Tuesday, August 29, 2017

What are "real" ethics reform and term limits about?

One of the issues I'm running on concerns real ethics reform and term limits. I was asked recently what "real" ethics reform is and what are are my specific ideas about term limits. A comprehensive and to me, "real" ethics reform package would expand upon existing rules and add the following:

1: A term limit proposal enacted by law that limits elected officials of any party (or no party at all) to a certain maximum number of consecutive terms in office. I would propose three terms and stagger them 4 or 5 years apart so that the entire legislature of 23 members could not be elected out at once. Knowledge and history are important parts of holding office and losing 100% of that at once is not in the best interests of anybody.

But I am willing to compromise. I'd accept four terms ... or even five, if that is what it would take to get the conversation started and onto the floor for a vote.

But make no mistake about it: My opinion of officeholders in for 2 or more decades is not high. Usually they become entrenched and part of a machine that works harder to keep them in office than in coming up with solutions to problems.

Conclusion: Term limits are in the best interests of the voting public.

2: Political work performed by employees directly responsible to elected officials should certainly be addressed. While I fully understand this is America and people are free to do whatever they want in their spare time, this issue needs to be dealt with. Here's why:

The appointed officeholder in District 16 (the one I'm running in) filed signed political petitions carried by four employees of the Board of Legislators. The board clerk (Mr. Billard), the deputy clerk (Ms. DelPiano of Rome), the board secretary (Ms. Messa of Marcy) and the "data analyst" (Ms. Yozzo) all carried petitions filed by Mrs. Pratt to enable her name to appear for election on the ballot. Mrs. Pratt is going to have a say in this budget year whether or not they keep their job and if so, how much of an annual raise or promotion they are going to receive. This is a conflict, pure and simple and should be discouraged.

Under my proposal, Mr. Billard would be the only one not discouraged from carrying petitions for Mrs. Pratt this time because (a) he physically resides in the district and can vote for her and (b) he is also a member of the Republican Committee in New Hartford in the legislative district and as such is recognized as politically active there.

While I would not make it mandatory, I would add language to the employee handbook discouraging such work for a candidate you cannot lawfully vote for as being officially discouraged so as to preserve the integrity of the legislature when acting upon raises and promotions.

Conclusion: Ethics reform discouraging outside political activity for your bosses on the legislature should by passed. If you can't vote for the legislator in your district, then you should not try to win favors from them at pay-raise time either.

3: Vending to the county while you are sitting as a legislator should be prohibited by law. This is a touchy subject for a few on the legislative board. Some are landlords and collect rent subsidized by the county and others outright bid and sell to the county on contracts. Under my proposal, you would have to choose: Either be a legislator and take the salary (and not a dime more), or get off the legislature and compete via the set protocols already established. Your choice.

Sure, you may the low bidder. But you're using a system you helped set up and regulate to your advantage if you sit in office and vend at the same time. Using intimate knowledge of how the system works to get county contracts while in office is just wrong, pure and simple. Also, other bidders learn fast not to bother bidding because to them, it's a done deal already. This loophole needs to be closed forever. There are plenty of vendors out there not sitting in office looking to increase their bottom line. Open the doors to make it clean and fair and let competition decide who the lowest responsible bidder is.

Sure, General Municipal Law allows this conflict as long as you file a statement with the clerk stating it. But that only makes it legal, not moral.

One sitting legislator/vendor has, by my calculations (I may be wrong and if I am, I will issue a correction) taken well over a million dollars in contracts during his terms in office. I'm only calculating it off his GML filings, which I do not have a complete list of at this time.

Conclusion: Enacting a law prohibiting elected county officials from vending to the county is long overdue.

I'm not advocating repealing or replacing many of the existing ethics regulations already enacted; rather, I'm proposing expanding them.

Let's clean up some loose details here, folks. It's about time.

(Constant reminder): Primary day (Tues, Sept 12) is 2 weeks from today (Tues, August 29) and again I'm respectfully asking for your vote.

Thank you.

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