Pub­lic mum at hear­ing on pro­posed gift lim­its

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Pa­tri­cia Doxsey pdoxsey@free­manon­line.com pat­ti­at­free­man on Twit­ter

A pub­lic hear­ing Tues­day on a pro­posal that would place stricter lim­its on the value of gifts that county of­fi­cials can ac­cept drew only one com­ment — from the elected of­fi­cial who pro­posed the change.

County Comp­trol­ler El­liott Auer­bach thanked mem­bers of the county Leg­is­la­ture for “mov­ing leg­is­la­tion for­ward that be­gins to ad­dress sev­eral blind spots cur­rently ex­ist­ing in our county ethics code.”

“I want to thank each and ev­ery one of you for rec­og­niz­ing the need to tighten it up,” he said.

The pro­posal be­fore leg­is­la­tors would limit to $75 in a cal­en­dar year the ag­gre­gate value of gifts given by any one per­son to county of­fi­cials or em­ploy­ees gov­erned by the county’s Ethics Law. The law would ap­ply to “cir­cum­stances in which it could rea­son­ably be in­ferred that the gift was in­tended to in­flu­ence [the in­di­vid­ual] in the per­for­mance of his/her of­fi­cial du­ties or was in­tended to be a re­ward for any of­fi­cial ac­tion.”

The cur­rent law lim­its county of­fi­cials cov­ered by the Ethics Law from ac­cept­ing a sin­gle gift un­der those cir­cum­stances fval­ued at over $75, but it does not set a limit on the num­ber of gifts un­der that amount that the of­fi­cials can ac­cept from an in­di­vid­ual.

The pro­posal was one of a num­ber of rec­om­men­da­tions made by Auer­bach in a report call­ing on the county to strengthen its ethics laws, say­ing the cur­rent law fails to pro­tect against pay-toplay pol­i­tics and cam­paign­ing on the tax­pay­ers’ dime.

Among the rec­om­men­da­tions in the report, called “Eth­i­cally Ul­ster,” Auer­bach rec­om­mended the county em­brace the poli­cies of three other coun­ties to limit the an­nual num­ber, not just the value, of gifts elected of­fi­cials can re­ceive from a sin­gle in­di­vid­ual.

Auer­bach said he hopes the Leg­is­la­ture also will con­sider leg­is­la­tion that would ad­dress cam­paign fi­nance re­form, or what he said “has been aptly named ‘pay to play.’”

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