Ethics Spark Debate
Downtown Business Owners Question Board on Ethics
Story by John Thomas
There was a noticeable coolness in the meeting room at Town and Village Hall on Monday night. But, the coolness had nothing to do with the ethics debate to ensue. The installation of the new air conditioning system had been completed the previous week, and the Village Board meeting was the first to take advantage of the refreshingly cool meeting room. In fact, all of Town/Village Hall was cooler. Village Clerk Mary Klahn, said the new system was a great improvement over the whirring fans and the thrum of the window unit air conditioner; both were gone. “It feels like a real professional building now,” she said. But the coolness was not to last.
Code of Ethics
Village Mayor John Burrell opened the Public Hearing on Local Law – Code of Ethics. John Rounds started the debate by asking what the purpose of the Code of Ethics was? Mayor Burrell responded the state in 2012 had mandated a code of ethics be adopted by all local governments. For some reason, the Village had never adopted the code, but the Town had. Burrell said when the Village had its organizational meeting in April, he discovered the Village Board had never adopted one and brought it up for discussion. Adopting the code required the public hearing Monday night. The Mayor said for some reason the state had never called the Village Board about not adopting the code of ethics. Trustee Spencer Murray had added a section on recusal of a public official when discussing or nominating a member of their family for a board position. The code as submitted for consideration is the same as the Town code, with the addition from Mr. Murray. In response from a question from Nick Petillo, the Mayor read both the Village and Town’s code section on nominating family members. Mr. Murray’s recusal section would prevent the mayor from appointing a family member to any Village Board position. Burrell said the problem the section is trying to eliminate is nepotism, but then added the state typically doesn’t act on nepotism, and the new code would limit the powers of the mayor. Burrell said NYCOM (New York Conference of Mayors) said any new law that limits the mayor and deputy mayor’s powers would have to be approved by a referendum. Trustee Greg Cappelli said that was not the information he obtained from NYCOM. The mayor said the board could pass the Town’s Code of Ethics by board vote, but a referendum would be needed to pass the amended codes. Village Attorney Kathleen Moriarty said they are apparently getting conflicting information from NYCOM and it might be wise to wait and gather more information. She said the board could pass the amended codes by vote and see if the vote is challenged. If challenged, a referendum would have to be held. In a nutshell, the Town’s code would not prevent the Mayor from nominating a family member but would prevent him from voting for that appointment. The new ethics section submitted by Murray prevents the Mayor from making the nomination in the first place. At the April Board meeting, the Mayor had placed Sheila Burrell’s name in nomination to another five-year term on the Planning Board. The nomination did not receive as second, and no vote was taken. As a result, Ms. Burrell continues on the board as a hold-over member. Mr. Murray said the person who is allowing the hold-over member to continue is the person who makes the decision. Expressing frustration, Mr. Pitillo admitted he wants to see Sheila Burrell removed from the Planning Board, and said he has no influence over Mr. Murray’s proposal. The Mayor said he was willing to pass the town’s version of the code of ethics that evening, and he felt the board didn’t have the right or authority to pass the revised code. Ms. Moriarty, added the law isn’t black and white on that issue. At this point, the Mayor closed the public hearing. The Mayor did not ask, and no one made a motion to vote for either set of codes, and the meeting went on.
Going on with the regular meeting the Mayor had good news for the board. He complimented Spencer Murray for negotiating a reduction or $605.00 in the Village’s insurance premium. The board gave him a round of applause. The Andison vs. Village of Ellicottville suit has been thrown out of court. Ms. Moriarty explained the people who owned the house at the corner of Elizabeth and West Washington, who were complaining about the large house built next to them, had filed a deficient complaint with the court. They had missed several deadlines, and the judge threw the case out of court.
The Mayor has had a busy month; he attended a CFA workshop in Fredonia, a NYCOM meeting in Saratoga Springs, a local government conference at Houghton College, and the Cattaraugus County Municipals Officials Association in South Dayton. He said the grant writer hired by both the Town and Village had been very busy meeting with various state officials. She and Greg Fitzpatrick met with the CCIDA to put some things in place to apply for grants. The petition for re-zoning submitted by Chris Perks was referred to the Planning Board.
Harold Morton reported on the milling and repaving on Mill and Fillmore. All had gone well. Mr. Morton will be retiring August 31st. Trustee Greg Cappelli asked him if he would be available for part-time work. He said yes.
Nick Dobmeier reported the final site walk-through with a NYSERDA representative happened at the Waste Water Treatment Plant. The application for the energy incentive check was submitted, and the Village can expect to receive payment in June or July. There was a discussion about recouping the extra engineering costs associated with some recent projects. The Stillhouse Brewery needed extra engineering from Nussbaumer and Clarke. Too often the Village winds up picking up the tab for those costs. Trustee Greg Cappelli suggested the Village hire someone to come up with a schedule of fees for engineering costs.
Code Enforcement office Kelly Fredrickson received compliments for his new format report on building permits issued. Mr. Fredrickson did a cost comparison of what Ellicottville charges for building permits versus other similar communities. Our permit fees are higher than most other communities.
Patra Lowes said some boards on the grandstand at the baseball park need replacing. John Burrell said he had three bids on the materials to fix them. A motion was passed to accept the lowest bid of $5,108.64. After discussing a volunteer day to do the work, it was decided to have the DPW crew do the work. Burrell had received complaints about kids playing at the park getting ticks. Dr. Greenlawn submitted a bid of $2,250 to treat the fields and the area around the fire station one time, but it would need a second treatment. There was concern about the spraying around the Village wells. The Mayor said he would check into it further.
There are still some commissioner positions open. Namely: Zoning and Planning, Water, Sewer, Noise, Special Events, and Parking. The Mayor asked for volunteers from the board from the trustees. None volunteered. Burrell said the best way would be to find someone, not on the board who would like to be in charge of those positions. The meeting was adjourned.