NORH SALEM, N.Y.--The Town Board plans to formally update and reinforce its decades-old ethics code beginning at its next meeting, Oct.10.
“This, of course, is not something I’m suggesting because I think there’s an ethics problem in North Salem,” said Councilman Martin Aronchick, who proposed the revisions. “It’s something I think we collectively should do to show that we care about compliance and ethics.”
The town’s current code of ethics (Chapter 18) hasn’t been revisited in 40 years, he said, adding that other municipalities in the region, specifically North Castle and New Castle, have recently enacted new codes of ethics that he thinks would serve as good models for North Salem.
“[The towns] define things very specifically,” Aronchick explained. “Specific is good in this area where you’re trying to create bright-line rules.”
For example, North Salem’s code of ethics prohibits town officers and employees from directly or indirectly soliciting gifts valued at $75 or more under circumstances where “it could reasonably be inferred that the gift was intended to influence him or could reasonably be expected to influence him in the performance of his official duties or was intended as a reward for any official action on his part.”
While members of the board said they felt such rules were obvious, Aronchick said that general guidelines such as that leave the rules open to interpretation. Is the $75 price tag a one-time gift? Or is it an annual cap? Is an official allowed to accept a cup of coffee during a meeting? And are officials required to keep track of such instances to enure they don’t exceed the $75 limit? These are the kinds of questions Aronchick said he was interested in answering.
The other board members were receptive to making changes, but were hesitant to use the other towns’ policies as by-the-book models for revisions, because some issues were not applicable in North Salem.
One parameter in another town’s code, for instance, indicated persons affiliated or involved with political groups or parties are ineligible for certain boards. Supervisor Warren Lucas pointed out that in a small town such as North Salem, “You’d run out of people” to fill those roles.
Aronchick stressed that his intention when offering the other codes as examples was not to model them exactly, but to refer to them as guidelines. “I don’t think we should craft a new code,” he added, saying he just wants the board to conceptually discuss what additions or revisions they might like to make.
“There are provisions that we probably all agree we should have,” he said of the other towns’ codes. “[And] there are others that may be [iffier] that we should talk about, accept or reject.”
Deputy Supervisor Peter Kamenstein supported the idea and said he would review the material further.
“I think we practice a lot of these rules already, just inherently,” Councilman Brent Golisano said. “But I think Martin is right; we should look to adopt some of these rules.”
Lucas offered some sage advice.
“We had a very simple thing at IBM: It’s called the smell test,” Lucas said. “If it doesn’t smell good, don’t do it.”