March 20, 2013 —
“Our number one priority should be the adoption of this ethics local law. I think it’s shameful that this law, which was written by three distinguished wise citizens, Judge Anthony Kane, Judge Burton Ledina and John Konefal, has not yet been adopted.”
Legislator Alan Sorensen began the discussion about the proposed ethics law, which members of the Sullivan County Legislature have had before them since August 2012, on March 13. Sorensen noted that concerns have been expressed by members of some county-appointed boards regarding filing of financial disclosure, which would be required under the new law. He said if such requirements trouble board members or others, “then perhaps public service is not for them; that is an individual choice that people have to make.”
County chair Scott Samuelson noted that he attempted to set up a discussion about the law beginning in January with the men who proposed it, but that Kane was not available until the end of March. He said a discussion had been scheduled for the next week in the executive committee meeting, and added, “I appreciate your comments, but they could have been made in the appropriate committee rather than willy-nilly in this committee. I think it needs to be adopted and it will be adopted.”
Lawmaker Cindy Gieger also said she was concerned that no action had been taken since August. She said, “I had similar concerns about moving forward without an ethics law, because once you have a public hearing and pass the ethics law, you set up a board, and if there is any violation against any person, you have to have a board in place to review the violation.”
Lawmaker Kathy LaBuda said “In August and September, we were talking about the budget; I think that was our priority then.”
After the meeting, Sorensen said the existing law involves a “convoluted process” for bringing a complaint against a legislator. He said, “The current procedure is, if there is a complaint, the legislators literally draw straws to pick three legislators to review the complaint and then decide if it should be forwarded to the ethics board. Just by stating the process, you can see that it’s troublesome. We’ve had that in the past and then three straws are drawn and inevitably one of the three says, ‘I have a conflict so I can’t serve on this,’ and it doesn’t work.”
The proposed law, in the case of a complaint against a legislator, would take the legislators out of the process of deciding whether or not a violation has been committed, and instead hand that decision to the ethics board.
He also said the proposed law would strengthen the ethics board in other ways; for instance, it would have the power to investigate alleged violations, and it would have the power to subpoena witnesses and compel them to appear in front of the board, and require the production of relevant materials.