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Sullivan legislators tighten disclosure rules

By Fritz Mayer
October 26, 2011

Sullivan County lawmakers voted unanimously to make their disclosure rules significantly stronger. A resolution, passed at a meeting at the government center on October 20, requires that about 120 elected and appointed officials, along with the yearly financial disclosure, must disclose when any client they have is going to be helped or harmed by an upcoming vote.

The requirement also applies to clients that an official has referred to colleagues. For instance, if a county legislator is a member of a law firm and has referred a client to someone else at the firm, the official must still disclose the relationship at least two weeks in advance of any vote that will “result in a benefit or detriment” to the client, if the client has spent at least $1,000 with the firm.

It’s a rule that has been aggressively pursued by Dave Colavito, a former member of the charter committee. He applauded the new rules but said that the disclosed information should be made available on the county website, to make it easier for residents to obtain. The resolution did not contain this provision.

Instead, according to Legislator Ron Hiatt, any reporting individual would be required to disclose covered relationships to the clerk of the legislature. The disclosures would be available to the public for review and could be obtained under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). The rule will take effect on January 1, 2012.

The disclosure does not cover clients that receive medical services or some legal transactions, such as divorces or bankruptcies. Officials may ask the Sullivan County Board of Ethics for an exemption, which the board may grant if it finds the exemption will have “no material on the discharge of the reporting individual’s duties.”

In a related move, the legislature voted to set term limits for members who are appointed to any of the 44 boards maintained on a county level, such as the Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency and the Partnership for Economic Development. Hiatt said, “On some boards, people serve a really long time, and it doesn’t allow the rest of the public to be involved and to serve.”

The new limits stipulate that members will be able to serve two four-year terms before being required to stand down for four years before being considered to serve again. There will be an exception for boards where no one else can be found who is willing to serve. Hiatt said this is not uncommon, because these board positions are mostly unpaid.