Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Congrats Jack!!

Today's TU has a follow-up by Alysia Santo on what has been going on in East Greenbush government and the recently released OSC audit.  Read it here:

Also, here's Jack Conway's letter of resignation from the Ethics Board which was referenced in the TU article:

                                                                                                October 26, 2012

Members of the Town Board of the Town of East Greenbush:

This letter is my resignation from the Town of East Greenbush’s Board of Ethics.  I appreciate the opportunity to have served on this board but I can no longer continue in this capacity.  It has been more than two years since I was appointed and more than sixteen months since the Board of Ethics recommended a new Code of Ethics but there is still no new Code in place and the Town Board now seems uninterested in pushing the matter to a reasonable conclusion.  I realize there is pressing town business but there has been ample time to address the question of ethics which is clearly not a priority for this board.

            The Board of Ethics was empowered and I was appointed in October 2010.  By January 2011 we had a full board that immediately set to the task of producing a new Code of Ethics. The local law that established the original Code was passed in 1974 but a Board of Ethics was not constituted until 2010.  Meeting twice monthly in order to expedite what we considered to be an urgent matter, the Board of Ethics submitted a draft of a new Code to the Town Board in June 2011.  This draft was the result of careful study of other Codes and a series of rigorous deliberations by the five members of the Board of Ethics in public meetings that included valuable and substantive input from members of the public.  We felt, and I still feel, that the draft produced by the Board of Ethics offered a guide for ethical conduct of which residents of the town could be proud.  Critical aspects of this draft were rejected by the Town Board.

            The primary purpose of a Code of Ethics is to ensure the public that every decision made by its municipal officials is made in the public interest and not for the benefit of an individual, family, private business, political party or other faction.  Above all else, it is supposed to eliminate both the appearance and reality of conflicts of interest.  The requirement for annual financial disclosure, strongly recommended by the Board of Ethics, was eliminated by the majority on the Town Board, an act that seriously undermined the Code’s ability to protect the public interest and monitor potential conflicts of interest.  More distressingly, the elimination of financial disclosure was done for the convenience of sitting members of the Town Board who chose to place their own interest above that of town residents.  The Town Board also objected to provisions that would govern the ability of employees to appear before the town after they leave municipal service, and certain provisions in the Nepotism section that affected the hiring of relatives of members of the Town Board.  Taken together, these changes transformed a draft Code that would protect the public interest into a guide for the kind of insider politics that a Code of Ethics is expected to prohibit.  In good conscience I cannot endorse or condone this approach.
There is a fundamental conflict of interest in having the Town Board write the Code of Ethics that is supposed to regulate the conduct of its own members.  The Association of Towns has published a series of suggestions for increasing the independence of municipal boards of ethics and I would encourage the town to adopt these.  They include passing a local law removing the requirement that one member of the Board of Ethics must be a municipal official, the establishment of a three-person independent panel that would select the members of the Board of Ethics, and the acceptance by the Town Board of the Code proposed by the Board of Ethics pending the opinion of the Town Attorney that all of its provision are legal and do not contradict provisions of State or local law.  Such an approach would assure the public that its interests are protected and will not be subverted for partisan political advantage.

            I would like to thank Ginny O’Brien for appointing me to this board.  It was an honor and a privilege to serve with Jim Breig, Justine Spada, Joseph Slater and Dave Youmans.  Each of them has done a rigorous, professional job and continues to serve with distinction.  When you decide on my replacement, I will work with that person in any way that might help get them up to speed.  Every town needs a strong commitment to ensure the ethical conduct of elected and appointed municipal officials and I will continue to advocate for such a commitment here in East Greenbush.


                                                                                                John J. Conway, Ph.D

Good way for the Gadfly to get back at it!  Comments folks??