Last night the New Castle Town Board scheduled a public hearing to consider amendments to the New Castle Code of Ethics. This hearing is scheduled for March 25, 2014.
The New Castle Code of Ethics was enacted in 1970. Although isolated sections of the Code have been amended since that time, the most recent amendment occurred in 1989. We have reviewed the New Castle Code of Ethics for conformity with New York State standards and prevailing practices across other municipalities. We reviewed Article 18 of the New York General Municipal Lw, the Code of Ethics of the Town of Milton, New York, and the ethics codes in neighboring municipalities such as Bedford, Rye Brook, Briarcliff Manor and others. The Milton Ethics Code is helpful because it was audited in 2010 by John Mancini, Esq., Counsel for the New York Conference of Mayors and former Director of Training for the New York State Commission of Public Integrity. They endorsed the Milton Ethics Code as a model code of ethics for use by other municipalities in the state. We are confident that we've proposed significant improvements to our existing code, which hadn't been amended in decades.
The following subject areas are not currently addressed in the New Castle Code of Ethics. Based upon the GML and comparable provisions found in the New Castle Ethics Code and other municipal ethics codes, we recommend that the Town Board consider addressing these areas through legislative amendment.
A. Treatment of Public
To avoid the appearance of impropriety, Town officials and employees generally should be required to treat all members of the public equally, and to refrain from representing, directly or indirectly, that their decision or action with respect to any public matter can be influenced by factors such as family, marriage, friendship or political alignment. The New Castle Ethics Code does not contain provisions comparable to those set forth below, which are derived from the New Castle Ethics Code.
B. Recusal and Abstention
Our existing Code of Ethics does not set forth any provision that expressly states when a Town official or employee is required to recuse themselves from participating in an official action or deliberation based upon a conflict of interest.
C. Use of Municipal Property
Town officials and employees should not be permitted to use Town property, equipment or resources for private purposes, except to the extent such property, equipment or resources are generally available for use by all Town residents. Our existing Code of Ethics does not address this subject area.
Town officials and employees should not be permitted to directly supervise family members, as close relationships may interfere with their ability to exercise impartial judgment. Familial relationships also may result in conferring privileges or benefits not given to other Town officials or employees. Our existing Code of Ethics does not expressly address this subject area.
E. Confidentiality of Ethics Board Proceedings Although not specifically addressed by the GML, a number of municipalities have adopted a policy of confidentiality with respect to the deliberations and opinions of their ethics boards. The rationale for confidentiality is that it will encourage officials and employees to seek guidance when they are unsure whether their actions will constitute an ethics violation. An advisory opinion issued directly to officials and employees that is not issued as part of an ethics inquiry could remain confidential, unless voluntarily disclosed by the recipient or where an officer or employee charged with an ethics violation claims he/she relied on an advisory opinion in taking the action that resulted in the ethics violation charged.
(1) The Board of Ethics shall consist of five members appointed and approved by a minimum of four members of the Town Board.
(2) There shall be five members of the Ethics Board with the initial Board having three members serving three-year terms and two members serving two-year terms.
(3) The Board of Ethics in existence at the time of the enactment of this section shall be dissolved.
Qualification of Board members.
(1) All members of the Board of Ethics must be residents of the municipality.
(2) The members of the Board of Ethics should be qualified by temperament and experience to carry out the duties and responsibilities of the Board.
(3) No member of the Board of Ethics shall be a committeeperson or hold office in a partisan political organization or hold elective office in the Town of New Castle. A Board member may make campaign contributions and vote, but not otherwise participate in any Town of New Castle election campaign.
(4) Not more than three members of the Board of Ethics may be members of the same political party.
(5) No officer or employee of the Town of New Castle is eligible to serve on the Board of Ethics.
Robert J. Greenstein
Town of New Castle
200 South Greeley Avenue
Chappaqua, NY 10514