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Sullivan ponders ethics law; details remain to be worked out

By Fritz Mayer
April 19, 2013

For about 20 minutes Sullivan County lawmakers discussed the timing of the next meeting regarding the proposed ethics law and the date of the proposed public hearing, because members wanted clarity about when they would be voting, and what they might be voting on.

At the monthly county meeting on April 18, it was determined the next meeting regarding the law will be held May 2, and if a majority of the board agrees to the components of the new law, the proposed public hearing will be held on May 16, but it’s not clear if there will be an agreement.

Legislator Gene Benson read a two-part provision that he believes should be adopted. The first part said, “An elected official, whether county, town, federal, village or state, cannot also be an attorney, accountant, lobbyist or board member representing an entity that receives county funds or tax abatements.” In other words, for example, the supervisor of the town of Callicoon would not be able to serve as a board member for Cornell Cooperative Extension.

The second part of his provision read, “Persons that are board members of an entity, such as a non-profit, that receives county funds, will not be permitted to serve on that board if the board member’s business is hired from such agency to provide services from which that board member or his or her company earns a financial profit.” In other words, if, for example, Robert Smith owns an office supply store, and, for example, the Sullivan County Community College needs office supplies, the SCCC may not buy office supplies from Smith if Smith is a member of the board of the SCCC.

Legislator Cora Edward also read a provision she wanted to include in the ethics law, which read, “It will be a violation of the Ethics Law if an employee, a county official or elected official uses coercion, influence peddling, promulgating fear or retribution or loss of a job, scar mongering or threats of investigation, or threats of loss of business, bid-rigging in order to induce people to change county policy for the sake of personal gain.”

Legislator Cindy Gieger said that she was concerned that under the proposed law the list of people and entities subject to the ethics law would be subject to change annually, which she thought was too often.

Another concern was the $250 cap that elected officials can receive from people who do business with the county. Gieger said that in the initial county ethics law, the $250 cap applied to a 60-month period, while in the proposed new law the $250 cap would apply only to a 12-month period. She said the cap should remain for 60 months.