EDITORIAL: Add alternates to ethics boards

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In a small town, there are bound to be disputes and conflicts of interest.

It’s especially true in small town politics.

There’s nothing wrong with politicians having personal, business or political relationships that occasionally conflict with their public duties. They’re inevitable.

The problem comes when those conflicts have the potential to influence decisions related to public policy.

Then you need an independent arbiter of some sort to identify potential conflicts and rule on whether that’s having an effect on matters affecting the citizens.

That’s why communities create boards of ethics, made up of upstanding citizens entrusted to make decisions fairly.

But given the tight-knit nature of small communities, it’s possible that even members of those ethics boards can have conflicts with the people whose ethics they’re supposed to be monitoring.

If enough board members have such conflicts on a matter, the board can’t get a quorum and therefore can’t function.

That’s why it’s important that town boards appoint alternate members to step in when the ethics board has ethical issues of its own.

A good example of that is going on right now in Niskayuna, where Councilwoman Denise Murphy McGraw and some members of the Moskowitz family are engaged in a long-running ethics dispute.

Jason Moskowitz, a candidate for town board this year, recently filed an ethics complaint against McGraw over her vote that resulted in her daughter being hired for a summer job with the town.

Moskowitz’s father, Lewis, once filed an ethics complaint against McCraw, and McGraw says the family has been harassing her for years. For that, Lewis Moskowitz is demanding an apology from McGraw.

That leads us to the town ethics board.

One of the town’s five ethics board members is the Moskowitz family’s rabbi.

Another had two children on the same list of summer employees McGraw voted for.

And some in the past have accused McGraw of a conflict with a third member.

See how quickly this all can escalate?

If existing ethics board members have potential conflicts in the ethics cases before them, how can they be expected to make fair and appropriate judgments?

They can’t. That’s why communities need alternative members, those who might not have the same conflicts and who could step in to decide conflicts when the regular board is ethically compromised and needs to meet.

The town next month will consider a resolution to appoint alternate ethics board members. It would help officials avoid situations such as the one above, and help resolve new matters quickly.

Not only should Niskayuna move forward with this, but other communities should consider doing the same thing.

Nothing undermines the citizens’ trust in government more than politicians using their relationships to benefit themselves, friends and business associates.

This small step would go a long way toward maintaining that trust.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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