Meet Before High Noon

02 Aug

This week’s Daily Freeman headline, Ethics veto threatened: Kingston Mayor Shayne Gallo calls the measure ‘unconstitutional’, casts the Mayor as Gary Cooper, standing in the middle of the deserted dirt street, waiting.

The adoption of the provision described in the story would effectively ban any elected member from running for reelection, unless they could afford to do so entirely on their own.  Quoting from the Hoffay measure, ‘a city officer or employee, the mayor and department heads shall not directly or indirectly ask anyone to contribute to the political campaign of a city officer or employee running for any elective office or the political campaign of anyone running for elective city office.”

As a result, if I am Alderman Dunn or Mayor Gallo, I can’t set up a “Friends of Matthew Dunn” or “Committee to Reelect the Mayor” fund, as that would be indirectly asking for funds for a campaign.  I could not ask anyone to put up a yard sign, or carry a petition on my behalf, as that would constitute a contribution, “to the political campaign of a city officer or employee running for any elective office or the political campaign of anyone running for elective city office.”

This limits those that can run for any city office to people who do not work for the city in any capacity, and to those who do not currently hold office, and eliminates the ability of any of those people to even support anyone for any city office.  That not only severely curbs their freedom of speech, but imposes a de facto one-term limit on every elected office for the city.  Mayor, Alderman, City Court Judge; none are exempt. Term limits should be left for the voters to decide.

I understand the conflict of interest inherent in sitting elected officials becoming elected officers within the party committees, and legislation against that conflict is supported by the Mark Davies email cited by Alderman Dunn.  I do not read that email statement, though, as support for no committee membership, no campaigning, or no support of another campaign.  That would be a misdirected stretch, at best.

Knowing that conflict is often more interesting than agreement might make it easier to see why words like “Veto” and “power”, make better copy than “pass” and “compromise”.  This is the point, though, where we often pull the wrong thread, and the process unravels.  It’s wiser to follow the right thread all the way through.

Here is a link on the City of Kingston’s website to the two legislative proposals:  Ethics Legislation and Financial Disclosure Proposed by Mayor Gallo Ethics Legislation Proposed by Alderman Hoffay  Click on the individual links, and compare the two at the source.  I’ve read them both, and I’ve formed some opinions about the legislation before the Public Safety/General Government/Audit Committee.

Get rid of the provisions causing the problems.  The rest of the law does not hinge on the inclusion of these few provisions.  While we don’t need one or two party strongmen directing the ballot, the Political Activities by High Level Officials prohibitions, as they appear in the Hoffay/Dunn legislation, are written too broadly, and are a liability.  Does the Common Council want to spend so much time and effort and goodwill in the lengthy process of debate and passage, only to find out their reward is a losing legal challenge?  Of course not.  Other (more likely and equally bad) outcomes would be a Mayoral veto, or that the bill dies in committee, and another piece of important legislation meets its inevitable all-or-nothing fate.  The common sense approach would be move quickly on the rest, and leave the argument behind.  If, after passage, the Common Counsel find a need for some provisions of this sort, craft and pass an amendment to the law.

Beyond that, there is room only for agreement.  In spirit, the two bills are essentially the same.  Both define conflict of interest and present a clear path for recusal.  Both call for tighter controls on officials commensurate with increasing rank.  Both want to close the “revolving door” some government officials and their lobbyists share.

Mayor Gallo’s proposal is more detailed and precise, as are his definitions.  His calls for a two year period between leaving the city position and dealing with city officials again, as opposed to the one called for in the Hoffay/Dunn proposal.  The list of city officials covered by Gallo is more extensive, and restrictions they face generally seem a little tighter.  He also includes copies of all disclosure forms to be completed by the employees.  For those reasons, I support the Gallo legislation.  It is ready now.

Alderman Dunn is working in the right direction on this legislation.  The intent and instincts are clearly right, but the execution, in these minor instances, threaten to sidetrack the debate, and eventually the whole bill, into the thick bog of committee consideration until it can no longer emerge.  Dunn wants us to keep in mind the purpose and intent of the laws we are considering.  He is right.  We need to open up our government, and increase the integrity we’ve let slide in too many offices for too long.   He has already agreed to post all of his committee’s agendas on the city’s website before the meetings, and he’s done so.  I applaud that, and the willingness of the parties involved to keep working on this much-needed legislation.  With care, what we get will be far better than what we have.

This is a negotiation, not a standoff.

-Andrew Champ-Doran

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Posted by on August 2, 2012 in Uncategorized


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