October 5, 2011 —
Legislators in Sullivan County are currently required to disclose the clients they receive money from. Under proposed new rules, legislators and others would be required to disclose not only those clients, but also all clients that have been referred to the firm by the official. So, for example, a legislator who works as a lawyer for a law firm would be required not only to disclose his own clients, but also those he has referred to other lawyers at the firm.
This rule was adopted by state officials earlier this year, and now a group of residents is urging Sullivan County legislators to adopt a similar rule.
Rock Hill resident Dave Colavito has addressed the matter with the legislature several times and, on September 15, presented it with a sample resolution that lawmakers could use as a starting point to craft legislation that would achieve that end. His resolution contained what he called “common sense exceptions,” so that clients that receive sensitive services, such as medical or bankruptcy services, would not be included. Colavito also proposed that the information be posted on the county website.
As lawmakers consider this change, a review of the county’s Code of Ethics is underway. In early September, county chairman Jonathan Rouis announced the creation of an ethics review committee that will review the code and determine how it can be changed to conform with the Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011, which was passed by New York State earlier this summer.
According to Colavito, there is already a mechanism in place to make the change through the Sullivan County Board of Ethics, which has the authority to enforce financial disclosure policy and impose fines for violations. But the Board of Ethics is currently defunct for all practical purposes because four of the five board members resigned after questions about the appearance of impropriety arose when lawmakers Jodi Goodman and Leni Binder accepted tickets to Bethel Woods from Stuart Salenger, and later voted on a matter that concerned his property.
With the election for all county legislative seats coming in November, 16 out of the 17 candidates, and a representative for one who could not attend, showed up to make comments at a meeting of the Sullivan County Senior Legislative Action Committee on September 23. Colavito asked if they all would support the type of full disclosure that had been presented. They all answered in the affirmative.
Legislator Kathy LaBuda said the disclosure forms the legislators are required to fill out now are “an absolute joke,” and residents must fill out a Freedom of Information Law to see them.
County chairman Jonathan Rouis said he agreed with full disclosure regarding conflicts of interest but suggested that there were limitations to what could be disclosed. He said as an accountant he is bound and governed by the New York State Board of Education and supports disclosure, “within the parameters that I’m allowed to submit that stuff.” He added, “I think the heart of the issue here is conflicts of interest. As we re-write our ethics program, we need to be sure we strengthen that definition and we make it very clear not only to the public, but to the members that seek and hold office, as to what a conflict of interest is, and what point in time, and how do they disclose on conflict of interest.