OSWEGO, NY – The Oswego Common Council approved the formation of an ethics board Monday night.
The vote was 4-3. Councilors Shawn Walker, John Gosek, Nate Emmons and Robert Corradino voted in favor.
Voting no were councilors Pat McLaughlin, Caitlin Reynolds and Eric VanBuren.
One of the sticking points was that some feel that if Mayor Billy Barlow appoints the three members, they could be perceived as beholden to the city’s chief executive, regardless of whether or not they actually are.
At the public hearing, Dick Atkins said he had a problem with the members being appointed by the mayor and serve at the pleasure of the mayor.
“I think that’s probably the worst thing that you can do,” he said. “It weakens your board immensely.”
He urged the council to “do it right, or don’t do it at all.”
“My recommendation to you guys is to not do it at all,” he added. “I just think you’re doing the wrong thing.”
Tom Ciappa urged the council to go further.
“The single most important characteristic of an ethics board consists of its actual and perceived independence,” he pointed out.
He said he doesn’t believe the mayor has any hidden agenda in what he’s doing. “But, perception by itself will become reality,” he cautioned. “An ethics board should sit above the mayor.”
The mayor should offer up suggestions for the board, the council should give its consent (if it wishes), he said.
“Just because you have the right to do something, doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do,” Ciappia said.
James Early said the city should definitely have a board of this kind.
“But let’s take some time to really think about how we can do it the best we possibly can,” he said.
Ben Kolp pointed out that the vast majority of municipalities share the duty of appointing board members.
“I don’t believe an ethics board appointed by any mayor will hold that mayor accountable,” he said. “I think Mayor Barlow has done a good job so far.”
But a future mayor could be honest, or corrupt, he noted.
“This isn’t about Mayor Barlow. It’s about all the mayors to follow. The council should not allow these future mayors to appoint ethics boards that cannot hold them accountable,” Kolp said.
Mayor Barlow explained that this was something he brought forth because so many people told them they were “uncomfortable with city government.”
“That is why I proposed establishing an ethics board,” he said. “It will hold everyone accountable. That is something I think is long over due.”
The charter says the mayor shall have the power to appoint any board, Councilor Walker said.
“Basically, you already have the power to do this. So I don’t know why we’re even voting on this,” he told the mayor.
Councilor VanBuren had a somewhat looser interpretation of the charter.
The council should have a say in who is recommended for the board, he added.
Ron Tesoriero and Linda DeMassi were appointed to the board.
And, Bruce Holman, a registered Democrat, will be the chairman, the Republican mayor said.