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Town Board studies amendments to ethics code amid struggles to add new members to historic preservation group

Southold Town will hold a pair of hearings next month on proposed changes to its ethics code.

The first amendment would loosen a rule in the code that town officials say is making it onerous to recruit members to the Historic Preservation Commission.

Supervisor Scott Russell has said that membership on the commission is “dwindling” and that, given the nature of historic preservation, insight from engineers and architects is needed. But to serve on the commission, which does not offer compensation, local architects are currently barred from representing clients whose applications must go before other town commissions or departments.

The proposed amendment to the ethics code would allow members who are professional architects or engineers to appear and represent clients before other boards, commissions, committees and departments of the town, provided that the subject of their representation does not also fall within the jurisdiction of the HPC.

Board members agreed that was a reasonable exception and agreed to move forward with a public hearing on March 23.

The town attorney also presented board members with additional updates to the ethics code Tuesday that include an expanded list of definitions, guidelines for consultants who are contracted to work with the town and added limitations for political activities town employees may engage in.

The proposed code would prohibit consultants engaged by the town from appearing on behalf of any other client before the town during their period of service to the town.

Engaging in political activities on town premises, including discussing, selling or purchasing tickets to political events, solicitation to join a political party or activity and use of town equipment or the internet for engaging in political activity was also discussed.

The changes were initially discussed in the fall of 2019, prior to Councilwoman Sarah Nappa joining the board. She said Tuesday that she supported moving forward to the public hearing in order to get feedback.

Both hearings will be held March 23 at 7 p.m.