POUGHKEEPSIE – Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro placed his signature on a bill he calls one of the “most comprehensive ethics laws in any county in the State of New York.”
The ethics reforms passed the county legislature with bipartisan support. Chairman Gregg Pulver said the new law provides “full transparency in county government. Our old ethics law left a lot of gray areas and we felt, that in light of everything happening in the world of politics in the nation that we could put together something that we could be proud of and that we could prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that there are no conflicts of interest in county government.”
Molinaro said Dutchess continues to be leader in local government.
“We’re trying to send a message to Dutchess County residents that the county government understands that every day we have to challenge ourselves to be more responsive and more accessible to the taxpayers,” Molinaro said on Thursday.
The new ethics law, which goes into effect on January 1, 2020, includes a 10-page financial disclosure statement that will be required of elected county officials as well as top-level county employees. It will also require financial disclosure for all candidates seeking county-wide office, prohibits elected officials from compelling or inducing political work from their employees, and the disclosure of outside income. An enhanced and more powerful Board of Ethics is also included in the new law.
Legislature Minority Leader Hannah Black said “I appreciated the opportunity that the Democratic Caucus took to amend and make the original proposed code of ethics law stronger, which in its original state was riddled with loopholes and ambiguity. I am always happy to provide better and more effective legislation as we were able to with the amendments the Democrats put forward.”
Molinaro pointed out that he was leading by example and has already made his financial disclosure statements available on the county’s website. The county executive said “my disclosure is available online so that anyone can see that I’m middle class.” The disclosure by the former gubernatorial candidate can be found here.
Not all county lawmakers supported the ethics changes. Democrat legislators Frits Zernike and Nick Page renewed their opposition. The said in 2018 it came to light that Molinaro, “under penalty of perjury, failed to disclose significant household income from a company doing business with Dutchess County on his 2015 and 2016 statements of financial disclosure.”
Page reiterated his remarks on the floor of the legislature earlier this month. “We’ve seen the County Executive’s disregard for the current disclosure form. We’ve heard the County Attorney’s office opine that these forms won’t be FOILable except under extraordinary circumstances. And it’s not clear to me that the Board of Ethics is prepared to be an effective backstop to disclosure forms that contain significant omissions or misrepresentations, no matter what form we’re using. I don’t believe that this is a sincere effort towards ethics reform, I think it’s a PR play.” Zernike added that the new disclosure form was hampered by its “attempt to be exhaustive. I would prefer we adopt something simpler and more elegant [that employs] a simple standard of avoiding the appearance of impropriety.”