Yes, Virginia, politicians do have ethics

Sullivan County ponders some changes to the law

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 10/28/20

MONTICELLO, NY — Political ethics are a fun topic. Charges and countercharges of ethical violations are flung on social media. Editorials have been written. Discussion has been …

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Yes, Virginia, politicians do have ethics

Sullivan County ponders some changes to the law

Posted

MONTICELLO, NY — Political ethics are a fun topic. Charges and countercharges of ethical violations are flung on social media. Editorials have been written. Discussion has been had. 

Not often addressed: What is unethical behavior, anyway?  

The county’s ethics law and overseeing board exist to sort it all out, to define an ethical violation and to prescribe whatever punishment might be warranted. And if there is no violation, to seal the matter.

The kinds of questions that fall under its purview are many: When does a legislator have to abstain? Are gifts of any size acceptable? When is it wrong for a family member to take a job with a county department, or with a business that contracts with the county? 

Every now and then, the law is amended, and that’s before the legislature again. 

Among the proposed changes: 

• The amount of time the board has to respond to a complaint would go from five business days to 60 days, and the 60 days can be extended. 

• If a person is accused of an ethics violation and the board finds that no violation took place, the “subject of the complaint may, in defense of any claim made against him/her, disclose the determination of the board.”

The Board of Ethics oversees the application of the law. They investigate complaints and hold hearings. Five volunteers serve on the board. Grahamsville resident Ken Walter, past chairman and current member, said at the public hearing, “The vast majority of the changes were to make it more consistent,” e.g. defining “days” versus “calendar days.” The extended timeframe for dealing with complaints was needed because when they’d try to call a meeting, “it was like trying to herd cats,” he said, working around everyone’s schedule.

At the full legislature meeting, it was decided to send the proposed amendments back to the executive committee on Thursday, November 19 for further discussion. 

Read the ethics law at www.ecode360.com/27637164.

Read the amended law beginning on page 79 in the agenda packet for the regular meeting for the county legislature at www.bit.ly/scethics44.

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