Board of Ethics “blindsided” by proposed Code of Ethics change

CHEEKTOWAGA – A proposed new code of ethics for the Town of Cheektowaga has blindsided members of the town’s Board of Ethics with many members speaking out during a public hearing on the new law at Tuesday night’s board meeting.

“I’m quite surprised to hear that there is a new code of ethics being brought into this (sic) city.  We have been working on revising and replacing this code of ethics for other a year now,” said ethics board member Greg Collins.

The proposed law would repeal and replace Chapter 18 of the Town Law – a 30-plus-year-old law which currently lays out ethical conduct for public officers and employees of the town.

Members of the Board of Ethics are upset because they were blindsided by the proposed law mainly because they were working on replacing the law with their own language.  Mr. Collins says several letters to the town board have been sent informing the supervisor and councilmembers of their work but reciprocal communication has been nill.

“Virtually all of our requests have gone unanswered,” Mr. Collins said.  “I’m very disappointed. I joined this Board of Ethics with the intent of doing something meaningful for this community, and this town board has done nothing but shun us.”

The members of the Board of Ethics say they became aware of the new law late last week when it appeared as a public hearing agenda item.

“To my knowledge, this new code of ethics has been virtually unavailable for public viewing not to mention to the board of ethics.  Why have we not received a copy of this?  Why have we not been consulted on this,” Mr. Collins added.

The proposed law is available for public view in the Town Clerk’s office the town says.

Ethics Board Member Joe Treanor says, “This Board of Ethics thinks its a profound disservice for the people of this town to basically take a year’s work of refinement and effort by your own Board of Ethics – who are experts in this field; among us 35-years of ethics expertise and experience – and to throw that in the trash to adopt, who knows what, this [law] hasn’t even had any involvement or assistance whatsoever.”

“That is not your job,” Supervisor Diane Benczkowski told Mr. Treanor during the public hearing.  “It’s the town board’s job.  You had given us some suggestions.  You wanted to know who was supposed to file the financial statements – that’s all in the new code.”

Ms. Benczkowski says the town board never asked the Board of Ethics to prepare a new code of ethics.

“Did anybody here ask them to prepare a new code of ethics, because I didn’t,” Ms. Benczkowski asked of her town board colleagues.

“I didn’t ask them, but I know it’s been going on for the past two (inaudible),” said Councilmember Linda Hammer.

Mr. Treanor says their work on a new code of ethics was borne out of informal discussions with Ms. Hammer.  He says the ethics board informed the town board that they were working on the new code when they submitted their annual report last February.

“If you felt that was inappropriate, by all means, you should have engaged us then and said stop.  It’s not like we had a death wish to spend our time spinning our wheels needlessly,” Mr. Treanor said.

“Since I’ve been head of the ethics board, Joe is the third chairman,” Ms. Hammer added.  “There were two chairmen before him that I worked with that were already working on changing the code of ethics.”

Ms. Benczkowski says the proposed law should help the board of ethics with some problems they faced.

“Who should have filed [financial disclouses]; the new code, it tells you what we want included in the financial disclosure – all that stuff, you said we were deficient in,” Ms. Benczkowski said.

The proposed law was crafted from language available from the State Comptroller’s office according to a source in the town’s legal department.  The new code – which sounds to be a work in progress – is also peppered with best practices found in the codes of neighboring municipalities.

Councilmember Brian Pilarski expressed an interest in seeing the language that the Board of Ethics drafted.  Ms. Benczkowski said the town board is willing to take a look at it before voting. A vote to adopt the new law has not been scheduled.

“In our view, there is certainly no fire,” Mr. Treanor said.  “If you waited for 48-years, you could certainly wait a couple more weeks.”

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