Mayor signs new ethics legislation
Law ‘more appropriate’ and ‘enforceable’ than 2013 version, Noble says
The city of Kingston has a new Ethics Law, replacing one that was adopted in 2013.
Mayor Steve Noble announced Wednesday he had signed the law, which he called “far more appropriate, comprehensive and enforceable than its predecessor.” He said it was created after thorough research of various ethics laws from other communities.
“I want to thank the [Common] Council for their due diligence, as we now have before us a code that I am confident will best protect the public and maintain government functionality,” Noble said.
The council voted in favor of the ethics legislation on Sept. 13. Among the changes from the previous law is a mechanism by which the annual financial disclosure forms submitted by certain city employees and officials can be opened and reviewed. The new law also more narrowly defines conflict of interest.
Noble signed the legislation the day after holding a public hearing on it. The four individuals who spoke at the hearing all previously voiced concerns about the legislation.
Ellen DiFalco, who served as confidential secretary to former Mayor Shayne Gallo, called the proposed Ethics Law a “flawed document, which is being weakened despite what your counsel states.” She said it should have been referred to an ethics review board that included community members rather than crafted by Noble’s corporation counsel.
DiFalco also questioned
the deadline for when annual financial disclosure forms would need to be filed with the city, noting that she saw two different dates. She also said the definition of “family” in the proposal should be expanded to include aunt, uncle, mother- and father-inlaw, sister- and brother-inlaw, and cousin.
Noble’s uncle, James Noble, serves as president of the Common Council, and the mayor’s wife, Julie, is an environmental educator employed by the city.
Additionally, DiFalco said a qualification for someone to be appointed to the city Ethics Board should not be that they donated heavily to the mayor’s election campaign. She also questioned what provisions of the Ethics Law would apply when family members of the mayor family receive
promotions. DiFalco’s husband, Joe, also accused the mayor of changing the Ethics Law to suit himself.
“You’re changing this law now because you are being brought up on charges,” Joe DiFalco said. “Your corporate counsel is being brought up on charges.”
Joe DiFalco filed charges with the city alleging Noble’s dissolution of the Ethics Board in May was illegal, and that Noble and Corporation Counsel Kevin Bryant mishandled the ethics probe into former Alderman Brad Will, D-Ward 3, who resigned from the Common Council in April.
Joe DiFalco said he came prepared to tell Noble he was violating the law.
“And I’m going to haunt you your entire administration,” he said.
Kingston resident Andrew Champ-Doran also again criticized the elimination of a future employment provision in the law. He said with the elimination, the law is teaching
that public office is for sale.
“You are teaching that public service is worth doing only as long as it’s convenient,” Champ-Doran, who has run unsuccessfully for a Common Council seat, said while flanked by his family. “The minute you can make more money elsewhere, you should just quit and jump at the chance.”
City resident Hillary Harvey also again questioned whether city board and commission members are educated about the Ethics Law and the proper way to recuse themselves from ruling on certain issues that come before them.
Noble later said education is provided and all board and commission members are given copies of the law.
Following the hearing, Alderwoman Lynn Eckert, D-Ward 1, said the 2013 Ethics Law largely functioned well and that those who spoke at the hearing have had the chance to comment on the new legislation many
times in the past. She also said the only people to file ethics violation charges under the law were Joe DiFalco,
Champ-Doran and Will.
Eckert said the city’s current effort is to “try to make
the bill more focused and stronger. The vast majority of citizens have positively responded to it.”
Kingston Mayor Steve Noble