Editor, The Spotlight:
At tonight’s Town Board public hearing of an Ethics Code, the Bethlehem Town Board has an historic opportunity to strike a blow against politics-as-usual, patronage and the spoils system, and for excellence, increased participation and professionalism in Town Board appointments.
Supervisor Clarkson and Councilman Lenhardt have already demonstrated political courage and good government values by publicly supporting the option in the draft Ethics Code to require that “No town officer shall hold any office in a political party.” Councilwoman Dawson and Councilmen Kotary and Kuhn have not stated how they will vote.
The prohibition supported by Supervisor Clarkson and Councilman Lenhardt would pertain to town officer positions, and those serving as officers in a political party. It would not relate to all town employee positions, or committee persons in a political party. Other communities have extended their Ethics Codes to these broader categories, but I believe that the provision supported by Supervisor Clarkson and Councilman Lenhardt achieves a good balance.
There are clear and powerful problems of perception and reality, and reasons for the Town Board to adopt the officer holder prohibitions. Currently, an officer in a political party (i.e., Chairman, Vice Chairman, Secretary or Treasurer) who holds an elected or appointed Town officer position serves “two masters” – their political party and public service to the entire Town of Bethlehem. This is not a good situation for the person or Bethlehem. Town officers must owe their duty and loyalty, as required by their Oath of Office, to our entire town.
Further, residents and taxpayers of Bethlehem should want appointments to town officer positions to be made on the merits of the individual, not the politics of the person or the power of the party.
Finally, considering the range of outstanding people who live and work in our town, as demonstrated by the many who volunteer hundreds if not thousands of hours on unpaid town advisory boards and in other ways, there is no reason to resort to appointments that may result in divided loyalties and perhaps not having the best person being appointed or elected to a town officer position.
The Bethlehem Town Board has a defining opportunity to make a good Ethics Code truly great. My stated goal as Bethlehem Town Supervisor was to help Bethlehem become the best local government anywhere. I know that Supervisor Clarkson has that same vision. For Bethlehem’s sake I urge the Town Board to do the right thing for our town and support the provision that “No town officer shall hold any office in a political party.”