Contentious Meeting

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Contentious Meeting
Budget Meeting Overshadowed by Ethics Debate
Story by John Thomas
Staff Writer

 

   The Village Board of Trustees held a special meeting Tuesday night to go over some budget modifications before the end of the Village’s fiscal year May 31st. Mayor Burrell explained according to state law; municipal boards are required not to make any payments unless there are sufficient funds for that item in the budget account allocated for that expense. If not, board members can be held personally responsible for covering the expense. This means that each month the board would have to make line item adjustments to the budget to account for any changes. The village has been covering expenses as necessary and adjusting the budget after the fact. Tuesday’s meeting was to perform those adjustments.

   Starting with General Fund A, the Village received $53,000 more revenue than had been budgeted. Some accounts in the fund had higher than projected expenses, but still, the account benefited with a net increase of $47,500. An adjustment of $4,950 was made to the Water Fund F. Expenses for finishing the Waste Water Treatment Plant impacted the Sewer Fund G.   $69,350 was taken out of the Contingency Fund. That fund was created with $153,000, and there are still funds in the account. Going forward, the Mayor said the Board will make adjustments on a monthly basis, as per state rules.

   The board voted to authorize the Mayor to sign a new one-year contract with AE Com. Both the Town and Village utilize the services of Planner Gary Palumbo through AE Com. The board also authorized the Special Events Committee to allow Elisa’s Run for the Arts on June 10. The run is being organized by Doug Bush. The run, named after Elisa B. Hughey, is a non-profit that raises scholarships for art students.

   The discussion then turned to the proposed Code of Ethics for the Village. The proposed ethics are the same rules adopted by the Town a couple of years ago. The Village is required by State Law to adopt a Code of Ethics.   Spencer Murry had added language requiring a municipal official to recuse himself from nominating or discussing the nomination of a family member to an appointed position. At the April Board meeting, the Mayor had re-nominated Shelia Burrell for another five-year term on the Planning Board. There was no second and thus no vote. Ms. Burrell continues on the Board as a holdover member.   Mr. Murry said he feels there is a conflict of interest if the mayor is the only person who makes nominations to boards. The Mayor countered, saying there are currently eight members of various Village boards that could not have been nominated if that rule had been in place. A motion was made to hold a public hearing on the Ethics rules, but the discussion continued.

   Mr. Murry said the Mayor was in a position to appoint someone (to the Planning Board) and that he would directly benefit from that nomination, and he didn’t recuse himself. The Mayor grew defensive and said, “This is about getting Shelia Burrell off the board.” He pointed out state law gives the mayor power to appoint board positions. He added he has support from NYCOM (New York Conference of Mayors) who endorsed his position. Trustee Greg Cappelli read from a statute that seemed to contradict this position.

Village Attorney Kathleen Moriarty, in an apparent attempt to calm the discussion down, said she saw nothing wrong with getting public input. She suggested the board might seek additional outside counsel to advise on the ethics rules.   The Mayor asked for a vote on holding a public hearing on the Ethics Rules on June 12. The motion passed unanimously.

   John Northrup asked about a neighbor of his that is not mowing his grass. Mr. Northrup asked if something could be done to have the home’s grass cut. The Mayor said Harold Morton is authorized to issue a fine through the court system for uncut grass. Northrup also asked if Jody Bentley is still taking care of the Village’s trees. Mr. Burrell said she is working with the new Village Forrester to maintain the trees. The meeting was adjourned.

Village Code of Ethics

   At the Village Board meeting on Tuesday night the Board set June 12 at 6pm for a public hearing on the proposed Code of Ethics the Board is considering adopting. (See Contentious Board Meeting, in this issue.) Board member Spencer Murry added article VII to the Town’s Code of Ethics.   Below is a reprint of the pertinent sections of the code.

Article V. Rules with Respect to Conflicts of interest and Ethical Conduct.

  1. a) An Officer or Employee shall not have any Interest, financial or otherwise, direct or indirect, or engage in any business or transaction or professional activity, or incur any obligation of any nature, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his
  2. b) An Officer or Employee shall not have an Interest in any contract with the Village, whether individually or as a member of a board, nor shall Officers and Employees have the power or duty to negotiate, prepare, authorize or approve such contract or payments thereunder, audit bills or claims under such contract, or appoint any person who would have any of the powers or duties set forth
  3. c) An Officer or Employee having Village fiscal responsibilities shall not have an Interest in a bank or trust company designated as a depository of Village funds. This subsection does not prohibit ownership of up to five percent of the outstanding shares of such bank or trust
  4. d) An Officer or Employee shall not accept other employment which will impair his independence of judgment in the exercise of his official
  5. e) An Officer or Employee shall not accept employment or engage in any business or professional activity which will require the disclosure of confidential information gained by reason of his official position or authority. An Officer or Employee, or former Officer or Employee, shall not disclose any confidential information acquired by him in the course of his official duties or use it to further personal
  6. f) An Officer or Employee shall not use, or attempt to use, his official position to secure unwarranted privileges or exemptions for himself or others.
  7. g) An Officer or Employee shall not engage in any transaction as representative or agent of the Village with any business entity in which he has a direct or indirect financial interest that might reasonably tend to conflict with the proper discharge of his official
  8. h) An Officer or Employee shall not make personal investments in enterprises which he has reason to believe may be directly involved in decisions to be made by him or which will otherwise create substantial conflict between his duty in the public interest and his private
  9. i) An Officer or Employee shall pursue a course of conduct which will not raise suspicion, or give the impression, among the public that he is likely to be engaging in acts that are in violation of his An Officer or Employee shall disclose any interest of which he is aware in any matters pending before any board of the Village.
  10. j) An Officer or Employee shall not directly or indirectly solicit any gift or accept or receive any gift having a significant value, whether in the form of money, services, loan, travel, entertainment, hospitality, thing or promise, or in any other form under such circumstances in which it could reasonably be inferred that the gift was intended to influence him, or could reasonably be expected to influence him in the performance of his official duties, or was intended as a reward for any official action on his
  11. k) Town resources may not be used by an Officer or Employee in furtherance of his campaign activities, including, but not limited to, mass mailings, telephones, office supplies, postage, copying machines, computers or support staff.
  12. l) An Officer or Employee shall not knowingly act contrary to a lawful resolution or motion duly adopted by the Board.

Article VI. Disclosure of Interest.

Any municipal officer or employee who has, will have, or later acquires an interest in an actual or proposed contract with the municipality or other matter pending before any board or agency thereof, shall publicly disclose the nature and extent of such interest in writing to the governing body thereof as soon as he has knowledge of such actual or prospective interest.

Article VII. Recusal.

   Recusal is especially important as it relates to the potential appointment and/or employment of a family member. Recusal is required when a family member of a municipal official is being considered for a possible appointment to a position within the government in which the official serves. It is imperative that the government official not participate in any discussion, deliberation and/or potential vote that may take place regarding hiring and/or appointment of the family member. Therefore, an Officer or Employee shall promptly recuse himself from acting on a matter, whether, voting, appointing, or any other action, before the Village where acting on the matter may financially, or otherwise benefit, any of the following persons: {i) the Officer or Employee; {ii) his employer or business; (iii) a member of his household; (iv) his customer or client; (v) a person from whom the officer or employee has received significant election campaign contributions during the most recent election cycle. In the event that the Officer or Employee who shall recuse himself is the person responsible for making an appointment or hiring an employee, the responsibility to nominate or hire shall fall to a majority the Board.

Article VIII. Violations.

In the event that the Board determines that an Officer or Employee violated a provision of the Local Law, the Board may subject him to removal or any sanction or damages authorized by law.