While more of a “behind the scenes” aspect of municipal government, a Code of Ethics and Annual Financial Disclosure Statement are essential in educating public employees and public servants of expected standards of conduct and potential conflicts of interest.
The Genesee County Legislature’s Ways & Means Committee this afternoon, following the lead of County Attorney Kevin Earl, took a step toward unifying its Code of Ethics by setting a public hearing on Local Law Introductory No. 2, Year 2021, to repeal and replace the county’s current Ethics and Disclosure Law.
The public hearing is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. June 23 during a meeting of the full legislature at the Old County Courthouse.
Earl said this measure is being taken not because the current Code of Ethics is inadequate but to merge the various aspects of the code into one document.
“Currently, the Ethics Law and the Annual Financial Disclosure Statement came about in a Local Law in 1990,” Earl said. “The Local Law was amended two times by other Local Laws (in 1991 and 1992), so one of the problems is that when you want to find out what’s current, you have to toggle – go back and forth – between three Local Laws, which makes it difficult.
“So, the main purpose of this is to put everything in one Local Law; everything is right there and you can see everything in one place.”
Earl said that he updated some of the language in the code and disclosure statement, basing the county document on the New York State Comptroller’s Office model ethics code.
“We almost quoted it word for word – except for items that apply specifically to Genesee County,” he said.
According to General Municipal Law, officers and employees of a municipality are prohibited from having certain conflicts of interest, and each municipality is required to adopt a Code of Ethics covering disclosure of interests in legislation before the local governing body, holding of investments in conflict with official duties, private employment in conflict with official duties, future employment, and such other applicable standards.
The Genesee County Code of Ethics and Annual Financial Disclosure Statement, which must be filled out annually by designated county employees and members of specific boards and committees. Approximately 125 people currently are required to adhere to the code and submit the financial statement.
Sections of the updated document include:
- Repeal and Replace. Local Law Introductory No. 2, Year 2021, would repeal and replace the original code and the ensuing amendments;
- Code of Ethics. This is the section that spells out requirements for county employees and appointees, and includes: term definitions; applicability; prohibition of using a municipal position for personal or private gain; disclosure of potential conflict of interest; procedure for recusal or abstention; investments and/or private employment in conflict with official duties; future employment; personal representation; use of municipal resources; interest in contracts; nepotism; confidential information and gifts.
- Board of Ethics. This defines the committee that is appointed by the County Legislature and will render advisory opinions to officers and employees with respect to the General Municipal Law governing any Code of Ethics.
- Financial Disclosure and Annual Statements of Disclosure. This section defines the terms used and reporting categories along with the procedures and key dates for filing the annual statements with the Clerk of the Legislature.
- Whistleblower Protections. This part indicates the county’s prohibition of illegal or unethical activity, and safeguards any employee who reports such activity from being discharged, discriminated against or from being subject to retaliation.
- Penalties. Anyone making false statements can be fined, disciplined or discharged from their duties, but an appeals process that brings in the Board of Ethics is in place.
- Effective Date. The new Local Law shall take effect upon proper filing with the Office of the Secretary of State.
In another development, County Manager Matt Landers reported that the county has received the first half of its $11.1 million allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act.
The exact total going into the county coffers is $5,562,984.50. The second half will be distributed in 12 months.
Previously: Landers outlines four areas to use ARPA funds, says plan to spend $11.1 million is on the drawing board