Canton sends ethics code back to committee over concerns regarding disclosure
Sunday, June 16, 2019 - 8:44 am

By ADAM ATKINSON

North Country This Week

CANTON – Canton village and town boards continue to hash out details of their new ethics code and disclosure policy. The proposed ethics law is being sent back to the committee charged with writing it for a third draft.

The two boards met Monday, June 10, to review a second draft of the code.

The first version was presented several weeks ago by the committee, which is headed by former County Legislator Tedra Cobb and Kate Murphy.

Trustees and council members discussed the code’s financial disclosure policy and generally agreed they could pass the ethics code without the disclosure policy as it was written in the second draft.

The disclosure policy, based on one the county uses, would require elected and appointed officials and also employees to disclose their financial dealings and those of their family members before serving or working for the municipalities.

“It seems to me that it might be, that it would make more sense to approve the code as its written and then have the disclosure statement separate,” said Village Trustee Carol Pynchon.

Town and village officials voiced concern with how such required disclosure might persuade potential candidates to appointed positions not to volunteer to serve the town.

The town board has received a letter from the Canton municipal justices that they were opposed to the disclosure statement, said Town Supervisor Mary Ann Ashley.

“It’s certainly hard enough for us, be it village or town, to get people to serve on a volunteer basis on planning board and all these boards that we have, and according to this ethics law they would have to do that full disclosure also,” said Town Councilman Jimmy Smith. “We’re having trouble getting people to volunteer as it is and I don’t think its going to help by making it more difficult for them to do that.”

Smith suggested the boards pass the ethics law but hold off on the disclosure which, as written, requires even family members of appointed officials to disclose their financial connections.

“Maybe just limit it to elected officials,” suggested Town Councilman Bob Washo.

Pynchon suggested that if the code was passed, an ethics board, appointed by a proviso in the new ethics code, could then work out the details of a more reasonable disclosure policy and statement form.

“Maybe they would come up with something not quite so substantial,” Pynchon said.

“I agree it’s substantial,” Town Councilman Tim Danehy said. “I mean, to ask someone to serve on the planning board and then hand them this form that says ‘Tell me what investments your spouse has.’ That’s a pretty easy ‘No thanks’ for a lot of people.”

“The code is 12 pages long and the disclosure statement is 6 pages long,” added Pynchon.

“I’d be fine with striking that part of the ethics law (disclosure forms) and adopting everything but that and then tabling that section of it and doing more homework on it,” said Washo. “But I would hate to hold up the ethics law on this part of it. There is just too much other important and relevant information in there to just keep sitting on it based on the disclosure form.”

The two boards opted to send the code back to the committee and direct them to excise language in the code itself referring to the disclosure form. The new version, without the disclosure portion or references to it, would then be sent back to both boards and the town and village legal councils for review.

The new draft could then be approved by both boards separately, a public hearing held and a final version sent to the Department of State for it to become official.