Suffolk County considers creating government watchdog
RIVERHEAD, N.Y. - The Suffolk County Legislature met on Wednesday to reintroduce a bill that would create an Office of Inspector General for the county.
Legislator Robert Trotta, a co-sponsor, said the bill was originally pulled after pushback from unions in 2017 and never got out of committee. It's in response to the ongoing incidents of misconduct and abuse involving the Suffolk County government, according to Trotta. Most recently the tragic death of 8-year-old Thomas Valva.
"It's a five-year term so they're not going to worry about getting fired. They're going say someone with integrity is going to do this job and say, 'Look, you've got to straighten your act out,'" Trotta said.
Under the legislation, the inspector general would be an independent voice with subpoena power and the ability to issue annual reports.
As it stands, the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office is investigating the Valva case and those authorities involved. But Justyna Zubko-Valva, Thomas' biological mom, said earlier in the week that is part of the problem.
"How can we get a fair and impartial investigation if the same people who failed to protect me and my children and help them are actually responsible for investigating the matter of the brutal murder of my child," she said.
Her friend Ewa Pienkowski said the system failed as a whole and other ideas need to be put on the table.
"Like police officers carry body cameras, why can't CPS employees have body cameras on them?" she said.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone's Office said the bill would do absolutely nothing to have a meaningful impact on Child Protective Services.
"Instead of working to develop constructive solutions, this is an unfortunate example of trying to play politics with an unimaginable tragedy," MaryKate Guilfoyle, a spokesperson for the county, told FOX 5 NY.
However, former Department of Social Services Commissioner Greg Blass said this type of office has worked well elsewhere, including in Nassau County.
"All of these organizations including the judges investigate themselves," he said. "Why not have a separate set of eyes to be a deterrence to prevent the corruption?"
The Suffolk County Legislature plans to hold two public hearings next month before a vote in April. It would then need to be signed by the county executive.