AG wants to see NY towns’ codes of ethics

Staff & Wire Reports

The Attorney General  has asked the state's 932 towns to show his office their ethics codes in an effort to bolster self-policing by local government.

Schneiderman has begun reviewing ethics measures by local officials addressing issues like gifts, nepotism and conflicts of interest, according to the Albany Times Union.

 "It's important that the towns police themselves," Executive Deputy Attorney General  recently told the Times Union. "The idea is that with so many levels of government, the belief here is that local government should do their own local ethics enforcement. There are just too many layers of government to have it all done from a single source in Albany."

According to the state Association of Towns Web site, local government officials must make significant decisions that affect directly the lives, property and livelihood of people in the community.  They have business and personal relationships and therefore, may be faced, with actual or apparent conflicts of interests and ethics issues.  In some instances the conflict will be obvious.  In others, a judgment must be made.  Should a local official participate in a determination when faced with a possible conflict or abstain?  What are the standards whereby local officials can make these difficult decisions?  State law provides few standards.  

The Association said a balance must be struck between recusal to avoid apparent conflicts of interests and the duty of public officials to perform the responsibilities of their offices.  Thus, the question of conflict of interests is a two-edged sword that involves the balancing of two competing considerations.

“In making this determination, the official should error on the side of caution,” the state officials warned. “How can an official be sure that his or her decision was not influenced by personal interests?  There may be subtle but powerful psychological forces acting on these officials in these circumstances.  Most important, when an official acts in the face of an actual or apparent conflict of interests, the official cannot objectively defend himself against charges of improper conduct by the media and members of the public.  Even the appearance of impropriety must be avoided.”

The association promotes a board of ethics which serves an important role in assisting municipal officials who inevitably will face an ethics problem at some time during their tenure.  But more important, ethics codes and boards of ethics help to ensure the public that governmental decisions are being made solely in the public interest.

Schneiderman office said they expect to gather the information in 60 to 90 days and make it public.

For more information on municipal codes of ethics, visit