Ethical clouds hang over political appointments

To the Editor:

The Kenneth Runion, Patricia Slavick, Paul Pastore slate boasts about the town having a strong ethics code. Having a meaningful law helps to ensure that public officials like the tax assessor act with integrity and in the public interest and not any self interest.

Having the law is one thing; following it is another. The law requires that certain officials and appointees file annual disclosure statements by Feb. 15 each year. According to documents reviewed under the Freedom of Information Law there were no statements filed during 2012.

The town board in May 2012 made some changes to the ethics code. Richard Sherwood, the town attorney, did not ensure even after the changes that the forms were filed for the year.

The code requires that the ethics board hold at least one annual meeting to elect other officers even if it has no other matter to consider. The town has no record of such a meeting during the last four years. One board member who was appointed in May 2011 told me he was never asked to attend any meeting or deliberate on any matter until this week.

The code requires an annual report be submitted by the ethics board. The town has no record of any reports for the last four years.

The code requires that a transactional disclosure statement be filed under certain circumstances when an official may have to recuse himself to avoid any conflict of interest. The town has none on file for the last four years.

The town has no record of any assessments of civil penalties, sanctions, or discipline taken or imposed during the last four years as provided for in the ethics code.

The code states no officer of a political party can concurrently be a member of the ethics board. There is no such prohibition applying to Paul Caputo, the Albany County Independence Party chairman from serving as a paid member of the town planning board. We have a prohibition for an ethics board that hardly ever meets but none for boards that are regularly making decisions that directly affect residents and businesses and their taxes.

Nor does the code prohibit an immediate family member of an officer of a political party from serving on the planning, zoning, and assessment review boards.

The code previously sated no political party could have more than two members on the ethics board. Mr. Runion, Mr. Pastore, and Ms. Slavick in May 2012 voted to allow a political party to have three members on the ethics board. The move just further solidified their control of the board and any matter the public may force it to consider. Mr. Runion called the changes a housekeeping matter.

Maybe after 14 long years in office you just do things your own way. Having an ethics code and ethics board is just another thing you have to put up with but ignore when you can.

You and Richard Sherwood finally decide to comply with the law and have the ethics board meet. You only do so after information is obtained under the Freedom of Information Law. You will try to blame someone else. You only hold the meeting after months of not having one despite the ethical clouds over your political appointments.

Robert Okeefe

Guilderland

Editor’s note: Robert Okeefe is the vice chairman of the Guilderland Republican Committee.

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