The Yorktown Town Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to make changes to the process for which ethics complaints are handled. Although after discussion, each member was in support of the changes, some members of the board were concerned that the system could be used to hurt town employees and soil their reputations if the town was not there to act as gatekeeper. The board also voted to change the disclosure form that was used in the process to a more specific and detailed sheet.
Prior to the changes, the board acted as the gatekeeper in deciding whether complaints were sent to their ethics committee, sent elsewhere, or dismissed. The unanimous vote will now change the process, and complaints will be sent directly to the ethics committee, although the town board still receives the final report and recommendation on the complaint and takes action based on that. Tuesday concluded several months worth of meetings and drafts spent on revising the current policy.
Chairman of the Ethics Committee, Richard Rubenstein said there is a necessity for the Town Board to be removed from the ethics complaints in order to ensure their legitimacy, and that politics are not a part of any decisions.
Mixing ethical issues with the political process isnt safe and thats why we made the recommendation, he said. In order for the ethical practices of the Town of Yorktown to be reviewed as legitimate, those ethical practices have to be removed from any consideration of politics.
Rubenstein said the non-partisan and non-political Ethics committee will be able to look at the complaints objectively, where the Town Board could notnot necessarily by fault, but because of their positions, which are political in nature.
When a complaint is made to you that involves any member of the town youre going to be looking at it very different than the board of ethics will, he said. Youre an elected official, you have your political ambitions to protect and you have relationships with all of the employees and all of the other elected officials who are public office holdersits a very political process.
Members of the board thanked the volunteers of the committee for their work and efforts, but did address concerns they had regarding the possibility of people using the complaints as a political weapon that could harm the reputation of a town employee without any warrant.
Councilman Jim Martorano said he has raised these concerns in the past and was assured by the committee that they would be sure to take each complaint seriously and confidentially to limit the risk of damaging reputations.
Im asking you please be very diligent in protecting the reputation of people because the bottom line in our lives our reputation our character ... its all we got -- you lose that and you lose everything, he said.
Councilman Nick Bianco said he was sold and in favor of the changes and was sure the changes would pass, but said once again that he was concerned not for himself and members of the board, but regular everyday town employees, who are just doing their jobs.
Some people are going to try and use this as a political assassination against somebody and were going to rely on you guys to really step up to the plate now, whether its protecting one of our town employees, or, this is why it's being thrown to you, or whether it's one of us.
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