The Town of New Windsor adopted changes to its code of ethics earlier this month. The amended law prevents town employees from going to work for companies they’ve had substantial dealings with for the town and opens ethics board appointments up to members of any political party.
“It was passed to bring the code of ethics into alignment with state guidance,” said town Chief of Staff Colin Schmidtt. “And, to ensure we have an operational board of ethics and proper compliance with state requirements.”
The amendment to Chapter 25 of the New Windsor Code of Ethics puts in place new “revolving-door policy,” which prevents town employees from going to work for certain businesses. “It places a lifetime ban on elected or appointed officials and town employees from leaving town employment and going to work for a company, or with a business in the town that they’ve had substantial involvement with in their official capacity,” explained Schmidtt.
Another change was to remove limits on who can serve on the town’s board of ethics, Schmidtt said. “Everyone, regardless of their political affiliation, will have a chance to serve,” he said. “There are no restrictions.”
Previous to the amendment, two Democrats, two Republicans and one Independent Party member were permitted on the board. “Now you can have any combination, including Green, Conservative, Reform Party members…” he said, etcetera.
Ethics board members will be appointed by the all-Republican town board. The town anticipates appointing new members to the now defunct board later this year, said Schmidtt. “Over the next couple of months, we’ll accept application letters,” he said.
The amendment also permits an elected official to serve on the board. “The state’s current guidelines require at least one member of the board of ethics to be an elected official or appointed employee of the town,” said Schmidtt. “The old town ethics code barred an elected official or town employee from serving on the board of ethics.” However, Schmidtt added, citing guidance from the New York State Attorney General’s Office, “the majority of members may not be officers of the municipality.”
New Windsor residents who attended a town board meeting last week expressed concern that the town was not being transparent about the ethics-code change. “I hope that whatever changes are being made are public,” said Sylvia Santiago.
“If you’re going to have an ethics change… that should be a public process,” said Brooke Moore. “Most of us don’t have a copy of what the old (code) is,” she said, or the new one. “It’s incumbent on our town government to communicate with its constituents.”
“This was advertised in the paper, as required by law,” replied town Supervisor George Green. “The proposed local law may be reviewed in the town clerk’s office…” said town Clerk Debbie Green, reading from the posted legal advertisement. “If you don’t post it on the website, we don’t know about it,” countered Larry Moore. “Then, it doesn’t do us any good.”
Green said he was open to the possibility of making proposed amendments available online in the future. “It’s something to consider,” he said.
The town is following guidance from the state, reiterated Schmidtt. “The desire was to have a forward-thinking, modern ethics law to ensure a functioning board of ethics,” he said.
When asked if the change was inspired by any of the recent ethics-related issues in state or federal-government, Schmidtt was blunt. “The code of ethics is there to ensure all citizens of New Windsor have confidence in town government,” he said. “Where Albany and the federal government have failed, we were willing to step up to the plate.”
By SHANTAL RILEY