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Ethics code and sign law passed

Last-minute changes reduce nepotism restrictions, right-of-way distance

— After months of debate the Bethlehem Town Board has approved changes to two town laws, but some residents remained unsatisfied.

Two public hearings were held on Wednesday, June 13, so residents could voice their opinions on changes to the town’s ethics and sign laws before a vote took place. Both laws were ultimately approved, but not before adjustments were made following the voicing of concerns from members of the community and several board members.

Changes to the former town ethics code were introduced after an ethics committee was formed in January. Many of the recommendations followed those established by the state Comptroller’s Office, but some were changed after several board members felt they did not match the needs of the town.

Completely removed from a previous draft was a section preventing officers in a political party from serving on boards. Most board members felt that section of the law was unnecessary. Councilman Jeffrey Kuhn had said some could argue it took away First Amendment rights.

“Over the years we’ve had a town attorney, we’ve had a supervisor and we’ve had at least one Town Board member that have all been officers of a political party,” said Deputy Supervisor John Smolinsky. “Were their actions politically motivated or partisan? My opinion is yes, sometimes, and that’s inappropriate.”

The new ethics law establishes a five-member ethics board to give advisory opinions to town employees and public officials when consultation is needed regarding the ethics law. No more than two people from one political party can be on the board.

There was also a discussion on the law’s nepotism section and language was removed that would have disallowed children of public officials from serving as seasonal employees and would have prevented town employees supervised by a family member from applying for promotions. A provision prohibiting employees from hiring or supervising a family member was left in, but current employees will be grandfathered into the law.

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