A review of financial disclosure forms required of senior city officials and members of volunteer boards and commissions found that barely two thirds of them were filed by the May 1 deadline. Among the holdouts are six of 10 members of the Common Council, three department heads — and every member of the recently dissolved ethics board charged with enforcing the law.
The disclosure requirement was included in a larger package of ethics legislation passed by the Common Council and signed into law by then-mayor Shayne Gallo in 2013. It requires certain city officials and volunteers to fill out a form listing their financial holdings, debts, business interests and other information about themselves and close relatives. The law was intended to address potential conflicts of interest among city officials with the power to direct taxpayer money, enter into contracts or grant approvals. It covers about 62 city officials, including department heads, elected officials and members of the Kingston Local Development Corporation, the police commission, the planning and zoning boards and the human rights commission. The law requires the mayor to get the forms to all those covered under the law no later than March 1; city officials must submit the forms annually no later than May 1 or within 30 days of taking office.
But a review of sealed envelopes holding the disclosure forms shows widespread noncompliance with the law. The envelopes were inspected last Friday, June 10 — 10 days since the deadline passed for them to be handed in to Tuey — by a reporter for the Kingston Times in the office of City Comptroller John Tuey, who said the 41 envelopes provided represented all of disclosure forms submitted in 2015. Tuey also provided two lists, one generated last year and one this year, listing the names of everyone who submitted a form. The names were then matched against positions listed as subject to the financial disclosure law, using data available on the city’s website.
The results indicate that just 41 of 62 officials subject to the disclosure law have submitted the forms. Among those who did comply are Mayor Steve Noble and most of the City Hall staff who work for him in the executive branch. Among members of the executive branch who did not submit forms are Water Department head Judith Hansen, Civil Service Secretary Jackie DeCicco, Department of Public Works chief Mike Schupp and head of Community Development Brenna Robinson.
Just four members of the Common Council filed the forms. They include Council President James Noble, Minority Leader Deborah Brown (R-Ward 9), Tony Davis (D-Ward 6) and Steve Schabot (D-Ward 8). Another member of the council, Lynn Eckert (D-Ward 1) insisted that she had in fact filled out, notarized and submitted a disclosure form. But her name does not appear on any of the envelopes provided by Tuey.
Noncompliance with the disclosure requirement was most rampant among members of volunteer boards and commissions. Of the six volunteer bodies covered by the law, just one — the planning board — was in full compliance. On the Kingston Local Development Corporation board, eight of 10 members filed the forms. The KLDC holdouts include two one-time mayoral candidates Andi Turco-Levin and Hayes Clement and Kingston Plaza owner Brad Jordan (Jordan’s name appears on the list of those who filed disclosures in 2015, but his name was not on any of the envelopes submitted this year). On the five-member Human Rights Commission, just two have filed the disclosure forms. On The zoning board of appeals, just one of six members, Andrew Champ-Doran, has filed a disclosure form. No one on the four-member police commission (which includes Jordan) filed a form this year.
The records also show that no one on the five-member ethics board filed a disclosure form this year, or last year, either. Noble dissolved the board — which was made up entirely of Gallo appointees — earlier this month saying that he wanted to clear the way for changes in how members are appointed. (Under the current law all members are appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the mayor). The law calls for the city comptroller to hand over the disclosure forms to the mayor and the ethics board within five days of receipt. Former ethics board chairwoman Jean Jacobs, who has defended the board’s work, said that she never submitted a disclosure form because she was never asked to.
“We were never given a disclosure form,” said Jacobs. “Those should have been sent out by a member of city government.”
At a press conference last month, Mayor Steve Noble said that he had followed all proper procedures in his attempts to get officials to submit the disclosure forms. Noble, however, added that he was not ready to begin removing employees and volunteers from their posts for noncompliance yet. The council is also weighing changes to the law including the makeup of the ethics board and how to define conflicts of interest. The council is also expected to create a mechanism for examining the disclosure forms. Under the current law, there is no policy or procedure that allows anyone to actually view the contents of the sealed envelopes.