Following an audit that found there are vast differences in how local governments enforce ethics requirements, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is proposing legislation that would require governments to update codes of ethics annually and hand out the codes to all officers and employees, make the appointing structure of local ethics boards more independent and require that boards address issues of nepotism and the use of public resources for personal or private purposes.
“Our auditors found that some municipalities fail to comply with existing rules and aren’t providing adequate training to staff so they recognize and address potential ethical problems,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “The overwhelming majority of municipal officials are honest and dedicated public servants, but they need to do more to reassure the public that they are acting in the taxpayers’ best interest.”
DiNapoli’s office audited 31 municipalities and surveyed hundreds of top local government officials. Some of the differences in local officials’ awareness of and compliance with ethics laws include:
— Twenty muncipalities required certain officials and employees to file financial-disclosure forms each year and identify possible conflicts of interest. Twelve did not collect the forms, nine didn’t make sure they were completed and 14 didn’t review the forms to see if there were conflicts of interest.
–Five of 20 ethics boards had not convened for periods that ranged from two to 11 years, and one had never convened.
–All the municipalities had adopted codes of ethics, but only 26 addressed all the topics required by state law. Thirteen percent of top officials said their municipalities had not adopted codes of ethics or they did not know whether one existed; 61 percent of the codes didn’t address the misuse of public resources; and 84 percent did not address nepotism.
— Sixteen percent of top officials said their codes of ethics had not been distributed to employees and officials, or they didn’t know whether it had been handed out. The audit found that 52 percent of municipalities had not distributed their codes to all officers and employees, as required.
— More than 80 percent of municipalities that were audited didn’t provide training to officers and employees.
The municipalities audited included White Plains, Rochester, Chenango County, Tompkins County, Westchester County, Monroe County, Greenburgh (Westchester County), Greece (Monroe County), Mount Morris (Livingston County) and Perry (Wyoming County). DiNapoli sent letters to all the municipalities that were audited.