican Party Chairman Mason Hass, who also serves as an elected town tax assessor, to choose just one of those two roles.
Mr. Walter is planning to wage a primary against Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who won the party’s nomination.
The new proposed ethics rule would ban elected officials and appointed board members from serving on executive boards of political committees, and vice versa.
An eariler version of the code would have simply banned elected and appointed board members from serving on political committees, but not other elected officials like tax assessors and superintendents of highways.
One year ago, only two people, both former Democratic town board candidates, spoke up at a public hearing saying they wanted to see tighter restrictions.
But at a hearing on the new proposal before the town board Tuesday afternoon, most said the timing, just after Mr. Walter was denied the Republican nomination, just plain stunk.
“How many people will this affect?” asked Ed Enders of the Northeast Region Council of Carpenters, whose members quietly filled many of the seats at town hall, as they have done at many previous town board meetings in an attempt to get the town to adopt an apprenticeship program. “In my opinion, you’re just going after one person…. Why do you feel this is necessary?”
Southold and Brookhaven towns both have policies prohibiting party officials from serving as elected or appointed officials, and Southampton prohibits police department members from serving as party officials, said Mr. Walter and Ms. Giglio.
Riverhead Democratic Party Chairwoman Marjorie Acevedo said the board should have resolved the town’s ethics code far prior to this year’s election.
“This board has had two-and-a-half years to resolve this issue,” she said. “It should include a grandfather clause for everyone that is currently serving, to make it not seem personal. This has made an ineffective board even more ineffective.”
“We all want ethics in government, but we don’t want them unethically,” said Republican town board candidate Robert Peeker, who also questioned the timing of the proposal.
Republican Committee member Tammy Robinkoff said she is “appalled” that the code is being considered during a town election year.
“I feel the town board should not have the power to decide who serves on the executive committee of a political party,” she said.
Republican county legislator candidate Remy Bell agreed.
“Mason Haas was elected by the people of Riverhead,” he said. “If the people decide there’s an ethics problem, they should not reelect him.”
Mr. Bell added that he believes Mr. Walter and Councilman Jim Wooten, who also did not receive the Republican Party’s backing in his re-election bid, should recuse themselves from the vote, “or this whole thing will stink like the river with all the dead bunker.”
Republican Committee member Joanne Spanburgh asked why the supervisor has suddenly take to calling the ethics code “morally required” and “an emergency” since he failed to win the party’s nomination.
“We cannot be fooled into believing this is morally necessary,” she said. “It’s obviously punishment for failure to support the supervisor.”
Democratic town board candidate Laura Jens-Smith was more moderate in her concern.
“The timing was ill-advised, but on the merits itself, it’s a good law,” she said.
Democratic Town Supervisor Candidate Anthony Coates agreed.
“It seems the town board brought this up at the wrong time for the wrong reason, but this is not ‘The Mason Haas Bill,'” he said. “Do I think Mason Haas is corrupt? Absolutely not.”
Mr. Coates pointed out that, not too far away in Southold, the clerk of the courts had recently gone to jail for stealing more than $200,000.
“Everybody said ‘that couldn’t be her, she’s so nice!'” he said. “But they wrote the rules for her! James Madison said all men having power should be mistrusted. We should structure government to care for people who would do us harm.”
“It’s about what makes sense to protect the public interest,” he added. “We need to do the right thing and do it for the right reasons.”
The board has left the public hearing open for written comments until July 17.