Ethics rule trips up Town Board

Riverhead Town Board members had to scrap plans to name James Saladino to the town ethics board Tuesday after it became clear the appointment would violate town code because of the former Conservative Party’s leader’s continuing role as a party committeeman.

“Mr. Saladino pulled his name for consideration,” Supervisor Sean Walter said about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, a few hours before the Town Board meeting at which Mr. Saladino’s appointment would have been voted on.

He was dropped from consideration after it was brought to the Town Board’s attention that the code bars from the ethics board anyone who is “an officer or committee person of any local, county or state political party, association, club or independent political committee …”

Mr. Saladino was chairman of the town’s Conservative Party committee until recently. On Tuesday, he said he was no longer chairman but remained a committee member.

Early Tuesday afternoon, town officials weren’t sure what Mr. Saladino’s status was.

“You’re absolutely right; if he is still an officer or committee person in that party, then he certainly can’t be verified,” Councilman Jim Wooten told the News-Review when asked about the town code provision. “In any event, I think we’re going to pull [the resolution] until we get clarification.”

Mr. Saladino, who was a deputy town attorney last year before resigning in December, confirmed with the News-Review that he was “still very much a committeeman” for the Riverhead Conservatives, although no longer chairman.

“I thought what Riverhead ethics law says is you can’t be a chairman of a political committee and serve on an appointed board,” he said, adding that the Town Board probably “would pull the resolution” to put him on the ethics board. In fact, Mr. Saladino himself later withdrew his name from consideration, according to Mr. Walter.

Mr. Saladino said he’d had to step down as head of the town’s Conservative committee when he took a job as principal law clerk for Justice James Hudson in Suffolk County Criminal Court on Jan. 3.

“The rules of the chief judge in the state courts say a law clerk cannot serve on a state or county executive committee, and my spot with the town automatically put me on the Conservative county committee,” he said. “I’m just a regular committeeman but I am still very much alive and well in the Conservative party.”

Former Riverhead supervisor Phil Cardinale, who brought the matter to the News-Review’s attention Tuesday, said he and the rest of the then-Town Board passed the ethics code in November 2004, during his first term, because they “wanted to place the ethics board above politics.”

Mr. Cardinale, a Democrat, said he was glad the Saladino appointment did not appear to be moving forward, but added that the all-Republican board’s apparent oversight didn’t speak well about its “attention to detail.”

Mr. Saladino was slated to fill the ethics seat vacated Jan. 25 by Edward Bracken.

Mr. Walter, himself a former Riverhead Conservative Committee chairman, said he had thought Mr. Saladino had resigned from both posts, chairman and committee member.

After Mr. Saladino withdrew, Mr. Walter expressed disappointment that the move couldn’t go forward.

“I thought it would be neat to have a law secretary [on the ethics board],” he said.

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