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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 5, 2010

Long-time board members leave due to new ethics law?

By Saranac Hale Spencer

NEW SCOTLAND — The ethics law the town board passed in June is due for a public hearing on its first revision.

After getting complaints from members of the planning board, the town board drafted an amendment to the law that would allow those who leave town service before Dec. 31 an exemption from a section of the new law.

The part to which the planning board members appear to object reads: No municipal officer or employee, for the two-year period after serving as a municipal officer or employee, may represent or render services to a private person, corporation, or organization in connection with any matter involving the exercise of discretion before the municipal office, board, department or comparable organizational unit for which he or she serves.

Nearly the same paragraph is included in the state comptroller’s model ethics law drafted in March, on which much of New Scotland’s law was based.

Both Robert Stapf and Cynthia Elliott are licensed land surveyors; they are also on the New Scotland Planning Board.

“It appears that it is the intent of the town of New Scotland to restrict any licensed professional who serves as a member of any town affiliated board from doing any business within the limits of the town and to limit any business by a licensed professional for two years after serving as a member of such board,” wrote Stapf in a letter to the town requesting an advisory opinion.

Michael Mackey, the town attorney, wrote back with an informal opinion, which he could not produce by press time.

The law states, “The ethics board shall render a written advisory opinion with respect to the interpretation or application of this chapter.”

The law became effective on Aug. 1 and the town board has 30 days past that date to name an ethics board.  Supervisor Thomas Dolin was unsure of when the board would be named, but said that it would be done as quickly as possible.  So far, his office has received three applications for the five-member board.

The bill, set to have a public hearing on Aug. 11, would grant immunity from the two-year prohibition to those who leave their town posts by Dec. 31.

“We felt like we were making a fair offer,” said Councilman Daniel Mackay, who helped to draft the ethics law and the amendment.  The bill is meant to acknowledge the significant change in the rules and give people a choice as to whether they want to operate under them, he said.

Neither Stapf nor Elliott attended the Aug. 3 planning board meeting, leaving the board without a quorum since three other members of the seven-member board were also unable to attend.  The agenda included three public hearings and at least four other applicants with business before the board.

“They’re involved, they’re engaged as planning board members,” chairman Charles Voss said of Stapf and Elliott Tuesday evening, before adding, “Tonight was disappointing.”

That morning, Elliott notified the board that she would not attend the meeting on advice from her lawyer and the day before, Stapf, too, notified the board that he had been advised by counsel not to attend.

“I’m curious to know, do they think there’s a liability issue with the law?” asked Voss.

Neither Stapf nor Elliott responded to requests for comment.

The town board will hold a public hearing on the law at 6:15 on Aug. 11 at Town Hall.

“I haven’t heard any opposition,” Dolin said of his expectation for the law.  “I’m in favor of it.”

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