Comptroller's audit cites St. Lawrence County for officials not filling out financial disclosures
CANTON -- An audit of St. Lawrence County’s ethics policies and procedures done by the state comptroller’s office criticizes the county for a number of officials who didn’t fill out conflict of interest disclosure forms. The audit also says the county didn’t provide adequate ethics training to all officers and employees.
The audit looked at Jan. 1, 2017 to Sept. 30, 2018. The audit says that “county officials generally agreed with our recommendations and have initiated or indicated they planned to initiate corrective action.”The audit says that in 2017 and 2018, all 15 members of the Board of Legislators had to file financial disclosure statements which are used to determine conflicts of interest.
“In 2017 and 2018, 60 percent of the Legislators, 59 percent of officers and employees and 97 percent of other required filers’ disclosure statements were not filed, were filed late and/or had questions left blank,” the audit says. “The Ethics Board did not administer the County’s disclosure system by ensuring all financial disclosure statements were actually filed, filed on time or complete. We found that 84 percent of required disclosure statements were not filed, filed late and/or had questions left blank. Under these circumstances, there is a significant risk that potential conflicts of interest were not identified and/or not reported to the Ethics Board.
It does not name any specific legislators. A table in the audit document says the county treasurer didn’t file a disclosure statement in 2018, nor did the director of public health. It says that the chief confidential investigator didn’t file a form in either year, the same for three social services attorneys. The community services and human resources director each failed to file in 2017, as did the county sheriff, the audit says.
It cites one unidentified member of the Board of Ethics did not file the disclosure statements in both years.
“In 2017 and 2018, 15 Legislators were required to file disclosure statements. However, in 2017, two Legislators did not file, two filed disclosure statements with questions blank, two filed late and two filed late and with questions left blank. In 2018, two Legislators filed disclosure statements with questions left blank, five filed late and three filed late and with questions left blank,” the audit says. In 2017, 37 officers and employees were required to file. However, 13 did not file, six filed disclosure statements with questions left blank, three filed late and one filed late and with questions left blank. In 2018, 36 officers and employees were required to file. However, 12 did not file, six filed disclosure statements with questions left blank, one filed late and one filed late and with questions left blank. In 2017, 87 other individuals associated with the County were required to file. However, 81 did not file, one filed a disclosure statement with questions left bank, one filed late and one filed late and with questions left blank. In 2018, 95 other individuals associated with the County were required to file. However, 83 did not file, three filed disclosure statements with questions left blank, five filed late and two filed late and with questions left blank.”
The audit also says the Board of Ethics “did not offer training and education, including educational materials to all officers and employees on the requirements of the code of ethics during our audit period.”
The document says the county attorney told auditors that he did provide the training “to certain county officials and employees,” but didn’t have documentation to support the claim.
“In an effort to help ensure proper ethics oversight, the Legislature may wish to have Ethics Board members complete training on the provisions of law relating to conflicts of interest and ethics,” the audit says.
The audit contains a response from Legislator Joe Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, who was chairman of the Board of Legislators when the response was written on Oct. 9 of last year.
“The county will be creating a corrective action plan as a part of the final report associated with the audit on ethics oversight,” Lightfoot’s letter says. “The St. Lawrence County Board of Ethics was created in 2009 to provide ethics oversight in a formal manner. It has been a valuable resource since its creation and will continue to evolve and improve the work required. The aforementioned items included in the preliminary draft findings will be discussed further with the Board of Legislators.”
The complete audit, which includes the response letter from the county, can be read online at https://tinyurl.com/yxnabnwy