The Town of Saugerties Ethics Committee is seeking out citizen input after drafting an amendment to Section 22 of the town’s ethics code, which defines and addresses nepotism when it comes to town employees.
A public hearing has been set for Wednesday, Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. at the Frank Greco Senior Center, before the regularly scheduled town board meeting. Officials will take public comment received into consideration before deciding on whether to change the wording of the town’s current code.
Ethics Committee Chairman Al Bruno, who is also a county legislator, said the update was spurred on by a perceived conflict of interest that the ethics board had to appraise last year. Bruno said the board found there wasn’t a conflict of interest that warranted action, but the instance made the board aware of the ambiguity of the code’s current wording.
“Something came to us, a question was asked by one of the town authorities whether or not … [an action] would be a conflict of interest — we looked at all the laws, and we found that in that particular case it was unclear,” Bruno said. “We rendered a decision and then we said, ‘We really should change that to make it more clear.’”
Currently, the code requires town employees and those seeking employment with the town to disclose any relation that is “closer in degree, by blood or marriage, including significant other, than first cousin.” The new wording of Part 3-L of the code is more specific, and refers to “a spouse, a significant other, child or step-child, grandchild, a person claimed as dependent on the Town Officer(s) or employee(s) latest state income tax return, parents or siblings.”
The law also changes Part 7 of Section 22 in the code, adding supervisors and heads of town departments and the town planner to the list of individuals who must fill out a form every year disclosing any of the aforementioned relationships. Currently, the law only applies to ethics board members, the town supervisor, town board members, planning board members, zoning board of appeals members, board of assessment review members, the highway superintendent, the town assessor, the building inspector, the town attorney, the receiver of taxes, the chief of police, the water superintendent and members of the historic preservation committee.
“Let’s say that John Q. Public is a supervisor and his son is working with the department, he can give favor to him,” explained Bruno. “It creates a bad atmosphere with the rest of the workers.”
Bruno said that in the proposed revision, recording secretaries were exempt from the disclosure form: “if they don’t have a vote, they don’t need to waste their time filling out that form.”
The amendments don’t prevent individuals with relations in town government from serving altogether, Bruno said, it just requires that they officially disclose this relationship and it will be considered in job applications: “it’s not that [the relation of a department head] can’t work for the town, but we would recommend that he be assigned to another supervisor.
“It’s a small town, let’s face it,” Bruno said. “Everybody knows everybody, everybody’s related to everybody. We can’t say ‘no one can work for the town if they’re related,’ or no one would work for the town.”
Bruno said in the last two years that he has served on the ethics board, “four or five” issues have been brought before the board with only one requiring significant action.
Both the ethics board and the town board will have to vote to approve the amendments. Bruno said public input will be taken very seriously.
“We’ll see what people think,” said Bruno. “If they think this is a good way to go, then great, it will be enacted into law and become part of the ethics code. If they say no, it’s a waste of time and they like it the way it is, we’ll keep it. The town board makes the final decision. We find people from our experience dealing with it to try to make it easier for us to apply the ethics law to whatever issue is before us.”