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Friday, March 26

A red letter day for the Ethics Board

I attended my first Ethics Board meeting last night and was treated to lessons on civics and history thanks in part to some inquisitive Saratoga Springs High School students (shout out!).

According to the city's website, "The Board of Ethics has five members, one of whom is an officer or employee of the City. They are appointed by the Mayor subject to approval of the City Council. The Board's job is to interpret the Code, to educate City officers and employees about the Code, and to help enforce the Code. The Board can only address ethics matters involving City officers and employees; it has no power or jurisdiction over any other ethics matters."

In April 2008, after Joe Scala replaced Michael Englert as City Attorney (following the election of Mayor Scott Johnson), there debate sparked over exactly what authority the Board of Ethics has.

Scala told the board that they did not have the authority to initiate investigations, that task being left to the City Attorney. Under the Ethics Code the board is required to keep lists of city employees, gather financial disclosure information, hold meetings, hear inquiries unto the ethical nature of any transaction made by city employees and officials and, "To conduct hearings, recommend disciplinary action to the appropriate appointing authority, pass resolutions of censure where appropriate, make referrals, and initiate appropriate actions and proceedings pursuant to this chapter".

The request to discontinue investigations was raised solely by Scala, as stated last night, as Board Chairman Rick Fenton had met once with Mayor Johnson since the debate began. The board asked Johnson for his opinion, Johnson asked the board for more information.

Fenton and other board members have been researching this topic and feel that they do have the authority to initiate investigations, or what you might call "appropriate actions and proceedings", based on NY municipal precedent and a published Attorney Generals opinion on the exact issue. They will voice their opinion in the form of a letter to the City Council, who are then obligated to issue an opinion on the matter.

As it was put last night by board member Ted Obloy, an Ethics Board that cannot initiate investigations appears "neutered".

The whole situation feels a little off to me. I haven't had a chance to talk to Scala about it (it is my day off after all), but I have a hard time coming up with reasons why a board designed to implement a code of ethics wouldn't be allowed to investigate potential violations of the code at their own will. I'll have to keep coming to these meetings to find out. They are held monthly at 5:30 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of the month in the council chamber.

On that note, while the neutered line was good, I'll give the quote of the night to board member Michael Arnush who said, "I've never been likened to a bowl of yeast before," after Fenton explained the staggered terms of the board to the students in the audience.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

March 26, 2010 at 5:56 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep digging, there's a lot here. Scala stonewalled a 2008 inquiry regarding a City employee's violation of the Code of Ethics that had been referred to the Ethics Board and his own recent conduct - a clear violation of City's work place violence policy - calls to question his ability to serve as an advisor to the Board.

Also, he has even attempted to dictate if and when the City Open Space Advisory Committee can meet. He has threatened employees with disciplinary action if they refused to capitulate to his will and that of the mayor's office.

You might start by talking to people in Civil Service, and the former administrator of Parks. There are others.

He also stonewalled a complaint filed against the mayor and the deputy mayor for a pattern of abusive and threatening behavior. You simply have to ask the right people.

March 29, 2010 at 11:02 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe Scala giving legal advice to the City Ethics Board? Sounds like a great April Fools Day joke. Scala obviously doesn't give a hoot about ethics. All he cares about is covering the Mayor's backside, especially when the Mayor spends most of his time relaxing in Florida.

BTW, the Mayor of Albany seems to care more about thoroughbred racing in Saratoga Springs than the Mayor of Saratoga Springs does.

All Scott Johnson is interested in is hanging on to the free (unethical) box seats NYRA gives him at the racetrack. The Ethics Board's opinion says that's not allowed, but Johnson and Scala are hoping the Saratogian won't report that.

March 31, 2010 at 7:18 AM 

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