Bethlehem’s newly created Ethics Advisory Committee established at the beginning of Supervisor John Clarkson’s administration was asked to present its proposed changes to the town’s ethics code at a recent Town Board meeting.
On Wednesday, April 25, Ethics Advisory Committee Co-chairmen Kevin Crawford and John Hudacs presented the groups recommendations, which mostly follow those established by the state Comptroller’s Office.
“We all have great respect and great appreciation for the individuals who are involved in the governance and the operation of this town,” said Hudacs of the Ethics Advisory Committee. “We’re individuals who have an interest and experience in public integrity and public ethics.”
The group started by using the state comptroller’s model ethics code for municipalities, which was then adapted to fit Bethlehem’s needs. They also studied the ethics codes of surrounding suburban communities.
Crawford said committee’s first recommendation is to replace the three-member Town Ethics Board with a five-member body in order to make a quorum. No more than two members from one political party could be on the board. Terms would be staggered and no member of the Town Board would be included on the Ethics Board in order for it to remain independent.
According to Crawford, the Ethics Board would work to provide information and advice to town officials and employees upon request. The group’s proposal also gives the Ethics Board the right to investigate complaints.
“This is something new,” said Crawford. “That’s not something in the model code proposed by the state comptroller and that’s not something proposed by a lot of other codes of ethics that you’ll see in communities around the state.”
Some members of the group wondered if the board would have the resources and capacity to investigate complaints in a fair way, but members eventually felt it was too important to leave the Ethics Board without an investigative function.