May 29, 2013 —
The Sullivan County Legislature adopted the long-awaited new ethics law at a meeting at the government center in Monticello on May 23. Before the vote, legislator Cindy Gieger said she would vote in favor of the law with the understanding that a vote to restore a provision that would grant subpoena power to the new ethics board would be held before the law takes effect in 60 days.
Because the law is subject to a permissive referendum, which means that if enough residents sign a petition within 60 days the ethics law must be voted on by the public, the law can’t take effect for 60 days.
Gieger said the subpoena power provision had been removed by the legislature after members had been told that a 1976 decision by the then attorney general indicated that the legislature could not legally grant the board of ethics that power.
Gieger said county attorney Sam Yasgur researched the matter further and found that the legislature could, in fact, grant such power, but he wanted to research the matter a bit further before writing the language. She said, “Removing that power kind of takes the teeth out of the law.”
Legislator Kitty Vetter agreed that
subpoena power would give the law “teeth.”
The vote was eight to one, with legislator Cora Edwards voting against it. She said the matter of removing the subpoena was decided in an executive session, which she could not attend. The executive session, like all such sessions, was closed to the public. The first part of the session had to do with personal matters. Discussion of granting of subpoena power to a board of ethics, she said, is not on the list of subjects that may be discussed in executive session.
All of the other meetings regarding the ethics law have been held in front of the public and were recorded, but the discussion about removing the subpoena power was not, and Edwards said there is no way for her to find out what was said during the meeting.
Perhaps the most important element of the new law is that it takes the legislators out of the process of determining whether an alleged ethics violation should be investigated. That responsibility will now go to the new board of ethics, members of which have yet to be named.