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April 27, 2010

 

Ethics Board to review second complaint

County panel will also discuss financial disclosure forms that are due by May 15

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

Cortland County Board of Ethics will meet at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday to discuss the second complaint it has received and to review financial disclosure forms, which are due May 15.
The nature of the complaint, which was examined by the board for the first time Feb. 8, has not been made public.
Chairman Gene Smith said the board expects the matter to be resolved at the meeting.
If the board determines a violation occurred, it can institute a penalty such as a fine or dismissal from office, or the person can be made to comply with a recommendation to “fix the problem,” Smith said.
Smith said the meeting will either determine the complaint is without merit or that it is valid and needs further investigation.
“All of which never become public record unless the individual wanted it printed,” Smith said.
The Ethics Code provides for the investigations of complaints to be confidential.
If the board determines a violation might have occurred it notifies the Legislature clerk and any penalties it recommends are filed with the Legislature. These filings are subject to the Freedom of Information Law.
Dismissed complaints are sealed and not released to the public unless the party who was complained about decides to disclose it.
The county’s Code of Ethics, which the county Legislature unanimously approved in August 2008, became law Oct. 14 of that year.
The first complaint the board received was about current Legislature Chairman Jack Williams, filed Dec. 31, 2009, by then-Legislature Chairman John Daniels.
The complaint, dismissed Feb. 16, centered on Williams’ acquisition and distribution of Family Court transcripts at a Dec. 1 Judiciary and Public Safety Committee meeting.
Other board members are Joan Robinson, Thomas O’Donnell, and Legislators Gene Waldbauer (R-Cortlandville) and John Troy (D-1st Ward).
The members, appointed Jan. 22, 2009, when the board was formed, serve staggered terms at first until all are serving four-year terms.
Smith’s term was for one year, Robinson’s was a two-year term, O’Donnell’s was a three-year term and both Waldbauer and Troy hold four-year terms.
“I am a holdover because there were things on the docket and I can’t be replaced while things are on the table,” Smith said.
The Legislature appoints the Ethics Board members and the Legislature chairman chooses the board’s chair.
Smith said the future of the board is uncertain since the county Legislature is in the process of forming a committee that will revise the Ethics Code.
The committee will be headed by Legislator Mike Park (R-Homer).
Smith said he is concerned rewriting the local law creating the code will make the board ineffectual if it gives the Legislature oversight authority and he said if that happens the board “might as well close its doors.”
“I do agree that the local law needs fine tuning. But as far as rewriting the whole thing, there are certain parts they can’t rewrite because they have got to oblige by what state law says,” Smith said, giving financial disclosures as an example of a state mandate.
The Ethics Code requires all county employees and officers to disclose any financial interests that county matters might affect.
Smith said the board will not open the meeting to the public when discussing individuals who have not yet turned in their forms because they would not be in violation since the deadline has not passed yet.
“We will not discuss people’s names because that is not right if it is before the deadline. We will say please conform to this or this is the possible (penalty),” Smith said.
Smith said he may open the meeting when reviewing the forms but not mention names.
Smith said the board will decide what penalties to impose for failure to file, whether they be fines or disciplinary letters.
Smith estimated about 10 percent of financial disclosure statements are still not turned in.
Penalties of up to $10,000 can be assessed if a person does not file. All of the forms were filed in 2009.
The board will go into executive session after opening its meeting at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Smith said.

 

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