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On Pay-by-Mail Fines and the Ethics Code

Thu, 12/09/2021 - 10:29

The East Hampton Town Board held two public hearings last Thursday, one involving two amendments to the town’s code of ethics and the other to create a Bureau of Administrative Adjudication that would make it easier to pay fines for minor violations of the town code.

The ethics amendment would change the code to both define and name municipal boards covered under it: The town board and town trustees, the planning board, zoning board of appeals, architectural review board, board of assessment review, community preservation fund committee, licensing review board, the housing authority, and the board of ethics itself.

Also ethics-related, a member of an aforementioned board” shall not, after the termination of service or employment with such municipality represent or render services to a private person or organization in connection with any particular transaction in which he or she personally and substantially participated while serving as a municipal officer or employee.”

An earlier version of the proposed code revision included a two-year prohibition against representing or rendering services to “a private person or organization in connection with any matter involving the exercise of discretion before the municipal office, board, department, or comparable organizational unit for which he or she served.”

The town board had debated the proposed revisions last month, with Councilman Jeff Bragman strongly critical of that passage, which he called the imposition of “a two-year gag rule in which a person who is employed in public service could not render services to a private person or organization,” which he said was “very broad, very sweeping, very undefined.”

Mr. Bragman, who is an attorney, was not endorsed by the East Hampton Democratic Committee at its nominating convention in February. He subsequently mounted an unsuccessful challenge to Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, finishing second in a three-way race for supervisor, and will leave government at year’s end.

 Adding a two-year prohibition, he said last month, would be “a huge disincentive” for prospective employees to work for the town. “As we embark on trying to hire town attorneys,” he said on Nov. 16, “we will have to tell them, if you leave after a year or two, you’re giving up the right to practice law in East Hampton for two years.” This would be “a big surprise” to Thomas Crouch and Jameson McWilliams, he said of the assistant town attorneys who recently established a private practice in East Hampton, “because our town attorneys frequently participate in many boards.” The town, he said, “can’t afford to do this in a town as small as we are.”

“The ethics board had asked for some language in there with regard to making it clear what would be a conflict once someone left employment,” was how NancyLynn Thiele, an assistant town attorney, explained the proposed update to the board. Hugh King, chairman of the town’s ethics board, said that it supported the proposed amendments. The hearing was closed.

The hearing on creation of an administrative adjudication bureau drew scant public comment. It followed a February recommendation by two assistant town attorneys and the chief harbormaster for such a court, which would allow those committing minor violations to pay a fine by mail or online, rather than having to appear in Town Justice Court. With the exception of parking violations, there is presently no way to pay fines for offenses such as open-container violations, driving on the beach without a permit, littering, and illegal beach fires, either by mail or online.

Ed Michels, the harbormaster, East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo, and Kevin Cooper, the director of ordinance enforcement, all spoke in favor of the bureau’s creation during a virtual work session last month.

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