NEW WINDSOR — The Town Board approved a new Code of Ethics during its meeting on Wednesday, despite concerns from residents about board transparency and requests that the board put off the vote.
The board held a public hearing Wednesday evening on the proposed changes to the ethics code, which included the revival of its defunct Ethics Board.
The changes drew criticism from ethics experts, who believe they weaken the town’s ethics code.
The code previously would not allow more than two members of the same political party to serve on the Ethics Board. The new code does not have that clause.
The new code also removes a section that prohibits Ethics Board members from holding office with a political party, working as a lobbyist or participating in a town election campaign.
Russ Haven, general counsel for the non-partisan, nonprofit New York Public Interest Research Group, said those changes could "set up a situation where everyone is protecting people of their own team."
Town resident Sylvia Santiago asked the board Wednesday night to be mindful of the town voters when choosing members for the Ethics Board, to ensure proper representation of the town’s constituency.
Another resident, Brooke Moore, questioned why the proposed changes weren’t made available on the town’s website.
“Most of us sitting here do not have a copy of what the old one was or what the new proposed one is, and yet will be bound by that going forward,” Moore said.
Town Clerk Debbie Green stressed that the town placed the required legal notices in the Orange County Sentinel, and that the changes to the code were available from the town clerk’s office during business hours.
Santiago said many residents were unable to stop by during business hours.
Town resident Larry Moore asked the board to postpone Wednesday's vote because he had not been able to review the proposed ethics code changes.
The agenda online said there would be a public hearing on the ethics code changes, but it didn't say that a vote would be taken.
After the meeting, Town Supervisor George Green said the board may discuss posting documents like the proposed changes to the ethics code online. He added that it would be a lot of additional work for the town and that town business has been conducted without documents online for years.
Green said the board plans to appoint all new members to the Ethics Board in the next few months.