Ni­a­gara Leg­is­la­ture may open fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sures to pub­lic

The Buffalo News - - CITY & REGION - By Thomas J. Pro­haska

Af­ter years of pres­sure from an open gov­ern­ment group, the Ni­a­gara County Leg­is­la­ture may open county of­fi­cials’ fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure forms to the pub­lic.

“I think it’s great news. Twenty-two years over­due,” Paul W. Wolf, chair­man of the Buf­falo Ni­a­gara Coali­tion for Open Gov­ern­ment, said Mon­day.

The Leg­is­la­ture is ex­pected to vote to­day on sched­ul­ing a pub­lic hear­ing for May 7 on a re­vised fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure law. The re­vised law would end the seal­ing of dis­clo­sure forms and add elec­tion chal­lengers and po­lit­i­cal party chairs to the list of those who must file them.

If the law passes, the pub­lic and me­dia would be able to use the state Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act to see the dis­clo­sures in time for the June 25 pri­mary elec­tion as well as the Novem­ber elec­tion.

“No other county has a law like Ni­a­gara County has had, say­ing their dis­clo­sure forms are con­fi­den­tial,” Wolf said.

When the County Leg­is­la­ture adopted a code of ethics in 1996, it sealed the dis­clo­sure forms be­cause it didn’t want them used as po­lit­i­cal am­mu­ni­tion.

“That was the orig­i­nal in­tent, that they couldn’t use it in po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns, you know, ‘This guy’s half a mil­lion dol­lars in debt, he can’t han­dle county fi­nances,’” said Leg­is­la­tor Dennis F. Vir­tu­oso, D-Ni­a­gara Falls, who served at the time the orig­i­nal law was passed.

The re­vised law would ap­ply to all county-level elected of­fi­cials and their op­po­nents, as well as the boards of the Ni­a­gara County In­dus­trial Devel­op­ment Agency and Ni­a­gara County Com­mu­nity Col­lege. Also re­quired to file would be the county chairs of all po­lit­i­cal par­ties and all “county em­ploy­ees who hold pol­i­cy­mak­ing po­si­tions.”

“We mean all the depart­ment heads and their deputies and any­one else who is in a pol­i­cy­mak­ing po­si­tion,” said Leg­is­la­tor Richard L. An­dres Jr., R-North Ton­awanda, who chaired a com­mit­tee that wrote the law with ad­vice from the state Com­mit­tee on Open Gov­ern­ment.

The forms must in­clude the name of any cor­po­ra­tion in which the of­fi­cial, his or her spouse and mi­nor chil­dren hold at least a 5 per­cent stake; any in­come-pro­duc­ing real es­tate, not counting their homes; and any em­ploy­ment or mem­ber­ship that earns them at least $500 a year.

In­cum­bents would file by May 15; chal­lengers would file seven days af­ter the dead­line to file nom­i­nat­ing pe­ti­tions. That dead­line hap­pened last week, but An­dres said he thinks the chal­lengers would be re­quired to file this year any­way.

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