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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 17, 2010

Ethics come to New Scotland, committee to follow

By Saranac Hale Spencer

NEW SCOTLAND — Having adopted a new ethics law, the town has yet to seat an ethics committee.

Its previous ethics law, from 2001, proved to be useless the first time it was called upon, which wasn’t until late 2008, because the ethics committee was composed of the town board members.

According to the state’s General Municipal Law, local ethics boards “shall consist of at least three members, a majority of whom are not otherwise officers or employees of such municipality.  Such board shall include at least one member who is an elected or appointed municipal officer or employee.”

The new law, passed unanimously by the town board this month, calls for the creation of a five-member committee to be made up of town residents, no more than two of whom may be in the same political party, and one municipal officer or employee, “but not an elected officer of the municipality.”  Each member will serve a three-year term, with a limit of three terms.

Some of the new law’s content, like the term length, comes from the neighboring town of Guilderland’s ethics law, said Councilman Daniel Mackay, who drafted New Scotland’s law with Michael Mackey, the town attorney.

Guilderland’s law, though, specifies that “No member of the Ethics Board may be a Town officer or employee.”

Much of New Scotland’s law is based on state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s recently released model code of ethics.

The model law was a product of the comptroller’s audit of the ethics oversight in 31 municipalities, including the town of New Scotland.  In a letter to the town, Deputy Comptroller Steve Hancox recommended that New Scotland “consider including provisions that relate to misuse of municipal resources and hiring and supervising relatives,” and “offer training to all officers and employees regarding Ethics Laws and emerging ethics issues, and ensure that officers and employees are made aware of whistle-blower protections.”

The recently adopted law, called Local Law 5, includes a section dealing with nepotism that closely follows the comptroller’s model, although it will include a provision that the section will not apply to those who are currently employed by the town.

“We found that more than 80 percent of the local governments provided no training to their officers and employees on the provisions of the local government’s code of ethics,” says the audit report.  The results of a survey from the comptroller’s office found that “Only 56 percent of local government officials or employees in municipalities of 25,000 or more responded that they had ever attended training on ethics.  This percentage drops to 45 percent for respondents representing municipalities with populations under 25,000.”

Following requests from officials across the state, the comptroller’s office drafted the model law and is developing ethics training, it says.

“There will be a training component,” Councilman Mackay said, adding that passing the law was a first step and naming the committee will come next.  He and Mackey will prepare a training program, he said, and it “will be in place… when the law is actually in effect.”

The town has 30 days past the effective date, which is Aug. 1, to name a committee, said town Supervisor Thomas Dolin.  He plans to invite applications from the public at the board’s July 14 meeting.

“An open solicitation is appropriate,” Mackay said of Dolin’s approach to filling the appointments.

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