Proposal would repeal three prior versions of county Code of Ethics, replace with new unified document
Reinforces Ethics Board with addition of Executive Director, Ex Officio members
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz was joined Tuesday by Erie County Legislature Minority Leader Tom Loughran (5th District) to unveil a sweeping new proposal to strengthen Erie County's ethics laws and augment the county Board of Ethics through significant and comprehensive changes to the existing ethics laws, which were created in 1989, amended in 1994 and amended again in 2015.
The 2015 amendments did not recognize or take into account the 1994 amendments and addressed provisions that no longer exist or had been renumbered, rendering large sections of the code ambiguous. Poloncarz' new proposal would repeal the existing code of ethics and replace its three laws with one, clean document that would better define what the ethics code is, strengthen the powers of the Board of Ethics, and create new prohibitions to guarantee transparency in government and ensure elected officials work for the people and not for outside interests.
"Our Erie County code of ethics needs strengthening to provide more transparency and consistent language that will clearly define conflicts of interest, which gifts are illegal and which are not, and whether or not criminal charges can be filed against those who violate the law. These areas and others, which had been subject to multiple interpretations under various amendments until now, will be plainly stated and clear to all," Poloncarz said. "In addition to clearing up the code, we are also strengthening the Board of Ethics, which was created in 1970 by a local law, but has no staff associated with it. We are proposing the creation of an executive director position to serve the needs of the board, along with two ex officio members of the board to provide an additional level of transparency to the board's work. In this way we are working to ensure that the public knows that their elected officials are acting in the public interest."
"The Erie County ethics code is in need of an update, and this is a realistic way to revise the code," Loughran said. "We are clearing up areas of ambiguity and improving transparency while adding structure to the Board of Ethics."
Some of the new provisions proposed by Poloncarz include:
•Prohibiting a county-elected official, officer or employee from working for another municipality in Erie County, to eliminate the inherent conflict that exists in such a situation;
•Requiring an elected official to disclose to the county attorney and Board of Ethics if he or she has been hired or retained by a third party within seven days of retention to determine if any conflict exists;
•Requiring any elected official or candidate for elected office to disclose to the county attorney and Board of Ethics the names of any individual clients or firm clients if those clients have business before any department or division of the county;
•Removing any ambiguity that may exist as to whether a criminal penalty can be assessed against a party that violates any section of the Code of Ethics - increasing the categories of disclosure values on annual disclosure statements from the original 1989 values;
•And removing any ambiguity on the question of what constitutes a gift, among other provisions.
Poloncarz added, "Our current ethics law is good, but messy and inarticulate. Residents should not have to examine three separate documents, some of them out of date or with erroneous information, to learn what is ethically permissible in Erie County government. With this new law, we are creating a strengthened and searchable Erie County Code of Ethics that meets the requirements for clean and transparent governance in 2016.
"I thank Legislator Loughran for his sponsorship of this resolution and urge the legislature to act quickly on it."