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March 24, 2014

Ethics rules, board may be established

MALONE — Franklin County plans to revise its 40-year-old ethics law and create an ethics board.

Chairman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay) scheduled the first work session for 10 a.m. Thursday for the full Board of Legislators to begin updating the existing ethics law that was adopted Dec. 31, 1970.

The law currently on the books applies to county officers and employees and those who sit on any board, commission, district, council or other agency, department or unit of Franklin County government.

But it doesn’t define how members of a Board of Ethics would be selected and appointed, how many members would serve or for how long, for example.

DA PROPOSED YEARS AGO

State law enacted in 1991 requires each county, city, town, village and school district with populations of 50,000 or more to adopt a code of ethics to ensure no conflicts of interest exist between a public official’s duty and his or her private interests.

Franklin County’s population in 2010 was 51,599, but subtracting the state-prison population lowers the number to 46,803 — that’s the figure legislators used to figure out the county’s legislative-redistricting boundaries following the U.S. Census.

District Attorney Derek Champagne had approached legislators in April 2008, requesting that an ethics board be created.

Then, it had surfaced that several unnamed elected county officials may have benefited from proposals voted on concerning wind-energy projects in the towns of Burke, Bellmont and Chateaugay when the issues came before the body on which they served.

The DA said in his letter to legislators that spring that having a county-level board of ethics would give municipalities a place to turn if an allegation surfaced.

“In small communities, it would be nearly impossible to establish a board of ethics with individuals who did not know or are related to the elected officials,” he said.

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