By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO The Committee to Review the Sullivan County Code of Ethics listened to a handful of speakers Tuesday who recommended changes to a draft revision of the county’s current ethics code.
Though the controversy over legislators Leni Binder and Jodi Goodman’s acceptance of box seat tickets from Forestburgh farmer Stuart Salenger was fresh on attendees’ minds, Legislator David Sager reminded the small crowd that he had pushed for this rewrite when he first took office four years ago.
The committee was created in September after the state redid its own ethics rules. The county’s code has not been updated for 13 years.
“I think it’s going to be a much better product,” Sager predicted. “I applaud the effort and am pleased with who they chose.”
Retired Supreme Court Justice Tony Kane, retired County Court Judge Burton Ledina, Rock Hill resident/retired NYPD detective John Konefal and Human Resources Director Lynda Levine have been tasked with the revision, and they interacted with speakers throughout Tuesday’s public hearing.
“I think the goal here is to make something the layperson can read and is easy to understand,” said Kane.
Grahamsville resident Ken Walter and County Treasurer Ira Cohen made the most recommendations, advocating for changes that included a no-gift policy rather than the $75 minimum that would trigger the ethics rules.
Guidelines for disclosing information were clarified, and Cohen thought the Legislature, rather than the county manager, should appoint members to the Board of Ethics.
That group is currently nonexistent, having lost the majority of its members earlier this year.
This draft would provide the foundation for a reconstituted board.
Others, like County Attorney Sam Yasgur and Legislator Alan Sorensen, briefly weighed in, with Sorensen urging the abandonment of a unique policy allowing legislators to first investigate ethical charges against one of their own advocating instead for treating them the same as any other county official or employee so accused: through the Board of Ethics directly.
“I don’t think the county attorney should have any role in reporting matters involving his or her own clients,” added Yasgur, worried that such a requirement in the current draft would be a potential conflict of interest for the county attorney, who is tasked with representing county employees in legal matters.
Kane and company said they’d further review and discuss the recommendations at a future meeting, though a date, time and location have yet to be set.
They also said another public hearing is likely before the draft is submitted to the Legislature, hopefully by the end of the year.
“Ultimately, it will be up to the Legislature to adopt the code,” Kane explained.
To see the draft code as it exists now, head to webapps.co.sullivan.ny.us/CodeOfEthicsReview.pdf or contact the Legislature Clerk’s Office at 807-0435.