Thursday, April 28, 2011


" Local boards, such as planning boards, zoning boards of appeals, historic preservation boards and environmental quality review boards, are subject to standard rules of administrative law and do not have unfettered decision-making authority. They may make a decision only when all of the requirements specified in state statute or local law are addressed... The Court of Appeals has clearly held that generalized community opposition, in the absence of substantial evidence relating to the substantive legal grounds for making a determination, cannot constitute support for the denial of an application."

-- NY Department of State

"It is not sufficient to simply enact a Code of Ethics and then ignore it. Local government officials need to ACT continuously on their entity’s code of ethics:
Adopt a Code of Ethics setting forth standards of conduct for all officials and employees
Conduct periodic reviews of the code to ensure it still adequately addresses the expected conduct and remains a current and meaningful document
Train all officials about the code and emerging ethics issues to help them understand and comply with ethics requirements."

-- New York State Comptroller

"But, even with the best of intentions, an ethics board dominated by administration insiders cannot exercise independent judgment and oversight."

-- NYS Bar

"The prohibited contract provisions of Article 18 should be replaced with a strong and comprehensive recusal requirement covering not just contracts but also applications and any other authorizations and actions sought from an officer or employee of the municipality who exercises power with respect to the contract, application, authorization, or action. Article 18 should be revised to also include a comprehensive and sensible code of ethics."

"Section 808(2) contemplates that county ethics boards, if they exist, will render advisory opinions to officials of municipalities within the county under Article 18 and the municipality’s local ethics code, unless the municipality has its own local ethics board. But few county ethics boards will in fact do so."

"Enforcement offers the single most potent educational tool for ethics training. Currently, Article 18 contains no civil enforcement provisions, except in the financial disclosure context. "

"In municipalities where the ethics board does have enforcement power, either as required by Article 18 or as authorized by the local governing body, the law should specify the due process mechanism for conducting investigations of potential violations, for enforcement proceedings those violations before the ethics board, and for penalizing such violations. The types and limits of the penalties must also be clearly stated, and local ethics boards should be required to adopt due process rules of procedure for investigating complaints and conducting enforcement actions – before a complaint is received or an investigation is required."

"Unlike a request for ethics advice, an ethics complaint can normally be filed by anyone – even anonymously – or the board may initiate an investigation on its own. The law must grant ethics boards investigative authority and subpoena power. As discussed above, a municipality that does not wish to give its own local ethics board such power may contract with another ethics board, such as the county ethics board, to enforce Article 18 in that municipality, although absent a local ethics board with full advisory and enforcement power, a municipality should not be permitted to enact a local ethics code."

"As local governments are increasingly facing the need to conduct internal investigations of agency/departmental/ employee actions, the state should be required to provide guidance regarding proper process and procedure in such matters."

"In 2010, local government also came under scrutiny and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli proposed revising the General Municipal Law and making other changes to improve municipal ethics. The bill, which was more limited than the proposals presented in this report by the Task Force, was not enacted."

"The Task Force has been charged with answering the question, “What is the proper level of disclosure for attorneys in public service?” To answer, further questions must be asked: What is the purpose of public service? What can fairly be required of public servants? Should disclosure rules be different for attorneys than for other public servants? In the pursuit of the answers to these questions, we have reviewed and discussed the New York City Bar Report on attorney-client disclosure,1 the bill passed by the Legislature (S.6457) in the 2010 session and its subsequent veto by Governor Paterson,2 other bills pending in the 2010 session of the State Legislature, several public disclosure laws across the country,3 existing State disclosure laws and annual financial disclosure statements submitted by legislators.4 As members of a task force within the State Bar Association, we are also cognizant of the direction from the House of Delegates that “disclosure rules should not be unduly burdensome, so that compliance would discourage attorneys from participating in government” and that “[e]thics laws provide transparency in government including disclosure of business and professional interests.”5 The rules of disclosure should not, to the extent practicable, discourage public service by any honest, qualified person."

-- BAR

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